Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Absurdity and The Darkness

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’m not impressed by the artificial systems they’ve created in the name of their preferred abstraction. I'm not knocking any specific religion but I’m, saddened by anything which peddles the idea of delayed gratification and thus devalues the present. When people are suffering in this life, promising them that the next one will be better is an abnegation of real responsibilities. I realize that most people reading this will probably disagree with such a position and might 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 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. From my perspective, it has no purpose, point, direction (which definitely doesn’t mean it has no value – quite the contrary). 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", 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. But the reverse is true, 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 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 symphony, play, novel sets out its themes, its contrasts, then plays them out against or with one another. And the written word 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 rubbish). I’m only bothering to say it all because my novel, The Darkness, (and no, this isn’t a promo for it - see, I haven't even made it a link) made me aware of things that might have been there subconsciously as I was writing the ones which preceded it but which only became evident when it had been finished. That’s because a theme that was there from the start emerged very strongly in this particular novel. So much so that I now know that the whole series will consist of six novels. Four have already been published, another is ready for submission and the plot of the final one is contained in one of my short stories, which I’ll now be able to expand accordingly. I’m not making any great claims to have created a modern Comédie Humaine but there’s (to me anyway) an obvious consistency and progression through the sequence which will lead to an inevitable conclusion.

The beauty (or curse) of not believing in anything, of course, is that when the sequence doesn’t turn out as I’m anticipating it will, these words may return to bite me on the bum (a quaint British expression which I’m not sure you share in the US). 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 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.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I agree with your last sentence, Bill, that it's a pity that life doesn't imitate art, but I'm sad that you have no religous or spiritual beliefs. My own have pulled me through some pretty tough times.

Jaden Terrell said...

Bill, I know you weren't plugging DARKNESS, but this makes me want to read it.

Bill Kirton said...

I understand your sadness, Jean, and I know and respect the fact that religion provides genuine comfort for many people. I'd hate anything I said or wrote to undermine that in any way. A very dear American friend of ours is a deacon and we visit her and her family quite frequently (and vice versa). When they leave for church on Sunday mornings, she frequently pops her head back round the door to tell me with a smile that she'll be praying for me.

Jaden, you're right - that wasn't the intention, but I'm glad it had that effect.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Beth, I read The Darkness last year and enjoyed it very much. It's an excellent read.