MY ABSURDISM by David Arthur Walters
Having concluded that life in Kansas City as reported is absurd, I suppose I might learn to live an absurd life in Downtown Kansas City pursuant to the absurd doctrines of Absurdism that I am creating as I write, notwithstanding the fact that creative cosmopolitan critics are unwelcome downtown, especially in the Compassion Zone around City Hall, where broke people are compassionately welcomed to keep them out of the commercial district.
Yet here I go again, like Sisyphus with his Stone. I shall take advantage of a modern convenience, the escalator, at least as long as Building Security will permit my continuous up and downs. I am taking a shortcut, really. Why bother with the in-betweens when one is just going to go up or down the escalator again? Now the expression you see on my face is not a grimace—it is a free smile, a smile for nothing—and the sound you hear is not a grunt—it is a free laugh, a laugh for nothing.
A businessman on the United Missouri Bank escalator gave me the most hateful look when I smiled at him and laughed as we passed. He was walking up the ascending side; I was standing still on my side, simply enjoying the descent while wondering why man is said to descend from monkeys instead of ascend from them. He must have thought he looked absurd. He should be smiling, so I did a Kantian good deed, a deed good as far as intentions go, dutifully done no matter the results: I turned around, ran up my descending side, and smiled broadly at him. But he did not smile. He reported me to Building Security. I was asked to leave. My demand to first shake the hand of Rufus Crosby Kemper, Jr., chairman of the bank’s board of directors, was rejected out of hand.
No problem. I went over to the Town Pavilion escalators to continue my futile task, for the sheer absurdity of it. Who knows? Some day someone might join me in my rebellion against the ups-and-downs, the in-betweens, and in that middling Solidarity we shall all be bosom comrades.
What is wanted occurred to me in my moments of lucidity. We need certain tenets or doctrines of Absurdism by which one may freely exist. After I traveled up and down the escalators for a few hours, I jotted down my absurdities while having a double cheeseburger at the food pavilion at the bottom of the escalator:
Since the outcomes of our moral actions are often unpredictable and absurd, let those actions or means be ends in themselves. Wherefore we fly, from love to love, for Love’s sake. We act as we naturally would, in the illogical, absurd present, or in the Now, or in Nothing if there is no Now.
Instead of worrying about nothing and belaboring the fact that no-thing is eternal, we must have faith in Nothing and choose to be Nothing, for Nothing is Perfect and Nothing is Impossible.
Sisyphus labored willingly and laughed at the gods who sentenced him to futility. But we laugh at ourselves as we rebel against every definition of god or gods, knowing full well that our rebellion against the one-god or the many-gods is futile, that even a mocking victory is absurd.
We are given to struggle even though we are aware that our passion to exhaust the given and the imagined is ultimately useless. Indeed, in our very inutility do we rebel and revel.
We put our whole effort into the absurd, ambiguous struggle. We seduce to love. We act to live. We make to create. We imagine to be. Above all, in the stones on our shoulders, in the rocks in our heads, we would be perfectly clear, or, as Camus put it, lucid.
We must pierce the veils, including the veil of the money-god at the top of bank escalators. Although creative cosmopolitans are not welcome in Metropolitan Kansas City, where editors have their heads buried in the military-industrial sand, we would know the cosmos without illusion, no matter how painful insights into the Absurd might be. Never mind the pain: the Absurd is mostly funny; that is why we shall wallow in the Absurd.
Who are We, this subject for my predicates? I don’t know. I am myself, and my shadowy reflection of you, if you please. At one extreme, I am I, and nothing besides; that is, I am the proverbial rebel in whose image gods are made. On the other hand, I am Nothing, not nothingness, but nothing known to exist.
Speaking for my absurd self, whom I do not know except as a congeries or coincidence of qualities, and a bundle of contradictions that move whatever I am, together with what I am told by the others, which does not make a whole lot of sense, I see that my absurd art of living at present is literary.
Camus had his down to earth, everyday moral actions, his humane deeds to do, but what does an alienated writer, without a cosmos to know, do in Downtown Kansas City? Boost the power elite’s real estate projects, no matter how absurd they may be? Become a reporter who does not know the difference between news and advertising, sniff around City Hall, jump onto the Mayor Barnes’ lap and write tail-wagging reports about her toilet, or be one of City Manager Cauthen’s “naysayers” to be ignored? Or just live and let live.
I have become aware of the platitudes, of the fact that, whomever we might be, we live a few clichés over and over and over, and that even the devices we use to cloak or style the recurrent themes are themselves variations of a small set of themes. Art expresses in certain ways the monotonous repetition death-life-death or life-death-life, nothing-something-nothing or something-nothing-something, up-and-down and down-and-up, round-and-round, back-and-forth and forth-and-back, and so on and so forth ad infinitum. Everyone wants an escape from the blind path, yet there is no escape but into Nothing.
Give me liberty or death? Well, now, absolute liberty or omnipotence or living forever without impedance is death to us all as individuals for resistance is needed to fashion the individual.
Methinks we mostly prevaricate: we want more to belong than to be free. We are alienated the moment we are born, hence we cry for our mamas and would return to the womb rather than be independent. The original sin is simply being born individual. But we cannot go home again until death doth part us from our unwilling independence. We exchange mother’s milk for mother’s words and weave one illusion after another to avoid the outcome we instinctively still want; some of us go much farther, and try to escape our fate in hot air balloons and starships. But our destination is the same; the beginning is the end, and vice versa.
Shall the truth set us free from the illusion that we are free? Well, now, the truth is that we are imprisoned and there is no escape. Every means of escape is in turn another form of prison. So never mind the unmitigated truth, and embrace the relative truth.
“This is our liberty,” my friend Joseph says of his libertarian dogma, “so just accept it.”
Well, then, why complain when one can live and love and laugh? Never mind the fools who do not know they are fools. Do not ridicule, criticize, condemn, nor complain except under a pen name. Go along, smile at the absurdities, but refrain from laughing out loud in public, especially when looking in someone’s direction. And, above all, remember to have faith in Nothing, for Nothing is Perfect.
Still the mind repudiates itself and tries to cloak Nothing with something. What must be done? What must I do? A doctrine of Absurdism, an absurd dogma, is needed. How may I devise an absurd dogma? There is no need for a device, for dialectics proves that all dogma is inherently absurd. Live to die is absurd enough. That is my absurdity, to consciously live an absurd life.
Now that the Absurd has come to me from the incongruous, ambiguous media in a moments of lucidity while riding the downtown Kansas City escalators, it appears that my own futile task is to belay preaching like a fool for one side of some inherently ambiguous principle, to not argue one side of a contradiction or the other, but to simply suspend judgment and tranquilly express the Absurd without critical, editorial commentary, even if that means that I have said Nothing, that I have slipped into the void, have become submerged in the Absurd. That is, I should just paint the Absurd, period.
I would then be just another bulging-belly member of the bourgeoisie but for the fact of my lucidity, for they would not know, cannot know, how absurd their lives are. I would then appear to everyone else on the bus to be just another stupid man without a car, when in fact I am a wise fool going nowhere.