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The Argument for Absurdity

There was a reason for the growth, in the middle of the 20th century for the genre of “Absurd Theatre”. The realisation or belief that many ideals nurtured from a millennia or two of perceived reality no longer served a world reeling from two enormous wars and the systematic mechanisation of the killing machines in those conflicts … against such brutality, one’s life seemed meaningless and neither a binding faith in religion or social fairness mattered one iota!

The “Theatre of the Absurd” rose from the ashes of wasted humankind … it preached, along with cynicism in the fantasy philosophy of economic fairness and social cohesiveness, in a purpose in life a possibility of confronting ourselves and creating a new consciousness of a belief in a new paradigm of society. The universal destruction throughout Europe with both wars and the extreme and brutal loss of life affected everyone. There arose in the arts a search to reconstruct meaning and rational in the everyday lives of so many citizens.

Samuel Beckett’s; “Waiting for Godot” heralded in a new concept of absurdist reality … Tom Stoppard’s later production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” … is considered another later absurdist play.

These two plays are a good example of how the theatre is the best-suited genre to show how people are separated from the reality of their position in society by placing the central characters in a situation of isolation from the “real world” around them … They then act out a false reality that is, however, true and relevant to their particular immediacy … So do the two characters in “Godot” debate reasons for the person they await in not turning up, then move on to various subjects pertinent to their state … reality is suspended and an absurd existential world opens up … and we; the audience just watch as the drama unfolds before our eyes.

Such a world of vague uncertainty is what now exists in the political realities of our State. So many varying ideals of religion or philosophy have come kicking and screaming out at us from vested interests or fanatical groups that there appears little room for logic and reason to pull up a chair!

There is a deliberate movement to create such an uncertain political state by the corporate world to make the general voting public untrusting in social ideals that demand a “change of rules” of government priorities from corporate management style of trickle-down economics that rewards the top echelon of wealth to a system of social benefit economics that gives greater priority to social equality in work / care / wealth to lift the lower suffering demographic to a decent standard of living.

Coupled with a fast destructing environment, the realities of life; work/play seem to have been shanghaied by an extreme fantasy world that only exists within the digital spectrum of the internet and the “smart-phone”. Alongside the somewhat banal entertainments of so many facile self-promotion and product promotions on Instagram and other forms of social media app’s, is the more insidious access to targeted fraud and bullying … or just the good old-fashioned threatening emails!

What we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to continue down this road of cynical disbelief in a capacity to re-create a social system based on fair distribution of sovereign wealth of the nation to many more of the nation through deliberately sculptured policy, or do we want to instead hide underneath a blanket of false reality marketed by the controlling influences of corporate power?

I believe we have to momentarily suspend the cynicism and let be put in place the foundation of a democratic socialism that will change the structure and core of governance. I believe we have to STOP the conversation of “how can we afford to . . .” and start the discussion of “How can we afford NOT to . . . “ .

In a recent article; “The Tradesmen’s Return”, I proposed that the best managers for governance ought to be taken from that vast pool of skilled people well-experienced in all the machinery of production. Again, I propose that this philosophy be incrementally adopted within the ranks of Labor so that those with appropriate skills AND training AND experience be the ones selected to run for office. There can only be positives in the adoption of this notion and we will surely be spared those grossly incompetent buffoons that are now peppered throughout our Parliament!

Lastly, as for example, I would direct your attention to that great absurdist novel; “Catch 22” … at a particular point where the characters “Orr” and “Yossarian” (much like the two people in Beckett’s “Godot”) seriously discuss in totally surreal terms Orr’s hatred for another officer in the corps .. : (From Wikipedia).

“Orr seems to take offence at Appleby, who is patriotic and a conformist. Appleby is also a renowned table tennis player in the squadron, “who won every game he started until the night Orr got tipsy on gin and juice and smashed open Appleby’s forehead with his paddle after Appleby had smashed back each of Orr’s first five serves. … Pandemonium broke loose.” While Orr is a small man, Appleby is large, strong and athletic, and so is able to get a hold of Orr and almost “smite him dead”. However, Yossarian intervened and “took Orr away from him.” Yossarian fights Appleby instead; this is the first instance in the novel of Yossarian’s protectiveness of Orr. The next day, Orr informs Yossarian that Appleby has “flies in his eyes”:

“Oh, they’re there, all right,” Orr had assured him about the flies in Appleby’s eyes after Yossarian’s fistfight with Appleby in the officers’ club, “although he probably doesn’t even know it. That’s why he can’t see things as they really are.”
“How come he doesn’t know it?’ inquired Yossarian.
“Because he’s got flies in his eyes,” Orr explained with exaggerated patience. “How can he see he’s got flies in his eyes if he’s got flies in his eyes?”

Logical .. of course … but totally absurd … I remember an Ernest Hemmingway bi-line in reporting on the conflict in China in WW2 … where Hemingway tells a Chinese general what was the opinion of the British military brass of the Chinese army .. to which the Chinese general replies..: “Do you know why the British General wears a monocle? .. no? … So he will never have to understand more than what he sees”.

Let us enjoy the absurd as a genre of entertainment, but I believe we ought to step away from such in our real world and seek to re-establish logic and reason in governance.

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  1. guest

    Brilliant, Joseph! Absurdity is all around us and too often we are led by those who have no visionary plan beyond surviving in a cocoon of self-interest alienated from empathy with other people and wondering what is going on.

  2. Joseph Carli

    I placed this piece on the edit page, guest, just before the election..and sadly, I have to concede that the fantasy world of absurdity is the one the people have chosen over social responsibility and reason…It does not auger well.

  3. Peter F

    Joseph, that you for this. I was beginning to wonder if my view of the small world I occupy was seriously distorted. I will now cease hitting my head against the wall.

  4. John

    Is anyone familiar with the truly sane work of Karl Polanyi beginning with his book The Great Transformation.
    And more recently the work of Geoff Davies via his Better Nature Books website.
    The very sobering book by Tony Judt titled Ill Fares the Land is now even more urgently relevant.
    Even more sobering is the new book by Ziya Tong titled The Reality Bubble: Blind Spots, Hidden Truths, and the Dangerous Illusions That Shape Our World

  5. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. “Waiting for ScoMO policies”. could that be the next theatre of the absurd production? No, the foreign owned multinational corporations already have their script from the 1969 Club of Rome Report. Australia will becomes the new mining pit for European, American and North Asian mineral processors and manufacturers. QED.

  6. Josephus

    The absurdist plays and novels were all too realistic though symbolic on the surface cf Kafka also. Through such plays and novels a distancing occurs thanks to which we realise how meaningless our lives really are. Religions invent a meaning… touching but false.
    Meanwhile water and soil are polluted by mining and fracking so that the often overseas rich may get even richer. Turnbull obliges by sending his riches off shore- surreal in a man supposed to be at the service of citizens. Good on his son for rebelling.
    Morrrison is a clown whose cold eyes do not match his grin. What a sham he is. Surrounded by dishonest acolytes, now his ghostlike climate minister is reappointed- Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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