In of itself, the term absurd is a synonym for ridiculous or preposterous. In the past I have also seen it described as anything, whether a thought process or a physical action, which is inconsistent with reason or common sense.
For my part, I tend to lean towards the definition of the absurd as anything which is not so much inconsistent with reason, but is instead opposed to the very existence of reasons – I think I had a long discussion about that with someone once, and he didn’t like me to describe it that way, but I guess I’m just a maverick through and through.
Well, either that or I’m just an awkward contraria – either one is equally possible!
Still, my definition works well when paced in the context of absurdist theory, which is essentially a strand of existentialism. Personally, I love the idea of absurdity, so this might come off a little biased as I wax lyrical about the wonders of absurdism and perhaps neglect to mention a few of the issues that I have with it.
Albert Camus – Existentialism And The Absurd
The Myth Of Sisyphus is probably one of the most famous existentialist works in the world, and I’ve seen it read by students of all kinds; from philosophy, law, literature, creative writing, art, language, and students who follow a more scientific doctrine. In it, Camus claims that: “The Absurd is born out of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world”.
Now, you’ll no don’t recognise similarities to this statement and to the general beliefs of existentialism. In fact, this was a view that was shared by many of the major French existentialists, including Sartre. According to absurdity, humanity is required to live in a world that will never be anything other than hostile or indifferent to its needs, hopes, dreams, fears, passions, et cetera. In essence, everything that makes humanity what it is, doesn’t really matter when compared to existence as a whole.
The universe, no matter how much we want it to, will never care about us as a species or as individuals or as anything. There is nothing out there looking after anybody, save perhaps other people – which kinda supports my idea that, if we must worship, we should be worshipping ourselves rather than any external force – but anyway…
It is worth remembering that, whilst it remains one of the most common and widely-supported forms of existentialism, absurdism can be thought of as simply a sub-theory within the larger philosophical web of existentialist thought.
Absurdity And The Obvious Atheism
This statement obviously leans towards the Atheistic view, rather than any organised, disorganised or agnostic religious view. It could be said that, to combat this irrefutable fact of a cold, uncaring universe, humans are fond of creating narratives and stories, legends and religions, spirits and gods, which they use in place of the cold, uncaring universe in some vague attempt to satisfy their needs.
Of course, I think that the argument of referring to the universe as uncaring is an unsuitable one, as it almost seems to suggest that the universe could do anything besides neglect to care for humanity. It isn’t like the universe actively despises humanity; it’s just that there isn’t anything there to care in the first place – dismal stuff I know, but is the idea of there be nothing there worse than the idea that there is a God, or a pantheon somewhere in space, and that He/She, or they, hate us all? Some kind of Denarius/Moloch/Darkseid figure?
Kierkegaard, whom I’ve mentioned before, once said that faith in God was an absurd idea – despite this, he remained religious throughout his life. He cited the impossibility of knowing God, understanding his purpose, or truly being able to serve him. Personally, I think it’s all a form of slavery anyway and if my purpose was to find some way to free everyone from religious mind-control, I’d be fairly happy with that – but then that would imply a universal purpose, at which point I’d try to fight that and we’d go on and on until I died and the universe kept on rolling.
Humanity’s Quest For Purpose And Meaning, In A Purposeless And Meaningless Universe
One of the most commonly used examples for the prevalence of absurdism in human life is the human’s ongoing quest for purpose, meaning, or even identity. It can be an easy thought process – even a lazy one, in my opinion – to say that everything must have a purpose; that there is a reason for everyone’s and everything’s existence.
This problem with this is, if we did have some higher purpose, then what would be the reason behind that purpose, and what would we be left with once we had fulfilled that purpose? If anything, I think that the idea of having a purpose, having fulfilled all of your dreams and survived your fate, could potential more terrifying than the absence of meaning altogether.
Anyway, the quest would be an ongoing thing, eternally – which would then mean that there was no definitive purpose aside from death; at which point we may all just give up and strive for death right now, but nobody wants to do that! At least, I hope nobody reading this wants that! I mean, Camus himself once described suicide as the only real reaction to the absurdity of life, but he then went on to admit that it is a pretty poor reaction.
What Are Your Opinions On Absurdism?
What do you think?
Does absurdism make any sense to you?
Do you believe it is more believable than other existentialist theories?
Have you ever read any of Camus’ work (personally, I’d recommend The Fall and The Outsider as great introductions – I much preferred them to The Myth Of Sisyphus)?
Do you think that absurdism or existentialism are easy ways to deal with the universe, or are they much harder than traditional religious beliefs?
Saying that, is existentialism actually a way to deal with the universe, or just another pointless and pretentious thought process?
Be sure to comment and let me know; I’d really love to get someone else’s opinions on this!