Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Is fiction absurd?

I have fallen into the opinion that everything is absurd when you are able to be honest with yourself.  This first infected my viewpoint on music and I have been fighting it for years.  Singing a song?  That’s ridiculous.  You really think you’re conveying some deep meaning?  You’re just speaking in an extremely silly way and playing with a toy.  I fight with this viewpoint frequently.  I don’t fully believe it, but that might just be me not being honest with myself.

This viewpoint can extend to everything; Working, friendships, religion, or anything else that you hold dear.  The philosophical usage of the word absurdity might not be the same idea, but it’s at least the way I interpret it.  I might be more along the lines of nihilism, but I’m not going to take the time to figure that out to see if I’m right.  As it is, I’m simply stuck with this nagging voice in the back of my head that occasionally pops up and says, “Why are you doing this?  Do you realize how silly it is?”

I have one clear example of this happening to me before I even took the philosophy course in college that introduced the idea that has tainted my life.  I was about eight years old and a friend of mine and I enrolled in a talent show at my elementary school.  We choreographed a sweet dance to a Beach Boys song.  The first performance was for the school in the afternoon and it went of great.  The risqué “Bushy bushy blonde hair-do” move really had those kids in an uproar.  But the second performance was later that night for the parents.  We walked out on stage, started the song, and after about a minute I thought, “Oh my god this is really stupid,” so I stopped.  My friend continued doing the dance while I stood there thinking about how ridiculous the whole thing had been.

I’m sick of this absurdity idea ruining everything, including writing.  I have debated countless times about deleting this blog, (“because who really gives a shit what your opinion is on anything at all?”) and how much of a waste of time writing fiction is.  I have heard that reading fiction is, in fact, wasting your time because you could be spending your time reading non-fiction and actually learning something.  And I see the logic in that.  Just like how I see the logic that watching TV or playing video games is a waste of time.  So today, as I washed the dishes, I started to think about how I could convince myself that fiction is not a waste of time.  I want to be passionate about something and it might as well be the thing I care about the most (excluding people [and dogs]), right? 

So I set out to do some serious thinking on the matter, and that’s when I googled, “Why is fiction important?”

I was mainly looking for a speech given by Chuck Palahniuk that I watched on the internet a few years ago.  In it, he laid out why fiction was important and I was inspired as hell.  Since then, I’ve forgotten every word he said.  (Just found it.  Here it is.)  The following is a short list of things I can piece together from my memory of that speech, things I came across on the internet, and things I actually thought up myself with my own head.

One thing I remember Mr. P. saying is that telling stories is part of being human.  Stories have been told around campfires, within caves, or wherever the hell else people were after we learned how to communicate.  Telling stories is innate and it links us to the past.  It’s tradition.  There’s a sense of community that comes from telling and being told a story.  You are participating in the conversation, whether you’re the one telling the story or the other person interpreting the meaning.  The listener, or reader, is equally active as the author.  Maybe it’s the communist in me that likes this idea.

Although our generation seems to hate it more than homophobic racists that kill puppies by crucifying them with burning children, reading a good book is fucking awesome.  To misquote another philosophical idea that I learned about seven years ago, there’s the idea of higher and lower pleasures.  This is where reading a book differs from watching TV.  People can see both as a way to escape reality and experience something outside of what is immediately available to them.  And that’s correct.  But the difference between the two is one of them makes you feel more dumb, and the other makes you feel better (at least in my experience).  I can sit back and watch a couple hours of TV (and believe me, I do it frequently) but eventually I get antsy and start to feel a slow drip of self-hatred entering my brain as I feel like I’ve wasted an entire evening.  But if I were to spend the same amount of time reading (assuming I didn’t fall asleep), I would feel like I had just completed a mental-mini-marathon.  Which is good.  Books make you feel good.  TV makes you feel bad.  I guess I could have just said that at the start of this paragraph and hit the Enter key, but I felt like killing some time.

Fiction is a lie.  And you know that from the start.  So therefore, you are able to relax and just take things as they come to you.  “The car grew arms and won thirty bucks at a slot machine?  Okay!”  It’s refreshing not to have to challenge everything you see, which is the way we are often forced to interpret the world around us.  You never really know if you are getting the full story on the news.  You never really know if your co-worker can’t trade that day with you for legitimate reasons or is he just being a dick?  We are faced with too many situations in each day where we need to analyze our surroundings and it’s nice to take a break from that and let someone else drive your head for a little bit.  (This basic idea came from here.)

Not that fiction isn’t open for analyzation.  It is.  And it’s good to figure out what the author may be trying to allude to, or what you can draw from it to learn more about yourself.  But that’s your choice.  One person can read a story about a guy teaching his kid how to shoplift and realize that their own parent loved them despite the way they acted at the time, and another person might just enjoy a funny narrative.  Every book is a ChooseYour Own Adventure.

These are reasons I found within an hour of tinkling around on my keyboard while trying to get my dog to shut up.  Hopefully I’ll be able to come back from time to time and add some more things just so I can read back on them when I think, “Who the fuck cares about some faceless dude that you thought up?”  Is this a way to end the absurdity, or is it just avoidance?  I don’t really care.  I think my viewpoint on this is half nature and half nurture which leaves it open to changing by looking at it from a different perspective.  No better way to look at something differently than to force yourself to do it.  So, here we go.  Ready?  Stretch your arms or something.  Okay.  Let’s do it.

Fiction is not absurd.  It’s a way to add something to the world that didn’t previously exist.  Another flavor.  Another idea that might not be correct, but can perhaps open a path towards the truth.  It connects us with a tradition older than most trees on the earth.  It might not tell us something concrete about the world but it can show us something about ourselves if we take the time to figure out how.  It is a partnership between those who write and those who read and it is equally important for both to continue doing so (while also trading roles).  Fiction is not just another commodity that will become useless after a few years when a new upgrade comes down the conveyor belt.  Books are around until they disintegrate, and that can a very long time.  No virus or system failure can destroy printed ideas, therefore making those ideas almost immortal.  And it all happens within our minds.  Strengthening and stretching and changing us (hopefully) for the better. 

You can probably read that last paragraph as if it were being spoken by a dude in a loin cloth holding a sword while lightening flashes behind him, but I stand behind the sentiments.

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