Pick a word, any word -- Bill Kirton
It’s highly probable that only older readers will remember the success of The Goon Show. In school, the day after the latest adventures of Harry Seagoon, Eccles, Bluebottle and the rest had been broadcast, we repeated them to one another, quoting the best bits (of which there were unfailingly many), doing the voices, and laughing all over again at the genius Spike Milligan’s imaginings.
A quarter of a century later most of those same readers would probably have been part of the audience demographic for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and joined by thousands of adherents less advanced in years.
There were predecessors, of course, all bringing a world view that was mildly anarchic, certainly surreal, and whose principal aim was to entertain or, put more crudely, to provoke unreasoning, energising laughter.
Then, later, when I’d fooled enough people enough of the time to get a job in a university, part of my good fortune was to give lectures and tutorials on, among other things, the Theatre of the Absurd, which meant getting paid for enjoying chatting with intelligent, interesting young people about Ionesco, Beckett, Jarry, Sartre and others. So I discovered that the previously funny, harmless entertainment could be seen to have a ‘purpose’, an underlying philosophy. In fact, despite its wackiness and the fact that everything about it belied the word, it had ‘meaning’.
So what? Well, it could seem that ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’
Before explaining myself, let’s stay with the Goon show and so on. Ionesco, whose Bald Prima Donna has become The Mousetrap of French theatre in the Théâtre de la Huchette in Paris, claimed that ‘the opposite of the absurd is meaningful’, while Arnold P. Hinchcliffe, in his slim volume, The Absurd, notes that one of the objections to absurdity is that ‘we have a strong conviction that the world is not absurd’. Really?
I’m afraid those ‘childish things’ I mentioned are still with us, but in a far more sinister form, because, Covid aside, what other word best conveys the purposeless, chaotic world in which we now live than ‘Absurd’.
The virus creates its own reality, but our governments, ‘leaders’ and others whom the majority of us have put in power still, at least apparently, operate according to ‘real’, well-established traditions. They are part of a sometimes glorious but also inglorious continuum which puts them in charge of us and, well, everything. Their decisions, opinions, words and actions have powerful consequences, and yet make no more sense than those of Seagoon, Bluebottle and Eccles.
The point I'm trying to make is not political, it's existential.
They/We are absurd. But it's not funny any more.