To say that life is absurd is a common thing and a seemingly-radical declaration. Instead, absurdism proves a surrender. There is nothing absurd about this world. Everything has been designed with the utmost precision. That design, reasonable yet criminal, may very well be experienced as absurd, and that absurdity can be located in the blueprints, scripts and testaments. But to accept this projected absurdity as reality is to literally lay down our arms, destroy our weapons, and self-amputate our limbs, until we cannot even write in our defense.

Let us look at this “absurd” world. Capitalism has been deemed eternally victorious, but what is the nature of that victory? Most Americans know a small percentage of the U.S. population controls the majority of U.S. wealth and power. What about the planet? What has globalization done for the world? According to a study of global wealth distribution published by Zero Hedge, “Figures for mid-2010 indicate that 24.2 million adults are above the threshold for dollar millionaires. While they make up less than 1% of the global adult population, they own more than a third of global household wealth.”

Again the one percent. A global aristocracy, a gilded class, long past the death of communism, or so it believes. It cannot be predicted how long the trend towards malaise will prevent the “average person” from reacting to such undisguised exploitation. The only mask capitalism wears is that of “democracy,” which the latest American election has proven worse than a failed comedy: It’s not even so unfunny as to be funny. Capitalism is an endless succession of failed sequels to such failed comedies. As in film, only a few directors can be held accountable: approximately one percent of the world’s population. Yet people stream to the sequels like salmon, driven in a quasi-biological manner. Their “world” and their actions in that “world” are the result of the most intelligent design.

We “live” amongst the props and sets of a constantly-projected series of farces. This projected “world” may seem “absurd” to us, but the directors are realists. Further, there is nothing they love more than for their projections to be interpreted as “absurd.” This renders those projections impenetrable and beyond attack, for how can one understand or attack the absurd? Camus provided the answer. Unfortunately, only his suicide was absurd, and how well his death served the realists. Otherwise, the films are taken at face value: “This is how the world is.” In that case, absurdism gives way to “acceptance” of “life” as it “is,” a “spiritual” reaffirmation of the fantasy presented to us as reality. In burning such incense, we smelt nonsense into “sense,” call it “faith,” and, if feeling Tertullianesque, “Credo quia absurdum.”

In this projection we live, “absurdity” is a seductive description of “life,” but “life” is not the same as life. All we know is “life.” Capitalism creates “life” as we know it. The creation of that “life” is utterly reasonable: It serves the interests of those who create it. Our “lives” are the product of creative design, and that creative design embraces money but will also accept worship. We must grasp that our “lives” cannot be understood even as “lives” until we understand that we “live” on a set, under a director’s command, acting according to scripted plots and utterly-predictable narratives that we have interpreted as “real life.” In comparison to that “real life,” how hollow our “lives” seem. Whichever reaction we experience, a kind of environmental film becomes the life to our “life.” To understand the difference between “life” and life, one must accept what Alain Badious states: “It is not the film that is the real: it is the cinema.” The cinema with its stains of butter and chocolate raisins. That is real. That is life. Why would we want it?

When we realize we don’t, we seek a solution. Typically, we think something must be wrong with us. We experience sudden-onset anxiety attacks and depression. These are symptoms of awareness, repressions realized but unbearable in their realization. We visit a psychiatrist and return to our “lives” with renewed hope that we will one day go to film school, become a director and join the one percent. Alternatively, our medications fail and we surrender to the notion that life is “absurd.” In the former case, we have been “saved,” and in the latter case we have been “damned.” Thus has Christianity been absorbed by capitalism. Heaven is for producers, hell for surplus labor. Yet heaven and hell are but two more projected fantasies. The “saved” have been drugged back into the endurable delusion called “life,” while the damned have come close to realizing that “life” is not life but understandably cannot bear to think that all their suffering has been caused not by a wrathful yet ultimately-forgiving god but rather upon entirely-reasonable people with entirely-reasonable goals.

The problem is clear. Wants and needs, once “fulfilled,” do not fulfill our wants and needs; we have been scripted to act as though we want what we are wanted and need what we are needed to need. Fulfilling invented wants and needs has become the entirety of everyday “life.” That “life” is nothing but consumption and excretion, with “spring cleaning” our annual festival of product disposal…to make room for more products.

We are not yet culpable. We act according to script, but the script is presented as though holy. That is why Christianity, willingly or not, serves capitalism so well. As Henri Lefebvre wrote, “More ambitious, more remote than the means, the aim is to change life, lucidly to recreate life. This is the exact opposite of the aim and the essence of religion.” Capitalism itself is a religion based upon faith in the “invisible hand” of the marketplace. But the hand is visible. The hand is human. One percent of the population has such a hand in our affairs…yes, even our love affairs, dominated by expectations we absorb without even knowing it. The capitalist faith, like all others, is merely the Klieg light that enshrouds the true goal: social control. But if one accesses the testament, its editing and proofreading become obvious. The “invisible hand” of “God” is entirely visible and human as it continuously revises our new global faith.

How then shall we live rather than “live”? That is the question of our times for all but one percent of the population. They, too, may “live” rather than live, but they do so with the pleasures of power and the means of escaping their own sickening cinema. Look about you. What do you see? I see desolation on the march, the return of the homeless, another sequel. I see the avenues even in New York City begin to resemble avenues in any other city, with the exception of Broadway, prettier cinemas yet sordid nonetheless with their “musicals” sheered of anything that might be called music except by the deaf. The state in which I “live” — for I, too, cannot be said to live — is Florida, a statewide resort and bloodless concentration camp for the retired, otherwise dotted with the usual closing businesses, except, oddly, mattress stores. Never have I seen so many mattress stores. Apparently, many have chosen to sleep away their “existences” here. They don’t miss much.

Better to dream, etc., but no, not to dream: We have too many dreams. REM long ago bled into our waking hours. Instead of dreaming upon dreams, we must penetrate the dreamworld presented to us as reality. This is our project. We must locate the reality behind the mist of projections, and then we must change it. We must destroy the cameras, sets, screens, and, yes, directors. Our everyday lives, as Lefebvre so often states, must become wondrous in themselves, so that we no longer need purchase wonders that reveal their true nature upon opening the box that contains them: Pandora’s Box.

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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

7 responses to ““Life” and Life: The World Is 
Not Absurd”

  1. josie says:

    Hey Paulie, I see you are still wearing that particular shade of black ;^)

    I found this piece quite amusing, mostly because I imagined you speaking it and making all those quotations with your hooked fingers in the air. Made me giggle every time.

    You want to hear something truly absurd?
    I once met a man who claimed all our error in “life” and life was in chasing down and assaulting mystery, in squandering our time attempting to beat the truth out of a thing instead of merely allowing the thing to be as it is.

    I grilled him with questions about this philosophy for some time.
    I couldn’t see his face clearly but I’m pretty sure he was smiling at me the whole time.
    Totally absurd, that fella.

    You keep chasing ’em down, buddy.
    No since in wasting good running shoes.

  2. Paul A. Toth says:

    Hi there. Not black but maybe “bright gray!” I do hate the quotations this type of “philosophy” entails but I found it unavoidable though I did realize it was comical in a way I didn’t intend…much like my life! Therefore, I say that we cannot say what the meaning of “is” is because it’s disguised, unless you’ve got an intern’s head buried in your genitals. There are no quotation marks involved in that activity unless — well, never mind. In any event, as usual, I have no solutions, but I can always point to the problem. If a hunting dog, I would know the vicinity of the target, but no one would ever shoot anything.

  3. josie says:

    Yes, yes. Black never could pull off a sense of humor.
    Bright gray. I’ll second that.

    … and…

    God save the intern!

  4. Judy Prince says:

    A fascinating argument by analogy, Paul. It reminds me of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” (in *The Republic*) and Richard Wright’s film-watching audience in, I think, his novel *Black Boy.*

  5. Paul A. Toth says:

    Thank you, Judy. Mind you, this comes from a one-time absurdist. Only recently did all of the points in post occur to me. That’s the delayed result of my reading, amongst many others, Guy Debord, particularly “Society of the Spectacle.” Many New Year’s good wishes to you.

    • Judy Prince says:

      Thanks, Paul.

      Dear Rodent often quotes what he says is from Guy DeBord, one of several slogans he wrote in *Society of the Spectacle.* The slogan was included in the Occupation Committee of the People’s Free Sorbonne University’s telegram sent to the Communist Party of the USSR on 17 May 1968:


      There’s a certain verve to the slogan, one must admit.

  6. Paul A. Toth says:

    I know that one; I’ve stolen it myself!

    What more can I say about capitalism? One thing: It’s a religion and, like Christianity in the States and elsewhere, is used by the powerful and their employees (the government) to shield their one true god. Need I say its name?

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