Q: Why is a duck? A: Because one of its feet are both the same. by Bill Kirton
For this blog to make sense I need first of all to set out my religious or spiritual beliefs. That's easy. I don't have any. I care about people but I have no time for the artificial systems they’ve created. I'm not knocking any specific religion but anything which peddles the idea of delayed gratification makes me angry. When people are suffering in this life, why make it even worse by promising that the next one will be better? I realize that most people reading this will disagree with such a position and probably not 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 for them as my absence of belief is for me. This is just the background for the main point I want to make.
This is an absurd triangle. It’s said to be an ‘Illustration of a mathematical proof by contradiction’. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to explain it because I don’t know what it means either.
For me life is absurd – hugely enjoyable but absurd. (And, except for the ‘enjoyable’ bit, the political shenanigans of recent years seem to confirm that opinion.) I’ve said in other blogs, perhaps in different ways, that life, in fact, 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 every other ‘now’, those nows are contingent, self-contained. There are those who find such a position impossible; they need to feel that they’re part of a continuum, following a path towards a destination. They assume that life without meaning is unbearable, empty. In an interview, the actor Stephen Rea spoke of being directed by Samuel Beckett in Endgame and being given ‘two groundbreaking notes’. He’d asked Beckett what a particular line meant and Beckett’s reply was: ‘Don’t think about meaning, think about rhythm’.
Accepting that ‘meaning’ is a construct, an arbitrary notion of how processes work – or even that there are such things as ‘processes’ at all – helps me 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 wait a minute, activities such as 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 painting, symphony, play, novel sets out its themes, its contrasts, then plays them out against or with one another. And of all of them, it’s the written word which brings it all closest to ‘reality’. (No, I’m not comparing and contrasting the different art forms and creating a league table, it’s just that the constituent parts of literature – words – are so definite and relate specifically, directly, 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 rubbish). My main point, however, 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 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 shots at ‘reality’ are the fictions we enjoy as readers and writers. What a pity that life doesn’t imitate art.