Let me tell you a little about what I am learning at the moment.
I am learning that things can shift in an instant.
Many of you have read this wonderful book that I was holding in my hand, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Coming across this picture taken on a Sunday afternoon, in a time that now seems long ago, feels like fate. If you have not read the book maybe you have seen the movie? The Robert Redford version or the Leonardo DiCaprio? (Both are excellent and neither are as good as the book). If you have done neither, I’ll just give you a quick rundown of the parts that fit my post.
Set in the roaring 20’s in New York and Long Island. A time of prosperity, where all the characters are only concerned with their lives and the fun and the money and the affairs. Except perhaps for the narrator, (Nick Carraway), he was our quiet observer. He was there through it all but, looking at it as if through a window. It all ends in a bit of tragedy, the whole thing changes in a blink. Again like all of us, Nick is disillusioned. That feeling is one that is very familiar to most of us now. We are home and looking back at a time before when we thought it was all so simple, so fun. Sure, there were problems and issues, that’s life, but they seem like things we would like to have back now. Maybe we find ourselves searching for answers, that’s only human. Nick was trying to find himself and figure out what was going on, in the mystery world of Gatsby.
Throughout human history we have always been searching for meaning to life. While we are all here looking out the window, maybe now is a good time to continue the search. There is this idea of the “Absurd” that the existentialist movement embraced. (Yes, that same movement that was started more or less by that Soren Kierkegaard guy we mentioned in My Mind, last time). Basically, the absurd boils down to the absurdity of searching for answers in a world that stubbornly refuses to grant any.
Kierkegaard, said and created the term angst to describe this feeling of searching for answers and not finding any. Humans then have traditionally always turned to a deity to provide us with the answers we sought. Allowing meaning to be given to our lives by a higher power. Taking the responsibility for our own lives and moral code away in order to adopt that of the teachings of the chosen doctrine. During Kierkegaards life, 1813-1855, it was the common thinking that giving your life to a higher power to control everything was just the nature of the world. We were created and we had a destination after we die, a good destination if we follow what we are told to do by our chosen religion or a bad one if we did not. Simple. His problem came from the fact that so few seemed to practice the moral code that they professed. He wanted them to feel the struggles of the poor and lower classes, the worry that they had over the struggle to survive. Noticing how this was not being done in any real way in his time, he came to the conclusion that though God did create everything he must not have assigned a set purpose for humankind. We would have to find our own purpose. This unique position on the planet, this open freedom to choose our own path, he believed was the fundamental cause of “angst”.
This feeling of angst is something that we can all understand but was revolutionary in its day. It was so revolutionary, in fact, that we had to wait almost a hundred years for the Existentialist movement to really take off. There are many great minds that you can look up, if you choose that can expand on this topic to a further degree, but I am going to stick with just one. Albert Camus, since to me he did the best job of living and dying by the principle of the “absurd”. The “absurd” was a kind of cure for “angst”, in the same way that a disgusting concoction to combat a hangover, or illness is sometimes said to “either cure you or kill you”. Camus took that one to heart! Even going so far as to say that the only real question in life is suicide. If you choose to live then there is no set purpose to your life and no need in searching for one. All you need to do is go with it. Give your life the meaning and purpose you would like it to have. If obstacles get in the way, deal with them, embrace them as part of the “absurd” experience that life is and which you choose to take part. It may not be the most obvious thing in the world to look at Camus and Fitzgerald in the same sort of context but it works for me. They were only twenty years apart in age and both were heavily influenced by their time in Paris, (Camus of course was French but born in Algeria). It almost seems that one can follow the philosophy of Camus through the life of Fitzgerald or even the behaviors of Gatsby. Perhaps the difference being that Camus had the benefit of seeing the “absurd” play out in others, along with the understanding of its meaning. While poor F. Scott just lived it. Albert may have done more to prove his point in the absurd by his death than anything else. He died in a car crash when he decided last min to drive with his publisher instead of take the train, he had the train ticket in his pocket. You see there is no real rhyme or reason to the things that happen in life, just like he always said.
My question, the one that keeps creeping in to my mind is; If that is really the case, or not? Sitting here, looking out the window at the world not going by, it makes me wonder about the lessons we can learn from the randomness of things out of our control. How we might be able to improve our lot with acceptance of the “absurd”. That perhaps, there is a higher power out there that has given us this choice to accept, and in so doing gain peace and kindness. Perhaps, through the development of our understanding of the quantum field and quantum mechanics we can find that we have been given the road map to create our own purpose.
We can get into that later as we continue to learn. For now I’ll leave off with Nick’s final thoughts, in the final passage of, The Great Gatsby. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter-tomorrow we will run faster stretch out our arms farther….And one fine morning-
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”