“A little boy in a cowboy suit, writing in a puddle with a stick, a dog approaching. Deaf or dumb, the boy is, like anyone, a little timid, partly stupid, ashamed, afraid, like us, like you. He is there. Picture the boy. See his eyes. Sympathize with his little closes. Now, break his arm. Picture violin section. The violins are on fire. (The following is said almost without anger as if it’s just another request) Now go fuck yourselves.”
–Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), Will Eno.
That’s a little absurdism for you there. The next few lines go into the character trying to sound like he’s fine, but he really isn’t. He is spiraling while trying to understand the colloquial term ‘whatever’ because he thinks it will describe how he wants to feel. Did you get that? I hope so. Because underneath the strangeness is a deep vulnerability– and joy in being alive.
It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless.
At its core, absurdism is rooted in social activism and rebellion against the norm. At a time when everyone was taking art very seriously and enforcing standards on artist’s practices, absurdists challenged the system. They said, what if we make an art form that defies expectations by being intentionally bizarre? When everything around us is so devoid of reason, embracing irrationality and strangeness may be the next best thing.
With the current pandemic, there is little that we can control. At first, I felt so powerless against it all. That’s when I turned to absurdism. It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless. The Dadaist slogan of “art for art’s sake” and absurdism’s love of nonsense is exactly the type of energy we need to be bringing into our lifestyles.
Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time). I spent most of my life, as I expect a majority of you did, trying to assign value to myself by the things that I achieved and the decisions I made. Wanting my life to mean something, I quickly grew desperate when things did not turn out as I imagined.
Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time).
Take, for instance, applying to jobs or sharing creative work. There is a powerlessness that I feel every single time. I can’t help but think that I am putting myself out there to be judged– which I am, to a certain extent. Recently, after being ghosted by a couple of jobs I had applied to, I was starting to fear that the rest of the year would be the same. All my efforts seemed to be in vain. Keen to maintain a certain image I had of my life, I started reaching out to places that I had no interest in. But I soon became so thankful that things turned out the way they did when a professor reached out to me, excited to have me on board to work on her screenplay– something I deeply enjoyed doing.
Like that last line by Will Eno, I often forgot that life was full of surprises. I learned to be okay with it. More than that, to be happy.
By reading absurdist writers, I embraced the joy of being surprised. I found humor in unexpected things. There was a strength in accepting chaos that I did not find anywhere else. When it seems like the year is going entirely on its own path, I cling to these teachings more than ever. We can’t be stubborn and try to force the year to go in the direction we want it to. We are doing more damage by pulling on the leash and digging our feet into the ground then if we let loose a little and see where the year is headed.
All in all, when things don’t work out, whether it is with your school, career, or relationship prospects, remind yourself that having ‘nothing’ going on shouldn’t be terrible. Just take Daniil Kharm’s The Red-Haired Man, where at the end he admits that he is writing nonsense and gives up entirely. This poem has gotten me out of all types of ruts, both creative and personal.
We can all take a note from absurdism. If we embrace chaos in this way, we can enhance our own sense of wellbeing.
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