If only life were like Art by Bill Kirton
For this blog to make sense I need first of all to set out my religious beliefs. But don’t worry, I don't have any. I care about people but I have no time for the artificial systems they’ve created to promote the self-interest of a particular caste or segment of society. I'm not knocking any specific religion but hierarchies which peddle the idea of delayed gratification to the people they’ve subjugated make me angry. When people are suffering in this life, why make it even worse by promising that the next one will be better? I don’t expect many of the people reading this will share what seems a bleak perception and they probably won’t even have read this far. But, however it appears, it's not my intention to alienate them or get into religious debate. I recognize their right to their own opinions, and that their beliefs are as valid as my absence of belief. This is just the background for the main point I want to make.
For me life is absurd – hugely enjoyable but absurd. It has no purpose, point, direction. This ‘now’ in which I'm tapping these words out on these keys, has no link with the ‘now’ when you're reading them. Like the elements of every other ‘now’, they’re contingent, self-contained. There are those who find such a position impossible; they need to feel that they’re following a path and that there’s a destination. They assume that life without meaning is unbearable, empty. On the contrary, for me it’s liberating. It means I see just how precious it is, how lucky I am to have benefited from the accident of birth and how I intend to make the most of it. A melody or a sunset or a kiss doesn’t have to have meaning to make it pleasurable.
But activities such as games, sports or the arts do have meaning. They follow their own rules, have conclusions, resolutions – they have the good, old-fashioned beginnings, middles and endings. Each match, symphony, play, novel sets out its themes, its contrasts, then plays them out against or with one another. And, of them all, it’s the written word which brings it all closest to ‘reality’. (This isn’t comparing and contrasting the different art forms – it’s just that words are so definite and relate specifically to our everyday world in a way that musical notes or brush strokes don’t.) And, thanks to that, they give us the illusion of structure, meaning.
Depending on your own position on all this, it may seem self-evident (or crap). I’m only bothering to say it all because, in the course of writing five novels about a particular detective (Don’t worry, this isn’t a promo), I’ve become aware of things that may have been there subconsciously all along but which have become more evident as I start thinking about the sixth. You see, I now know that this one will be the last in the series – not because I’m tired of the characters, but because it seems to me that there’s an obvious consistency and progression through the sequence which will lead to an inevitable conclusion. I’m not making any great claims to have created a modern Comédie Humaine but we all, to a greater or lesser degree, do use our fictions to impose structure on the void. In this particular case, the cumulative effect of the main character’s experiences will lead to him making a choice that’s logical but simultaneously incompatible with his function. Basically, he’s had enough and can’t reconcile himself to the hypocrisy and falsity of the public morality which the law (and he, as its representative), is supposed to uphold.
The beauty (or curse) of not believing in anything, of course, is that these present words may bite me on the bum when the sequence doesn’t turn out as I’m anticipating it will. That’s the nature of absurdity. My main point, though, is that when we’re creating our fictions we’re taking a time-out from arbitrariness and contingency and, in a corny way, cheating them. We’re making a wee universe in which rules are obeyed, sins are punished (or not) and the final full stop comes where (God-like) we choose to put it, not at some arbitrary point as we’re crossing the road or eating a pretzel or lying oblivious to the probings of the surgeon’s scalpel. Taken to its logical conclusion, this implies that our best reality is the fictions we enjoy as readers and writers. What a pity that life doesn’t imitate art.
And Chris, what do you mean 'a bit of'?
And, while it's never occurred to me to think I was a disciple of my main character, I recognise the truth of what you say about his possible nocturnal visit.
I think, in life as in art, we put the meaning in there. We make the meaning. I quote from 'A beautiful mind' 'Life - activities available, just add meaning'
(Chris, Bill is an existential philosopher - I on the other hand am a fully paid up moral philosopher of more analytical tradition) Thus he says life is absurd and I say, life is absurd but we make it mean something (if we choose) For most people they want the meaning given to them, for some of us we're happy to create our own meaning. Is that life reflecting art?
And, despite the nature of this posting and my replies, I'm flattered (and terrified) to be given the label 'philosopher'. Yes, I find the existentialists come closest to 'explaining' things in a way that makes sense to me but if I had to stand up and debate these things with you, you'd make mincemeat of me, as would most people with any sort of faith. My own lack of faith isn't nihilistic, I love life and I'm having a great time.
You contrive your meaning from several thousand years of history - social, moral, political, spiritual etc. To think that you do it on your own is in itself absurd.
Cally, see what I mean about mincemeat? In contexts such as this I use words too loosely. In fact, despite tagging the 'most people' bit on, I wasn't associating you with any faith, certainly not anything religious.