I may be slightly in love with the word “absurdity”. I use it too frequently, perhaps. But what are humans, if not absurd? This is my basic philosophy when observing the world. It isn’t nihilism; it’s more akin to existentialism. The difference is as big as the gap between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Nihilism is essentially a denial of meaning, in whole or in part. When I use the term “absurd” to describe the world around me, I acknowledge that the universe contains meaning.
In Latin, the word absurd literally means to be out of tune with. The word has further come to mean ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable. That happens to be the first definition as given by The Free Dictionary, which provides conveniently short definitions. The second definition takes a nihilist turn: of, relating to, or manifesting the view that there is no order or value in human life or in the universe. The nihilism may be a consequence of the first definition; however, it’s an absurd extrapolation, as it’s out of tune with a tune existing in the first place. If there is a tune to be out of tune with, then there is order to human life and the universe…as tunes contain order. They are either ordered melodies or precise pitches.
When humans are out of tune with reality, I describe their actions as absurd. All humans will delve into absurdity, owing to human choice and the Kierkegaardian notion of despair. Kierkegaard believed that despair springs from man not fully realizing the infinite side of himself. Man must face his despair and, while under the shadow of it, will often choose a path that’s out of sync with God’s will for his life. Viewed in a less personal manner, absurdity is simply choosing to oppose the obvious order and meaning in the universe.
I didn’t mean to dump philosophy and definitions on you. I swear I didn’t. But as I sat here thinking about what message or story to send to the internet today, I realized that my mind is inordinately obsessed with the absurd around me (and in me). And my obsession, being inordinate, is also absurd. Absurdity, you see, is difficult to turn away from. I can almost hear you saying, speak for yourself, Jill. Okay, I will. That would be far better than having somebody else speak for me.
Now, of course, it’s time to put my philosophy into practice to complete today’s unexpected tutorial. What does it look like to interpret the world through my philosophical version of absurdism? Let’s examine the first thing I spotted in my newsfeed this morning: A Powerful Open Letter From a Woman About to Have an Abortion. This is not news proper, for a start. A woman who writes a letter to her unborn child apologizing to [it] for the abortion she’s about to have is not news, as there is nothing new or even outstanding about it. Calling it news is a simple case of absurdism.
Furthermore, the public reaction to it demonstrates delusion. If I were to write a letter to a person I was about to murder and send it out into the world just before I served this person arsenic soup, I would be locked up. The world would consider me a lunatic and wouldn’t be waxing poetic about my powerful words. Rather, they would be shocked and appalled at them.
You might insist at this point that abortion isn’t murder because fetuses aren’t persons. Okay, make your case, but rest assured it has nothing to do with mine. Why would a woman bother to write a letter to a NONperson? She very well might, if she were being absurd — that is, ridiculously incongruous. But if she were being ridiculous, then how could her words be powerful or heartfelt? I wrote a letter to the state of New Mexico the other day, asking it to stop raining or I would break up with it and move back to Oregon. This netted me a few LOLs from friends. One person asked, “Did New Mexico feel suitably chastised?” And I duly answered, “Why, yes, obviously, because it’s sunnier today!” It was all in good fun because it was understood that I was using a literary term known as personification, in which I attributed human qualities to a nonhuman entity. If she were merely personifying a nonperson, then we wouldn’t take her seriously, either. We would wonder why she just didn’t go get the surgery done without any fuss or fanfare.
Well — you ask — couldn’t she have been writing an eloquent letter to the possibility of a person? People do that sort of thing; they’ll write letters to the children they might have someday, and they’re generally contemplative letters, full of warmth, good humor, and promises. But in this case, I’d have to say no. If the thing inside her were only the possibility of a future child, she wouldn’t have needed to write to it explaining why she’s going to have a physical operation performed on it. As far as I know, the medical community would have to ratchet up the ridiculous in order to perform figurative surgeries to remove figurative substances.
My only conclusion, judging by the emotional reactions of those who read the letter, is that her audience understands she wasn’t using personification or speaking of hypothetical children. They believe she’s carrying the physical substance of an actual child in her womb, and that’s why her letter carries such great emotional weight for them. The natural human instinct, unless we fight it, is to bring life into the world. Owing to that, the letter is jarring and incredibly sad. Isn’t applauding it as out of sync with reality as any reaction could be?
I’m hearing a cacophony of imprecise tunes. Actually, that’s what my newsfeed sounds like every day, and the letter was only one small discordant note. But I should stop. Nobody asked for this tutorial, did they? Oh, and this is only Part I.