By June Hyunjoo Seong, V Form
The Absurdity of Life: Dissonance in Sub specie aeternitatis
One often falls upon the conviction that their present moment is absurd or the composite of the absurdity of moments makes their life absurd. In that this overwhelming conviction has and does consume a great majority of man, the conclusion has been made that life, as in the entirety of earthly existence, might be absurd. When one comes to view this conclusion on a more particulate basis, during which the conviction of the majority is dismantled, one can see the obvious discrepancy between the state that is life and the absurd that is the conviction in contention.
When deeming one subject as the like of another it is important to comprehend the entirety of the relative subjects. Thus, to define “life” and “absurdity” as the subjects of the comparison relayed in the aforementioned argument, it is crucial that one is able to come to a functioning definition. Etymologically, “life” arises from the Old High German lib or leib, which means “life, body.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “life” as “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter.” The “absurd” etymologically arises from the Latin absurdus, which means “dissonant.” Defined by the two foremost thinkers in the Absurdist tradition, Camus and Nagel, the “absurd” is a product of the discrepancy between expectation and reality. As expectation can only exist with one’s ability to conceptualize the present and the future, which is the comprehension of time, one comes to realise that this “discrepancy” noted by Camus and Nagel can only exist in the human psyche. Thus, only human life can be absurd. While “life” is applicable to a wide range of species including non-human organisms, the “absurd” is not.
Therefore, one can come to see that the two subjects cannot be compared or equated because of their fundamentally incongruent relationship. Because the definition of “life” hinges on beings beyond the human whereas the “absurd” is a purely human-specific phenomenon, they cannot be equaled. Upon this realization, one comes to then question the reasons for the prolific popularity of the comparison between life and absurdity.
Absurdity as a means of rationalizing man’s acute frustration with “the chaotic and purposeless nature” of life can be seen as an exact example of an anthropocentric justification (“Absurd”). The equating of one’s subjective interpretation of a facet they own as an all-encompassing definition for all life forms that too own that facet is not only centric to the individual doing the comparison, but hasty and fallacious. Thus, to deem “life” as “absurd” is anthropocentric. With anthropocentrism comes a blindness to the non-universal and thus non-symbiotic nature ofthe argument. Because man is in constant reliance of the intrinsic balance and precise calculation of cosmic and earthly functions, including basic human processes as eating, drinking, and sleeping, it is destructive to adopt an anthropocentric view. Life is not absurd because it cannot be defined by absurdity as absurdity is fundamentally anthropocentric and thus destructive to man.
In Plato’s Apology, Socrates is seen to be in court upon accusations of the corruption of youth and impiety. In his own defense, he goes on to prove the “untruthful” and subjective nature of the accusations, “they would not like to confess the truth…they have been filling your ears with their bitter prejudices” (Helm 25). In this excerpt of Socrates’ defense, a crucial element of the fallacy of the notion of life as absurd is outlined; the subjectivity of the accusations cannot be a determinant of truth. Absurdity is “not a collision between our expectations and the world, but from a collision within ourselves” (Nagel 722). By the very nature of absurdity, the experiences or feelings of it is subjective. Subjectivity can be a personal-truth, but not a life-truth as it cannot be spilled beyond the premises of personal interpretation and experience. In her article, Why Life is Absurd, Rivka Weinberg tells a hellaciously funny story of the subjectivity of this absurdist rationale for life:
“This line of reasoning has a nice ring to it but whether lengthening an absurd thing will relieve it of its absurdity depends on why the thing is absurd and how much you lengthen it…say I decided to wear a skirt so short it could be mistaken for a belt. On my way to teach my class, a colleague intercepts me:
‘Your skirt,’ she says, ‘is absurd.’ ‘Absurd? Why?’ I ask.
‘Because it is so short!’ she replies.
‘If a short skirt is absurd, a longer skirt would be even more absurd,’ I retort” (Weinberg).
In that the absurdity of matter and the degree of it is relative to its definer, as the narrator’s colleague shows with her comment on absurdity, so is the defining of life as absurd. Rather than finding the truth in the state of the skirt, the colleague defines its characteristic absurdity and imposes it on the item of contention. In so doing, the colleague debases his assertion because of its illogical nature. This line of thought can be applied to a wider life-as-absurd context. If one was to say life is absurd because of the
discrepancies between expectation and reality and the extent to which they manifest, the narrator of Weinberg’s story could respond that an utter and pandemic discrepancy would be so large that it could obliterate the human race and thus the existence of the absurd.
Hence, life would still exist, but the possible realm of it being absurd would thoroughly be negated. The subjectivity of the absurd experience cannot be juxtaposed with life as an objective and reliable comparison to gauge truth.
Falling into reveries of contemplation upon the nature of one’s existence, including how one came to be, is a predicament and endless sphere that man often finds himself within. The answer to the question of how one came to be often bifurcates into the classic and seemingly banal duality of fate and free will. In order to understand the two criteria for existence justification, it is firstly important to identify their distinguishing and correlating features. The two arguments pivot upon the axiom of the determinacy of a given moment. If thus the moment or moments of one’s life was determined, then their existence justification would be that of fate and for the non-determinist argument, the converse. Upon further scrutinization of this tricky duality, one comes to see time as central to determining the answer to the age-old question. In that one assumes that God is dead and too never has lived as a non-human centered phenomena, the spectrum of reason for the fatalistic argument narrows. Though this gap through which this reason can exist may be small, its overarching validity and soundness overrides the indeterminist argument. When one considers the present moment, be it that the definition of it can narrow infinitely, one realizes that its existence hinges on the past. Then when one considers the past, one thing can only be certain: that it too hinged on its past. Then in the spectrum of all moments, including that of the past, present, and future, one realizes that this consistent principle of determined and a determining past applies to all life including that of species that do not question the fatalist argument. In that life is thus a composite of an infinity of moments, continually threaded by their past determining their outcome, fate as an answer to how one came to be seems most viable.
The fatalist sees that not only is her argument sound, but a pristine picture for life as a nonchaotic and rational continuum. Tangential to the absurdity of life, fate can be thus be used to negate life as absurd. If the definition of the absurd relies on the notion that the universe is “chaotic and purposeless,” then surely with the logic of fatalism, it is impossible to deem life as so (“Absurd”). Only in the humanistic sense can life seem chaotic—like the absurd. As the dissonance of human expectation or knowledge and reality as the conclusion to life as absurd is only justified by the shortcomings and partiality of man’s comprehension of the universe, if life is deemed “chaotic and purposeless,” then it only is so because of man’s subjective understanding. Therefore, life as absurd is false because of the determinacy of the universe and thus life.
The corporeal desire to justify an overwhelming conviction in the sense that a subcategory of a subject is exactly the like of the larger subject that’s domain falls beyond this subcategory proves itself as a logical fallacy. With more nuanced observation, one can again come to see that with a multitude of robust factors, this comparison is false. In that life is absurd, one cannot still deny that for the individual man, life may be absurd. In that this man does not impose the absurdity of his life to the lives of others, this argument stands. Because the question of “Is life absurd?” juxtaposes the whole of life to a more centralized contingency, the falsity of the argument of life as absurd stands.
June Hyunjoo Seong is a V Form bibliophilic, tea-drinking, Homo sapiens from the cusp of the flat earth—South Korea, Earth, Universe. She enjoys reclining in a weathered futon to read and eat.
“Absurd.” The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University.
Helm, James J. “The Court of Justice.” Apology. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2009. 25. Print.
Nagel, Thomas. “The Absurd.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 68, no. 20, 1971, pp.
716–727. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2024942.
Weinberg, Rivka. “Why Life Is Absurd.” The New York Times, 11 Jan. 2015, opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/why-life-is-absurd/?_r=1. Accessed 6 July 2017.