Absurdism is a philosophical stance embracing a wide range of relativist perspectives, which implies that the efforts of humanity to find or absolutely define, limit, express or exclude the inherent meanings of anything, including human existence, are absurd due to actual lack of meaning and the qualities of communicable information available to the human mind, and relationships within reality makes any certainty about such impossibility. Absurdist assessments stand in contrast to many assumptions of absolutism. Philosophical schools of absurdism explore the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once they become aware of it, can or should react to it and to circumstances they encounter. A particular form of existentialism, it was strongly evident in some of the works of Søren Kierkegaard, but was more expressly developed by Albert Camus in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus and his works of Absurdist fiction repudiating many assumptions found in atheistic nihilism and theistic existentialism as well as those of authoritarianism. It has far earlier expression in many significant statements of ancient philosophers, namely Zhuangzi. In many ways it relates to the disciplines of semiotics, stances of extreme skepticism, overtly absurd faith, strong agnosticism, many forms of mysticism, art, magic, magical realism, and works in the genre which Martin Esslin called the "Theatre of the Absurd."
- The logical figure of the absurd, which presents as stringent the contradictory opposite of stringency, negates all the meaningfulness logic seems to provide in order to convict logic of its own absurdity: to convict it of using subject, predicate, and copula to lay out the nonidentical as though it were identical, as though it could be accommodated with forms.
- Secrecy as deep as this is past possibility without nonexistence as well.
- Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
- Isaac Asimov, as quoted in The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004) edited by Geoff Tibballs, p. 299
- Given that only the religion of pervasive kenosis can be truly universal, no single historical individual can exhaust its fullness by virtue of his redemptive acts, and no religious institution can grasp and articulate its meaning by means of dogmatic or doctrinal teachings. In the last resort, it is in the name of religious universalism that Simone Weil calls for a reversion of historical Christianity to its origins as a religion of kenosis.
- J. Edgar Bauer, in "Simone Weil: Kenotic Thought and "Sainteté Nouvelle" in The 2002 CESNUR International Conference : Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience (June 2002)
- The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings.
- Jorge Luis Borges, in "The Library of Babel" ["La Biblioteca de Babel"] (1941) First lines
- I pray to the unknown gods that some man — even a single man, tens of centuries ago — has perused and read this book. If the honor and wisdom and joy of such a reading are not to be my own, then let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my own place may be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, wherein thy enormous Library may find its justification.
- Jorge Luis Borges, in "The Library of Babel" ["La Biblioteca de Babel"] (1941)
- Do you want to see what human eyes have never seen? Look at the moon. Do you want to hear what ears have never heard? Listen to the bird's cry. Do you want to touch what hands have never touched? Touch the earth. Verily I say that God is about to create the world.
- Jorge Luis Borges, The Theologians (April 1947), translated by James E. Irby (1964)
- Any life, however long and complicated it may be, actually consists of a single moment — the moment when a man knows forever more who he is.
- Jorge Luis Borges, in "A Biography of Tadeo Isidoro Cruz", in The Aleph (1949); tr. Andrew Hurley, Collected Fictions (1998)
- There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal; with the exception of mankind, all creatures are immortal, for they know nothing of death. What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal.
- Jorge Luis Borges, in "The Immortal", § IV, in The Aleph (1949); tr. Andrew Hurley, Collected Fictions (1998)
- Variant: To be immortal is commonplace; except for man, all creatures are immortal, for they are ignorant of death; what is divine, terrible, incomprehensible, is to know that one is immortal.
- No one is anyone, one single immortal man is all men. Like Cornelius Agrippa, I am god, I am hero, I am philosopher, I am demon and I am world, which is a tedious way of saying that I do not exist.
- Jorge Luis Borges, "The Immortal" (1949)
- El original es infiel a la traducción.
- The fact is that poetry is not the books in the library . . . Poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book.
- Jorge Luis Borges, Poetry (1977)
- I will pause to consider this eternity from which the subsequent ones derive.
- Jorge Luis Borges, "A History of Eternity" in Selected Non-Fictions Vol. 1, (1999), edited by Eliot Weinberger
- Communication must become total and conscious before we can stop it.
- William S. Burroughs, The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
- The Divine Light is always in man, presenting itself to the senses and to the comprehension, but man rejects it.
- Giordano Bruno, as quoted in Life and Teachings of Giordano Bruno : Philosopher, Martyr, Mystic 1548 - 1600 (1913) by Coulson Turnbull
- Heroic love is the property of those superior natures who are called insane (insano) not because they do not know, but because they over-know (soprasanno).
- I understand Being in all and over all, as there is nothing without participation in Being, and there is no being without Essence. Thus nothing can be free of the Divine Presence.
- Nature is none other than God in things... Animals and plants are living effects of Nature; Whence all of God is in all things... Think thus, of the sun in the crocus, in the narcissus, in the heliotrope, in the rooster, in the lion.
- Giordano Bruno, as quoted in Elements of Pantheism (2004) by Paul A. Harrison
- I quite fixedly believe the Wardens of Earth sometimes unbar strange windows, that face on other worlds than ours. And some of us, I think, once in a while get a peep through these windows. But we are not permitted to get a long peep, or an unobstructed peep, nor very certainly, are we permitted to see all there is — out yonder. The fatal fault, sir, of your theorizing is that it is too complete. It aims to throw light upon the universe, and therefore is self-evidently moonshine. The Wardens of Earth do not desire that we should understand the universe, Mr. Kennaston; it is part of Their appointed task to insure that we never do; and because of Their efficiency every notion that any man, dead, living, or unborn, might form as to the universe will necessarily prove wrong.
- I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are...
- James Branch Cabell, The Cream of the Jest : A Comedy of Evasions (1917), The Epilogue : Which is the proper ending of all comedies; and heralds, it may be, an after piece
- I have followed after the truth, across this windy planet upon which every person is nourished by one or another lie.
- James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion : A Comedy of Redemption (1926); Coth, in Book Four : Coth at Porutsa, Ch. XXVI : The Realist in Defeat
- Creeds matter very little... The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. So I elect for neither label.
- James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion : A Comedy of Redemption (1926); Coth, in Book Four : Coth at Porutsa, Ch. XXVI : The Realist in Defeat
- The absurd … is an experience to be lived through, a point of departure, the equivalent, in existence of Descartes' methodical doubt. Absurdism, like methodical doubt, has wiped the slate clean. It leaves us in a blind alley. But, like methodical doubt, it can, by returning upon itself, open up a new field of investigation, and in the process of reasoning then pursues the same course. I proclaim that I believe in nothing and that everything is absurd, but I cannot doubt the validity of my proclamation and I must at least believe in my protest. The first and only evidence that is supplied me, within the terms of the absurdist experience, is rebellion … Rebellion is born of the spectacle of irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition.
- Albert Camus, The Rebel (1951), as quoted in Albert Camus and the Philosophy of the Absurd (2002) by Avi Sagi, p. 44
- In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
- Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa (1952), as translated in Lyrical and Critical Essays (1968), p. 169; also in The Unquiet Vision : Mirrors of Man in Existentialism (1969) by Nathan A. Scott, p. 116
- In order to cease being a doubtful case, one has to cease being, that's all.
- A character is never the author who created him. It is quite likely, however, that an author may be all his characters simultaneously.
- As quoted in Albert Camus : The Invincible Summer (1958) by Albert Maquet, p. 86; a remark made about the Marquis de Sade
- 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.
- Albert Camus, in "Three Interviews" in Lyrical and Critical Essays (1970)
- The realization that life is absurd and cannot be an end, but only a beginning. This is a truth nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery that is interesting, but the consequences and rules of action drawn from it.
- "Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."
- You may seek it with thimbles — and seek it with care;
You may hunt it with forks and hope;
You may threaten its life with a railway-share;
You may charm it with smiles and soap —
("That's exactly the method," the Bellman bold
In a hasty parenthesis cried,
"That's exactly the way I have always been told
That the capture of Snarks should be tried!")
"'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
And never be met with again!'
- Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark (1874), Fit the Third : The Baker's Tale
- Of course you know what a Snark is? If you do, please tell me: for I haven't an idea what it is like.
- Lewis Carroll, in a letter to Florence Balfour (6 April 1876)
- Is all our Life, then but a dream
Seen faintly in the goldern gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?
- I suppose every child has a world of his own — and every man, too, for the matter of that. I wonder if that's the cause for all the misunderstanding there is in Life?
The Myth of Sisyphus (1942)
- Quotes of absurdist observations from this work of Albert Camus which spawned the designation of "Absurdism" to such stances towards Absurdity.
- A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.
- An Absurd Reasoning
- At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.
- An Absurd Reasoning
- The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.
- An Absurd Reasoning
- The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. This must not be forgotten. This must be clung to because the whole consequence of a life can depend on it. The irrational, the human nostalgia, and the absurd that is born of their encounter — these are the three characters in the drama that must necessarily end with all the logic of which an existence is capable.
- The Absurd Man
- What, in fact, is the Absurd Man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal.
- The Absurd Man
- I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules. There is but one moral code that the absurd man can accept, the one that is not separated from God: the one that is dictated. But it so happens that he lives outside that God. As for the others (I mean also immoralism), the absurd man sees nothing in them but justifications and he has nothing to justify. I start out here from the principle of his innocence.
That innocence is to be feared. "Everything is permitted," exclaims Ivan Karamazov. That, too, smacks of the absurd. But on condition that it not be taken in a vulgar sense. I don't know whether or not it has been sufficiently pointed out that it is not an outburst of relief or of joy, but rather a bitter acknowledgment of a fact.
- The Absurd Man
- The absurd does not liberate; it binds. It does not authorize all actions. "Everything is permitted" does not mean that nothing is forbidden.
- The Absurd Man
- All systems of morality are based on the idea that an action has consequences that legitimize or cancel it. A mind imbued with the absurd merely judges that those consequences must be considered calmly. It is ready to pay up. In other words, there may be responsible persons, but there are no guilty ones, in its opinion. At very most, such a mind will consent to use past experience as a basis for its future actions.
- The Absurd Man
- You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.
- One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. "What! — by such narrow ways — ?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd. Discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness.
- The Myth of Sisyphus
- "I conclude that all is well," says Oedipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.
- The Myth of Sisyphus
- I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
- The Myth of Sisyphus
- Original French: La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d'homme; il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.
- Variant translation: The fight itself towards the summits suffices to fill a heart of man; it is necessary to imagine Sisyphus happy.
- A symbol is always in general and, however precise its translation, an artist can restore to it only its movement: there is no word-for-word rendering. Moreover, nothing is harder to understand than a symbolic work. A symbol always transcends the one who makes use of it and makes him say in reality more than he is aware of expressing.
- Appendix: Hope and the Absurd in the work of Franz Kafka
- It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.
- Salvador Dalí, Diary of a Genius (1964), p. 12
- In regard to absurdism, Samuel Beckett is sometimes considered to be the epitome of the postmodern artist … In fact, he is the aesthetic reductio ad absurdum of absurdism: no longer whistling in the dark, after waiting for Godot, he is trying to be radically silent, wordless in the dark. Beckett tries to bespeak a failure of the logos that never quite succeeds in being a failure, for to speak the failure would be a kind of success. Hence the essentially comic (hence unavoidably and ultimately affirmative) nature of his work.
- William Desmond, Philosophy and Its Others : Ways of Being and Mind (1990)
- To study the meaning of man and of life — I am making significant progress here. I have faith in myself. Man is a mystery: if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery, because I want to be a man.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, personal correspondence (1839), as quoted in Dostoevsky : His Life and Work (1971) by Konstantin Mochulski, as translated by Michael A. Minihan, p. 17
- Nothing in this world is harder than speaking the truth, nothing easier than flattery.
- It's life that matters, nothing but life — the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all.
- I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when they laugh at me — and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly dear to me. I could join in their laughter — not exactly at myself, but through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No, they won't understand it.
- Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the third of November. They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the truth? If once one has recognized the truth and seen it, you know that it is the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be, whether you are asleep or awake. Let it be a dream, so be it, but that real life of which you make so much I had meant to extinguish by suicide, and my dream, my dream — oh, it revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full of power!
- The Theatre of the Absurd … can be seen as the reflection of what seems to be the attitude most genuinely representative of our own time. The hallmark of this attitude is its sense that the certitudes and unshakable basic assumptions of former ages have been swept away, that they have been tested and found wanting, that they have been discredited as cheap and somewhat childish illusions.
- Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (1961)
- "The Theatre of the Absurd" has become a catch-phrase, much used and much abused. What does it stand for? And how can such a label be justified? Perhaps it will be best to attempt to answer the second question first. There is no organised movement, no school of artists, who claim the label for themselves. A good many playwrights who have been classed under this label, when asked if they belong to the Theatre of the Absurd, will indigniantly reply that they belong to no such movement — and quite rightly so. For each of the playwrights concerned seeks to express no more and no less his own personal vision of the world.
Yet critical concepts of this kind are useful when new modes of expression, new conventions of art arise.
- The Theatre of the Absurd attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy. It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation as these writers see it. But the challenge behind this message is anything but one of despair. It is a challenge to accept the human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity, nobly, responsibly; precisely because there are no easy solutions to the mysteries of existence, because ultimately man is alone in a meaningless world. The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind it a sense of freedom and relief. And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.
- Martin Esslin, in Introduction to Absurd Drama (1965)
- Though Melville omitted it, Captain Ahab said, "In one sense, Aleister Crowley is lower than whale shit. In another, he's as high as God's hat. The true shaman knows that God's hat is made out of dried whale shit."
- I learned from my father: Have no respect whatsoever for authority; forget who said it and instead look what he starts with, where he ends up, and ask yourself, "Is it reasonable?"
- The highest forms of understanding we can achieve are laughter and human compassion.
- There are no exact guidelines. There are probably no guidelines at all. The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world. In other words, I can only recommend perspective and distance. Awareness of all the most dangerous kinds of vanity, both in others and in ourselves. A good mind. A modest certainty about the meaning of things. Gratitude for the gift of life and the courage to take responsibility for it. Vigilance of spirit.
- Isn't it the moment of most profound doubt that gives birth to new certainties? Perhaps hopelessness is the very soil that nourishes human hope; perhaps one could never find sense in life without first experiencing its absurdity. . .
- When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist or a pantheist, a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer. The one thing on which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis" — had more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure that I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.
- Thomas Henry Huxley, ''Christianity and Agnosticism: A Controversy (1889)
- There are now many invisible people on stage.
- I didn't mean you were stupid. It's just that you're not logical, which isn't the same thing at all.
- I believe that what separates us all from one another is simply society itself, or, if you like, politics. This is what raises barriers between men, this is what creates misunderstanding.
If I may be allowed to express myself paradoxically, I should say that the truest society, the authentic human community, is extra-social — a wider, deeper society, that which is revealed by our common anxieties, our desires, our secret nostalgias. The whole history of the world has been governed by nostalgias and anxieties, which political action does no more than reflect and interpret, very imperfectly. No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa.
- Every work of art (unless it is a psuedo-intellectualist work, a work already comprised in some ideology that it merely illustrates, as with Brecht) is outside ideology, is not reducible to ideology. Ideology circumscribes without penetrating it. The absence of ideology in a work does not mean an absence of ideas; on the contrary it fertilizes them.
- Logician: A cat has four paws.
Old Gentleman: My dog had four paws.
Logician: Then it's a cat.
Old Gentleman: So my dog is a cat?
Logician: And the contrary is also true.
- Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately.
- Eugène Ionesco, Rhinoceros (1959)
- I am told, in a dream … you can only get the answer to all your questions through a dream. So in my dream, I fall asleep, and I dream, in my dream, that I'm having that absolute, revealing dream.
- Eugène Ionesco, speaking of a dream not fully remembered, in Fragments of a Journal (1966)
- I thought that it was strange to assume that it was abnormal for anyone to be forever asking questions about the nature of the universe, about what the human condition really was, my condition, what I was doing here, if there was really something to do. It seemed to me on the contrary that it was abnormal for people not to think about it, for them to allow themselves to live, as it were, unconsciously. Perhaps it's because everyone, all the others, are convinced in some unformulated, irrational way that one day everything will be made clear. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.
- Eugène Ionesco, The Hermit (1973)
- It isn't what people think that's important, but the reason they think what they think.
- Eugène Ionesco, as quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time (1977) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 468; also in The Quantum Dice (1993) by Leonid Ivanovich Ponomarev, p. 50
- Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.
- Eugène Ionesco, as quoted in Sunbeams : A Book of Quotations (1990) by Sy Safransky
- It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it's mankind.
- Eugène Ionesco, as quoted in Encyclopedia of World Biography (1998) edited by Suzanne Michele Bourgoin, Paula Kay Byers, Gale Research Inc, p. 132
- You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Gospel of Thomas (c. 50? — c 140?)
- Absurdist sayings of Jesus from what some believe to be the earliest extent Gospel, which was not included in the orthodox canon.
- Whoever shall find the interpretation of these words shall not taste of death.
- Saying 1
- The man old in days will not hesitate to ask a small child seven days old about the place of life, and he will live. For many who are first will become last, and they will become one and the same.
- Saying 4
- Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.
- Saying 5
- Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.
- Saying 7
- I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.
- Saying 10
- This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?
- Saying 11
- When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth — it is that which will defile you.
- Saying 14
- If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty.
- Saying 29
- His disciples said to Him, "When will the Kingdom come?"
Jesus said, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."
- Saying 113
- What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act... The Absurd, or to act by virtue of the absurd, is to act upon faith ... I must act, but reflection has closed the road so I take one of the possibilities and say: This is what I do, I cannot do otherwise because I am brought to a standstill by my powers of reflection.
- Søren Kierkegaard, in a journal entry (1849), in The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard (1938) edited by Alexander Dru
- I gladly undertake, by way of brief repetition, to emphasize what other pseudonyms have emphasized. The absurd is not the absurd or absurdities without any distinction (wherefore Johannes de Silentio: "How many of our age understand what the absurd is?"). The absurd is a category, and the most developed thought is required to define the Christian absurd accurately and with conceptual correctness. The absurd is a category, the negative criterion, of the divine or of the relationship to the divine. When the believer has faith, the absurd is not the absurd — faith transforms it, but in every weak moment it is again more or less absurd to him. The passion of faith is the only thing which masters the absurd — if not, then faith is not faith in the strictest sense, but a kind of knowledge. The absurd terminates negatively before the sphere of faith, which is a sphere by itself. To a third person the believer relates himself by virtue of the absurd; so must a third person judge, for a third person does not have the passion of faith. Johannes de Silentio has never claimed to be a believer; just the opposite, he has explained that he is not a believer — in order to illuminate faith negatively.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Journals of Soren Kierkegaard X6B 79
- In spite of or in defiance of the whole of existence he wills to be himself with it, to take it along, almost defying his torment. For to hope in the possibility of help, not to speak of help by virtue of the absurd, that for God all things are possible – no, that he will not do. And as for seeking help from any other – no, that he will not do for all the world; rather than seek help he would prefer to be himself – with all the tortures of hell, if so it must be.
- Sin is this: before God, or with the conception of God, to be in despair at not willing to be oneself, or in despair at willing to be oneself.
- People think the world needs a republic, and they think it needs a new social order, and a new religion, but it never occurs to anyone that what the world really needs, confused as it is by much learning, is a new Socrates.
- What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up. etc., has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being, inasmuch as all immediate recognizability is pre-Socratic paganism and from the Jewish point of view is idolatry.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments, as translated by Hong (1992), p. 210
- This stuff could be dangerous. … I showed the green glass thing to mom. She thought it was a paper-weight. Maybe other people don't see what we see.
- In the province of the mind, what one believes to be true is true or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the mind, there are no limits... In the province of connected minds, what the network believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the network's mind there are no limits.
- John C. Lilly, The Human Biocomputer (1974)
- All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
- Gospel of Matthew 13:35 (KJV)
- Anyone who isn't confused doesn't really understand the situation.
- Edward R. Murrow, as quoted in The Improbable Irish (1969) by Walter Bryan
- The folly of Interpreters has been, to foretell times and things by this Prophecy, as if God designed to make them Prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt.
The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this and the Prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify mens curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence.
- We are in a strange period of history in which a revolutionary has to be a patriot and a patriot has to be a revolutionary.
- George Orwell, in a letter to The Tribune (20 December 1940), later published in A Patriot After All, 1940-1941 (1999)
- Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.
- The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
- To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
- George Orwell, "In Front of Your Nose," Tribune (22 March 1946)
- Truth will triumph. It always does. However, I figure truth is a variable, so we're right back where we started from.
- "God is an iron," I said. "Did you know that?"
I turned to look at her and she was staring. She laughed experimentally, stopped when I failed to join in. "And I'm a pair of pants with a hole scorched through the ass?"
"If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron."
- Spider Robinson, in "God Is An Iron" (1977)
- Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.
- Spider Robinson, "Callahan's Law", as expressed in The Callahan Chronicals (1996) [originally published as Callahan and Company (1988)], Part IV : Earth … and Beyond, "Post Toast", p. 388. On the back cover of Callahan's Legacy (1996) this is modified into "Shared pain is lessened; shared joy is increased (and bad puns are appreciated).
- As Bob Dylan forgot to say, "To live outside the law, you must be lucky."
- Spider Robinson, Callahan's Key (2000)
- Jesus never said anything about absurdity, and he never indicated for one flash of time that he was aware of the preposterousness of his theory about himself. And he didn't even try to make the theory understandable in terms of the reality and experience of the rest of us. For if everybody else is also not what Jesus said he was, what good is what he said?
- William Saroyan, Sons Come and Go, Mothers Hang in Forever (1976)
- Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate. And this impulse may be harmless, when it is genuine. But what are we to say when we see the formulas of heroic self-deception made use of by unheroic self-indulgence? What are we to say when we see asceticism preached to the poor by fat and comfortable retainers of the rich? What are we to say when we see idealism become hypocrisy, and the moral and spiritual heritage of mankind twisted to the knavish purposes of class-cruelty and greed? What I say is — Bootstrap-lifting!
- Upton Sinclair, The Profits of Religion : An Essay in Economic Interpretation (1918), Introductory, "Bootstrap-lifting"
- In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: "All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine." Jesus, as we know, answered and said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with "temporal power;" he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had "all things in common, except women;" they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil.
But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise or no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus three hundred years before; he had got the world's greatest religion.
- Upton Sinclair, The Profits of Religion : An Essay in Economic Interpretation (1918), Book Seven : The Church of the Social Revolution, "Christ and Caesar"
- As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don't know what justice is, I'll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.
- We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there's only one direction, and time is its only measure.
- There must have been a time, in the beginning, when we could have said – no. But somehow we missed it.
- Between "just desserts" and "tragic irony" we are given quite a large scope for our particular talent. Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.
- Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower — but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
- Prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est.
- It is to be believed because it is absurd.
- Tertullian, De Carne Christi (5.4)
- It is to be believed because it is absurd.
- Certum est, quia impossible est.
- It is certain because it is impossible.
- Tertullian, De Carne Christi (5.4); two lines from De Carne Christi have often become conflated into the statement: "Credo quia impossibile" (I believe it because it is impossible), which can be perceived as a distortion of the actual arguments that Tertullian was making
- De calcaria in carbonarium.
- Out of the frying pan into the fire.
- Tertullian, De Carne Christi (6)
- Out of the frying pan into the fire.
- Platitudes are safe, because they're easy to wink at, but truth is something else again.
- There are periods of history when the visions of madmen and dope fiends are a better guide to reality than the common-sense interpretation of data available to the so-called normal mind. This is one such period, if you haven't noticed already.
- ONLY THE MADMAN IS ABSOLUTELY SURE.
- There is no governor anywhere; you are all absolutely free. There is no restraint that cannot be escaped. We are all absolutely free. If everybody could go into dhyana at will, nobody could be controlled — by fear of prison, by fear of whips or electroshock, by fear of death, even. All existing society is based on keeping those fears alive, to control the masses. Ten people who know would be more dangerous than a million armed anarchists.
- Guerrilla ontology
The basic technique of all my books. Ontology is the study of being; the guerrilla approach is to so mix the elements of each book that the reader must decide on each page 'How much of this is real and how much is a put-on?'"
- It only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea.
- Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminati Papers (1980), p. 111
- Various medical authorities swarm in and out of here predicting I have between two days and two months to live. I think they are guessing. I remain cheerful and unimpressed. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.
Please pardon my levity, I don't see how to take death seriously. It seems absurd.
Leaves of Grass (1855 - 1892)
- Absurdist expression in the poetry of Walt Whitman
- Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than
Arouse! for you must justify me.
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.
I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.
- Poets to Come (1860; 1867)
Song of Myself (1855; 1881)
- Section numbers appear at the end of quotes from this composition
- I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. (1)
- To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.
I and this mystery here we stand. (3)
- A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
… All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier. (6)
- I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe, and am not contain'd between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.) (7)
- These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe. (17)
- I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.) (20)
- I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait. (20)
- Magnifying and applying come I,
Outbidding at the start the old cautious hucksters,
Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah,
Lithographing Kronos, Zeus his son, and Hercules his grandson,
Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha,
In my portfolio placing Manito loose, Allah on a leaf, the crucifix engraved,
With Odin and the hideous-faced Mexitli and every idol and image,
Taking them all for what they are worth and not a cent more,
Admitting they were alive and did the work of their days,
(They bore mites as for unfledg'd birds who have now to rise and fly and sing for themselves,)
Accepting the rough deific sketches to fill out better in myself, bestowing them freely on each man and woman I see,
Discovering as much or more in a framer framing a house,
Putting higher claims for him there with his roll'd-up sleeves driving the mallet and chisel,
Not objecting to special revelations, considering a curl of smoke or a hair on the back of my hand just as curious as any revelation,
Lads ahold of fire-engines and hook-and-ladder ropes no less to me than the gods of the antique wars... (41)
- The bull and the bug never worshipp'd half enough,
Dung and dirt more admirable than was dream'd,
The supernatural of no account, myself waiting my time to be one of the supremes,
The day getting ready for me when I shall do as much good as the best, and be as prodigious. (42)
- The little plentiful manikins skipping around in collars and tail'd coats
I am aware who they are, (they are positively not worms or fleas,)
I acknowledge the duplicates of myself, the weakest and shallowest is deathless with me,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Every thought that flounders in me the same flounders in them. (42)
- My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern… (43)
- It is time to explain myself — let us stand up.
What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.
The clock indicates the moment — but what does eternity indicate?
We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers, There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.
Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.
Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
(What have I to do with lamentation?)
I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things to be. (44)
- Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon. (44)
- Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul. (44)
- Quotations of Zhuangzi as translated from the book known as Zhuangzi:
- Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
- As translated by Lin Yutang
- During our dreams we do not know we are dreaming. We may even dream of interpreting a dream. Only on waking do we know it was a dream. Only after the great awakening will we realize that this is the great dream. And yet fools think they are awake, presuming to know that they are rulers or herdsmen. How dense! You and Confucius are both dreaming, and I who say you are a dream am also a dream. Such is my tale. It will probably be called preposterous, but after ten thousand generations there may be a great sage who will be able to explain it, a trivial interval equivalent to the passage from morning to night.
- Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. If so were really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument.
- "Discussion on Making All Things Equal"
- Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!
- "Discussion on Making All Things Equal"
- To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
- Book XXIII, ¶ 7, as rendered in the epigraph to Ch. 3 of The Lathe of Heaven (1971) by Ursula K. Le Guin, based upon the 1891 translation by James Legge, Le Guin was subsequently informed that this was a very poor translation, as the lathe had not yet been invented in the time of Zhuangzi. The full passage as translated by Legge reads:
- He whose mind is thus grandly fixed emits a Heavenly light. In him who emits this heavenly light men see the (True) man. When a man has cultivated himself (up to this point), thenceforth he remains constant in himself. When he is thus constant in himself, (what is merely) the human element will leave him, but Heaven will help him. Those whom their human element has left we call the people of Heaven. Those whom Heaven helps we call the Sons of Heaven. Those who would by learning attain to this seek for what they cannot learn. Those who would by effort attain to this, attempt what effort can never effect. Those who aim by reasoning to reach it reason where reasoning has no place. To know to stop where they cannot arrive by means of knowledge is the highest attainment. Those who cannot do this will be destroyed on the lathe of Heaven.
- A trap is for fish: when you've got the fish, you can forget the trap. A snare is for rabbits: when you've got the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words are for meaning: when you've got the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find someone who's forgotten words so I can have a word with him?...
- XXVI External Things
- A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean.
- The wise man looks into space and does not regard the small as too little, nor the great as too big, for he knows that, there is no limit to dimensions.
- Original Chinese at: 莊子/秋水