An absurd year

January 7, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

If I had to come up with a word to sum up the past year, I’d have to go with ‘absurd’. Not ‘absurd’ as in ‘ridiculous’. No, something more along the lines of ‘absurd’ as it applies to the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ — a form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence, how humans continue to look for meaning in a universe (let alone a single year) that, seemingly, has no meaning. Absurdist storylines follow no lines; instead, they are often: illogical (pop!); out of sync, out of sorts (bam!); devoid of reason (kapow!); hopeless (kerplunk!); uncertain (bam!); lacking order (fire!), chaotic (boom!). That’s what the past year has felt like to so many of us- every day, month, season another kick, punch, bruise; from one news cycle to the next, wondering, hoping, that the last punch was the knockout punch; invariably, it wasn’t. 

2018. It was truly a confounding year.

Max Frisch’s play, The Arsonists, is an example of absurdist theatre that never seems to go away; its one of those avant-garde classics that never goes out of fashion, because you can always re-interpret it in light of the most anxious and disconcerting moments of an epoch. The play tells the simple story of how a well-to-do businessman, George Biedermann, and his wife, welcome two strangers into their home despite a rash of arson attacks in their community – despite knowing that the invitation of two strangers into a home is how all the attacks have been committed. The couple, in their desire to be polite and to not think the worst of their guests, allow the deleterious duo to move numerous petrol drums into their attic, even helping to wire the fuse that will trigger the massive explosion. While all of this is happening, George and his wife wonder whether they are doing enough to make the arsonists welcome. In the battle of wits that follows, the two arsonists prey on George’s pride, self-righteousness and confidence that decency will prevail and that his house will be spared. It isn’t; neither is he.

This is how I see 2018. In so many ways, the people that are ‘burning down our house’ are not people who kicked down our doors. No, these are people who knocked on our door, smiled, wiped their feet and took their place at our dining room tables. I mean, it’s an impressive guest list: there’s a President making sexist and racist jokes; a Premier taking food from my children’s plates and stuffing it into his pockets; a bare-chested Prime Minister, with a nice head of hair and flashy socks; a social media executive who is going through our private mail; a news executive who focusses more on entertaining us than informing us; the school trustee we elected, but are meeting for the first time; and, to make sure that things run smoothly, there’s our very own personal assistant, Alexa, making sure that things run smoothly – and, if not, all we have to do is ask:

“Alexa, where can I buy a fire extinguisher?” 

The response: “It’s already on your doorstep!” 

I just can’t make any sense of it. The people who are supposed to be leading us; the devices that are supposed to be connecting us; the platforms that are supposed to be informing us; the people who are supposed to be helping us, are the things that seem to be making things more difficult for far too many us. But we’re the ones who elected them; we’re the ones with the remote; we’re the ones who signed up for the accounts; we’re the ones with the keys – and look at what we’ve done with them. Why have we given up so much control of our lives away? Why do we appear to playing an active role in making our lives more precarious? They provide the petrol; we hold the match. 

One reason I think we do this is because we’re missing something, needing something; things that can’t be wrapped and opened on Christmas morning. Things like love, peace of mind and security. We’re so desperate for these things that we’re willing to take a chance on just about anyone to help us get there – even people we can never truly know (like electing a premier with no platform). In The Arsonists, George is convinced that the two strangers can’t possibly be arsonists because they don’t have matches (you would think the barrels of petrol and fuses might have proved otherwise). George needs them to be something else:

George: I swear, I swear you’re not arsonists!

Arsonist: Who do you think we are, then?

George: You’re…you’re my friends. 

I’ve come to accept (a long time ago) that so much about human existence- the things we do, the choices we make – makes very little sense. People say I’m cynical; angry. I don’t see it that way. In fact, seeing the ‘absurdity’ of life has brought me a certain measure of peace. In fact, acknowledging the absurdity of life, is something Albert Camus felt was necessary for humankind. He writes: “Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful. An analysis of the idea of revolt could help us to discover ideas capable of restoring a relative meaning to existence, although a meaning that would always be in danger.” 

So, here’s hoping many of us will commit to more than half-cocked resolutions for 2019 (nothing says a ‘new year’ like an empty gym). Instead, let’s commit to a radical, transformative change. Think twice before opening your door to strangers; hide the matches; resist. 

Dear 2018: Please, let the door hit you, hard, on the way out.

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