“The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions. “Everything is permitted” does not mean that nothing is forbidden… The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the State. The only one I know is freedom of thought and action.”
~ Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, 1942
In his seminal 1960 essay, critic Martin Esslin coined the term “Theatre of the Absurd” to describe the work of playwrights who produced work that sought to express the human condition when existence seemingly has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. During these times, the philosopher playwrights proposed that logical construction and reasoned argument eventually surrender to irrational and illogical speech and in due course reaches the ultimate conclusion, that being silence. People cannot communicate because there are no guidelines or context for understanding, nothing means anything and anything can mean everything. The book from which I drew the opening quote, “The Myth of Sisyphus” provides an interesting perspective on our current times. In it, Camus introduces his definition of the philosophy of the absurd, which he extolls is rooted in man’s futile search for meaning, unity, and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God, eternal truths and transcendent values. He likens this quest to Sisyphus, a man who stole secrets from the gods and was condemned to forever roll a great boulder up a hill all day long, every day, only to have it roll back down again at night, just in time for him to start pushing it back up with the dawning of a new day.
“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
Camus comes to the conclusion that man must find meaning in such repetitive and futile tasks and not only that, he asserts that there is true meaning and happiness there. He asserts that “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart” and that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I disagree with him on one point – one can find contentment and happiness in thankless tasks when one deduces that such tasks are not without value even as they are mind-numbingly repetitive and soul-crushingly tedious.
However, there are situations in our contemporary society which defy the meaning of being purposeful and have a true absurdist bent.
People have seemingly stopped trying to define and understand the natural world (i.e. God) and deal with it on its own everlasting terms. They wish to ignore reality by redefining it to fit their desires to eviscerate any semblance of rules or order. Each sex seeking to “identify” as the other, people of one race “identifying” as one they are not, lies passed off as truth, opinions as fact – these are all examples of undisciplined minds succumbing to absurdity and giving up the search for reality, reason and truth. Cutting through the absurdity of our times is a frustratingly tedious endeavor – but as Camus stated, there is purpose and happiness to be found in the endless work against it.
We are witness to an absurdist rebellion against nature, an uprising of the simple minded where ridiculous platitudinous theory spouted by pseudo-intellectual automatons substitutes for true scholarship and wisdom. It is a revolt of intellectually immature children, speaking nonsense and receiving accolades from the ignorant madding crowd, people who are slaves to emotion and feeling rather than masters of logic and reason. Camus noted, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.” Let us find a less absurd truth in the words of one of the greatest modern philosophical circles, Guns N’ Roses, led by the great philosopher Axl Rose:
“Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun and games
We got everything you want honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money honey we got your disease
In the jungle, welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knnn knne knees, knees
I want to watch you bleed…”