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If There is No Point, Stop Trying to Make One

July 19, 2011

Like a lot of the philosophies in vogue around the same time, Absurdism is a self-defeating one. Ostensibly, the idea is that man seeks meaning in life, but out of his (so the argument goes) inability to discover any meaning, Absurdity arises. And so Absurdist philosophers like Albert Camus–for they are both existential and enlightened–write books on the subject to tell us what it all means. As you do.

And then playwrights like Harold Pinter come along and use their Absurdist worldview as an excuse to fill their plays, like The Homecoming, with all manner of vitriol and filth. Psssh, so a woman has sex with her husband’s brother, and right in front of him; it’s not like it actually means anything.

This rejection of meaning makes the entire play seem like an apology for Absurdism. Because no single action follows from a previous action, the entire play serves to frustrate the audience’s search for meaning in the work itself. And if this is his point, Pinter makes it well.

Except that it’s all a lie. (And not only because his play means something.)

One of C.S. Lewis’ arguments for the existence of God is sometimes called the Argument from Desire. It runs thus: man has no innate desires which cannot be filled. Man is hungry, there is such a thing as food. Man is concupiscent, he can get a wife. Man desires a life full of meaning, there is an almighty, all-knowing, and all-perfect God writing his story. But Pinter and his fellow Absurdists reject this God and cling instead to the “freedom” of wallowing in the Absurdity that arises from having this irreconcilable need. It is this fundamental rejection of truth puts Pinter at a distinct storytelling disadvantage, as he is unable to move audiences with the presentation of any ultimate truth beyond provoking their right revulsion at the acts taking place before them. Thank you very much, sir, but I will take my faery tales and leave the Absurd to go die in a corner somewhere.

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