Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On the Whole Sort of General Mish-Mash

So, for whatever reason, I have now read all five entries in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and I have mixed feelings. Douglas Adams has a grasp of the seeming absurdity of life that is unsurpassed in my reading. He seems to have been (to judge by his writings) a thorough postmodernist, and seen things as basically a Whole Sort of General Mish-Mash, out of which you can choose to observe the ones you like, and ignore the ones you don’t, probably by wrapping a towel around your head.

I acknowledge the allure of such a worldview. Why not laugh as the planet you’re on (which isn’t even your own planet) gets (presumably) blown up in all possible spacetimes? What does it really matter to you, except as a bit of a good joke, but with kind of a rough punchline? At least you lived a fun life, and hey, we all die sometime. Maybe you’re nostalgic for the times when you thought life had meaning, and rum, and girls, but you know it doesn’t have that (the meaning, anyway, the rum and girls were definitely there, and definitely fun).

Yeah, life can come across as stupid, boorish, drunk, and insecure, but we all can do that from time to time, and it’s best to not make too much of it.

See what I mean? Postmodern hedonism seems to account for an awful lot of life. And what it can’t account for, it makes a joke out of. It can come across as a rather jolly outlook, and if I weren’t what I am, I think it would be fairly tempting to dive on into the ridiculous pool party that seems to be life from this perspective. Plus, the books are pretty funny.

But there’s a catch. You die. That’s not easy to make a joke about, and certainly not one you can enjoy after the punchline’s been delivered. It’s pretty easy to shrug and say “we’re all f***ed” when you’ve been drinking, but try being on, say, a submarine without power systems. They don’t find jokes scrawled on the interior walls of those when they finally get around to raising them.

The apparent absurdity of life may not be all there is to be observed. Adams’ postulation of the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything which cannot be answered with any sense, and his take on what God’s last message to His creation would be, seem to reveal that he thought absurdity was supreme. This is a problem philosophically, like saying “The only constant is change”. Self-refuting statements, such as categorical assertions about absurdity and unequal mathematical equalities, are a pretty poor basis on which to look at the world.

A system must be able to address both chaos and order on equally sound footings, and ought to have a good explanation for them. Unfortunately, this sort of system can’t exist in Adams’ event-chain, because it would be true. A true system is the one absolute anathema to a postmodernist. But if anything at all can happen, certainly it follows that a true system could emerge. It’s anything. But as soon as it emerges, it must collapse the Dadaist mélange that said it could exist. Consequently, either we really ought to be nihilists (depressing), or accept that there is a true system, and do our best to find it (may I suggest starting with John 1:1 and going on from there?).

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