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Camus, Kafka, and You!

Mastering the art of absurd rebellion

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The existential writers loved to write about rebellion and, more precisely, absurd rebellion. In kirism, this interests us as well!

Absurdity is not an excuse for inaction. It certainly could be. Can you think of a more powerful excuse for not bothering than the absurdity of bothering? But as someone who has decided to matter, you refuse to take that familiar, well-lighted route.

In Camus’s famous fable, Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to roll his rock up a mountain for all eternity, smiles at the absurdity of his situation. But in his peculiar way he has it easy. He can’t act freely, which means that he is nothing like you.

Sisyphus has no options and no way to matter. Oppressed and rendered completely impotent, he smiles the dignified, mostly vacant smile of a man no longer with us, a living dead man, one who for all intents and purposes is smiling from the afterlife.

Sisyphus can take no action in the real world. He can respond with dignity and with his peculiar smile to his situation but his situation is not yours. He is trapped in a sense even more monumental than yours. You can still do some good!

You are not Sisyphus. You are a man with a toothache and options, a woman with heartaches and choices. Your delicate amount of freedom, pitted against that ocean of absurdity, is your absurd burden to bear and your responsibility to manifest.

You, having smiled wryly at the absurdity of it all, must go about your impossible business. You acknowledge that it is absurd to stand alone, tired, out of sorts, and only wanting brunch, but there you are, rising to your feet and standing.

Sisyphus is wearing an ironic smile. Your smile is graver. You have your small portion of freedom, that portion that you are obliged to use, which makes it much harder for you to smile at all. Maybe you find that you can’t smile. But still you can act.

It is ridiculous that a purposeless universe should make it so hard on us, effectively acting, in its completely indifferent way, as if it were actually malevolent. Ridiculous … but here we are. So, we do not bow. Rather, we rebel. Our absurd rebellion!

We know that absurd rebellion is the right way. When we encounter a character in literature who ought to rebel and doesn’t, we want to shake him. Sir, can’t you see the absurdity of your situation and that your only wise response is rebellion?

In Kafka’s The Trial, K. hunts for rational answers to his absurd situation. Finally, he is absurdly executed. Watching him, we want to scream, “Stop it already! Don’t you see that rebellion is your only answer! A ridiculous answer; but still your only one!”

We want K. to refuse to sheepishly play along. We want him to laugh just once at the absurdity of his situation, so as to unlock the door to some resistance. Please, K., laugh at the absurdity of your indictment and your punishment. And rebel!

Of course, some rebellions are impossible. You can’t stop the sun from slowly dying. You can’t stop time from passing. You can’t stop falls from hurting. You can’t stop your mind from whirring. You might as well beg electricity to stop shocking.

But some rebellions are possible. Kirism supports those. If this subject is of interest to you, please read more in Lighting the Way: How Kirism Answers Life’s Toughest Questions. I think you’ll find it invigorating!

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