Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Is the universe absurd?

I don't mean our perceptions about it. I'm not talking about the way that humans see a particularly strange situation, like an old lady rummaging through a garbage can, or a child digging into a tub of ice cream with her baby finger at the supermarket while her mother pushes the shopping cart three paces ahead, oblivious. I'm not talking about the way that we shake our heads, turn to our friends and say: "That's crazy, isn't it." Then us, these humans, go back to our lives, swig our bottled ice teas, and wonder what we should have for dinner. I'm not talking about noticing life's oddities and pointing them out for the amusement of others.

I'm wondering if space, galaxies, the universe, black holes, all of that shit, has, at its core, absurdity. Absurdity as a physical property. Beneath the logic and the atoms, the nucleus and the string-theory, all the stuff that makes other stuff work, is a core of physical, tangible, irrefutable absurdity. Absurdity as a scientifically proven thing.

The older I get, the more I learn, the more I start to sense the lack of symmetry in life, and it is this absence of intent, this reckless neglect of order, that worries me. It makes me nervous because everthing appears to make sense. There are suits that fit and ties that match, blue ones with perfect red spots scattered across the silk. Trains that come on time. Weather forecasts that recommend umbrellas, correctly. It rains, and there it is, the umbrella, in your hand, just like the little man on TV predicted. Both the rain, and the umbrella. He mentioned rain, and he knew you would need an umbrella, and so you have it, and there you are: order. An illusion of logic. Feeling a hunger pang, a dull knife carving a benign scar into your stomach, you can buy a burger and ease the pain. All is right with the world. The sun comes up, goes down, shines again. Symmetry, and intent, and order, but I'm nevertheless starting to believe none of it.

This is, perhaps, a child's lament, an adolescent at the onslaught of age twelve who suddenly realizes that the homework is always, eventually due, the vacation cancelled, the black-eye bruised. Life come undone. Then we move on, adjusting. Graduating. Commencing. We start to think that life has a rhythm, a pace, and if we are not marching to this particular tune then there will be another one, after, later, in a different, more spacious venue. One where the music will eventually suit our tastes. We forget the child of twelve because we know that you cannot remain twelve forever. Reality intrudes. We confuse reality with order.

But is 'reality' a cyclone in Burma? An earthquake in China? Marvellous instruments of order, these cyclones and earthquakes. They have a ruthless symmetry that hides an indifferent, bottomless core of emptiness. The peasant in Burma and the factory worker in China both roam through the rubble, stumbling over the heads of their children. While the blue sky looms, perfect in its purity.

Is this not absurd?

If reality, if nature, has, at its basest level, such evolutionary indifference, then what are we left with? Colliding atoms and groups of molecules masquerading as entities we call humans. Victims of this sperm and that egg on one particular night. Asserting our identities to each other through business and sport, art and commerce, each of us attempting to prove, endlessly, that we have some sort of significance. No matter that the cyclone or earthquake is insisting otherwise.

The universe rages on around us, maliciously absurd, while we huddle together, cramped but alert, wondering what's next. Absurdity awaits, to be sure, but perhaps together we can wait out the havoc.

Nothing is more absurd then the blessed calm after a murderous storm, yet there always is one, this calm, which must mean something. The pause after the rage. The gap between the points of the razor. That blue sky. Those white clouds. A gentle wind, silent but insistent at our backs.

If I can feel that wind, I can make myself believe that it means more than it does. I can remember to take my umbrella on rainy days, and eat a burger when my stomach growls. I can feel the grass between my toes and the sun on back of my neck and shoot absurdity itself a dirty look. Shoot it the finger, even.

And if absurdity is a thing, a force, an entity in and of itself, at least age will allow me to become familiar with its ridiculous, clown-like face, the one it hides between the cyclone's winds and the earthquake's shakes. I can keep an eye out for its imminent arrival. I might be able to occasionally hear its plodding, stealthy approach, and even, if luck abides, somehow judge if its clumsy, cosmic, clown-shoe steps are looming, or simply squeaking, or existing somewhere in between.