Meaning

15 Aug

On episode 9 of my podcast, guest Erik Bergstrom parted with these words: “Nothing means anything, and that’s why it’s great.” For some reason I’ve been contemplating those words a lot lately, because I have reached a point where I’m really starting to wonder if anything means anything, and it’s nobody’s fault but myself.

I tend to have a pretty existential view of comedy, and I mean that as close as possible to the original Sartre/Camus sense of existential, in that life in and of itself is absurd and acknowledging such helps you deal with it. Camus wrote a short story called “The Myth of Sisyphus,” about the Greek myth of the mortal punished to push a boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down for all of eternity. In Camus’s story, he becomes “the absurd hero” when he realizes that his situation is only good or bad dependent on the meaning he decides to give it, and thus he becomes “greater than his rock.” He chooses to rise above than to sink below and give in to despair.

So for me, the comics I like are like Sisyphus, and their jokes are them trying to move a rock, confronting the truth of that rock, and thus becoming greater than it. That’s where the humor comes from, that transcendence over the meaningless of something and thus the ultimate victory over it. One could even argue a simple knock-knock joke is confronting the meaningless of a polysemous language and becoming victorious over that.

But that recognition of the absurd isn’t a one-way road to epistemic victory. It’s more like a trap door you’re standing on with a hinge that swings both up and down. Above the door is that victory, but underneath is back on the other side: nothing means anything, and that’s why it’s terrifying.

I spend a lot of time writing in an attempt to deconstruct things to find the humor: myself, my surroundings, back to myself again, things I say, things other people say, why I said things to those people, disassembling all of them like you disassemble a watch to see all the neat little gears and go “huh, that’s how it works.” But I disassemble the watches with no knowledge of how to put them back together. Soon reality is a pile of disconnected gears and springs and it leaves me with very little that can actually be used or enjoyed.

And where there are clocks left still ticking, I turn to other comics. I spend a lot of time at open mikes where other comics, better comics, attack plenty of other topics and experiences I either couldn’t or haven’t yet uncovered, so I spend more time going “Huh, yeah, that IS bullshit, too!” and it unravels even more. Especially when you commit to the idea that everything can be joked about and everything can be funny, that’s when you commit to not letting anything stay pristine and unopened.

Sometimes I end up in conversation being one of those irritating guys who sounds like he’s doing bits even in offstage conversation, or that he’s always “on,” and it’s not some symptom of wanting to always be interesting and always wanting to have that attention (that previous statement is pretty much a lie), but it’s just that it’s hard for me to stop jamming a screwdriver in all of my clocks and spilling the gears out. If it sounds like I’m doing a bit, it’s me grappling with something and making someone else have to deal with it by listening to me. Sometimes I end up yanking someone’s watch off their wrist and breaking it open for my own satisfaction, despite the fact that those watches have some personal value to them. Fuck them, I want to see how it works!

When all the adrenaline and the laughs and the success recede, all that’s left is the pile of gears. I don’t know which gears fit back where or even if they were supposed to belong anywhere, and I have the choice of either enjoying that I know how it all works or lamenting the inability to tell the time anymore. To jump back to my other stupid metaphor, I feel the trap door giving way beneath me.

So what do I do? Where do I look. God? Oh MAN has that ship sailed. Trying to find meaning through God for me at this point would be like the Mad Hatter trying to fix the pocket watch by jamming the gears back in with mustard and jam. Love? How do I not look at human relationships with all of the scrutinizing lenses I’ve acquired  that show how all our rituals of love are just attempts to avoid our own loneliness despite our need for individuality? What do I do? What do I do with this realization that nothing means anything?

Well, suicide’s out, too. If life is meaningless, death is, too. Anybody who thinks suicide is somehow the proper answer to the conclusion that life is meaningless is silly and still has an overblown sense of his own power and worth. It’s a selfish person’s last desperate attempt to affect those around him by hoping that they despair.

I suppose the only choice this: I take apart clocks. That’s my thing. So I should simply look for more clocks, because the world has them in ready supply. If the trap door is swinging the wrong way, disassemble that, too. See how that works. If there’s any reason to justify continuing, it’s inertia. That’s a law of the universe, inertia, and I don’t like to break the law. I’ll just keep writing and see how much farther it can take me. Maybe eventually I can transcend even a petty thing like the necessity for meaning itself. If religion as a means to justify morality is silly, then perhaps “meaning” as a means to justify existence is just as silly. That’s a hell of a rock to become greater than.

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