Friday, 22 May 2009

Why doesn't life imitate art?

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 have no time for the artificial systems they’ve created. I'm not knocking any specific religion but anything which peddles the idea of delayed gratification makes me angry. When people are suffering in this life, why make it even worse by promising that the next one will be better? I realize that most people reading this will disagree with such a position and probably 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. As I've said before, perhaps in different ways, it has no purpose, point, direction. 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. On the contrary, 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 crap). I’m only bothering to say it all because my latest novel, The Darkness, (and no, this isn’t a promo for it) has made me aware of things that may have been there subconsciously as I was writing the ones which preceded it but which have only now become more evident. I think I need to write a separate blog about exactly what I mean by that because this one’s already too long, but a theme that’s been there from the start has emerged very strongly in this book. So much so that I now know that the whole series will consist of six novels. Three have already been published, two more are written and the plot of the final one is contained in one of my short stories. I’m not making any great claims to have created a modern Com├ędie 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 these present words may bite me on the bum when the sequence doesn’t turn out as I’m anticipating it will. 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.


  1. Surely "the point" is whatever you make it. Have you brought up a child? Performed a great kindness? Made life even a little easier for someone else? Seek "the point", and ye shall find.
    And by the way, if anyone is offended by your assertions then they are the ones with the issue. In this era of fundamentalism there is a danger of views being held too rigidly. There should always be room for debate. Here's to absurdity!

  2. Indeed! Why we're here doesn't really matter, does it? And whatever happens to us doesn't either. It's what we make of our lives that counts and you seem to have done quite well with yours, Bill. :)

  3. I'm always fascinated by what some people are "offended" by, Bill. Often I feel that offence is taken from someone simply disagreeing the person's point of view. Shrug.

    I'm pretty much agnostic. While it would be nice to think there may be a life affter death and that religious beliefs can help you solve your problems, I feel it's more about faith in one's self. Don't get me wrong, I now people who are religious in their beliefs and they feel it helps them. I'd never argue against that.

    Jim Brown

  4. Michael and Jean - couldn't agree more.

    Cativatex - First, I wish you had a shorter name :)
    Again, I agree. But I guess I'm cynical about some aspects of human nature. I was thinking of the 'I believe X, therefore X is the Truth' brigades.

    There are as many truths as there are people.