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.
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 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 yesterday 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. He must have thought that he looked absurd. He might just as well have smiled, hence I thought I would do a good deed: I turned around and ran up my descending side. But he did not smile. He reported me to security; I was asked to leave – my demand to 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 some one might join me in my rebellion against the in-betweens, and in that solidarity we shall be friends. Again, what is wanted are certain tenets or doctrines of Absurdism that one might live by. As I traveled up and down the escalators, I jotted down the following thoughts:
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 choose, 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 might 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. Yet 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, we would be perfectly clear, or, as Camus put it, lucid. We would pierce the veils, including the veil of the money-god. 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 insight into the Absurd might be – indeed, it is mostly funny, and that is why we wallow in the Absurd. Who are we? I don’t know. Me and my shadowy reflection of you if you please.
Speaking for myself, whom I do not know, 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’s lap and write tail-wagging reports about her toilet? Maybe. Maybe live and let live.
I have become aware of the platitudes, of the fact that, whomever we might be, we live a few cliches 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, so on and so forth ad infinitum. Everyone wants an escape from the blind path, but there is no escape but into Nothing.
Give me liberty or death? Well, now, absolute liberty or omnipotence is death to us all as individuals. 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. 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. But our destination is the same, the beginning is the end and vice versa. How absurd! Shall the truth shall 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. “That is a fact,” my friend Joseph says of his libertarian tenets, “so just accept it.”
Well, then, why complain when one can live and laugh? Never mind the fools who do not know they are fools. Do not ridicule, criticize, condemn, or complain except under a pen name; otherwise, go along, smile at the absurdities but refrain from laughing out loud in public, especially when looking in someone’s direction. 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 is needed. Now that the Absurd has leaped out at me from the incongruous, ambiguous media in a moment of lucidity, it appears that my own futile task is to belay preaching like a fool for one side of some inherently ambiguous principle, for one side of a contradiction or the other, and to simply 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 to say, just paint the Absurd, period.
I would then be just another bulging-belly member of the bourgeoisie but for the fact of my lucidity. I would then appear to everyone else on the bus to be just another apparently stupid man without a car, while knowing that I am in fact quite smart yet just another fool going nowhere.