Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Writing is a Sisyphean Task

The problem with a Rashomon-riff is that Kurosawa's film said pretty much everything there is to say about truth being a many-sided object, including that there can be no ultimate truth if there is no one truth.
What was I thinking earlier? Back to Iraq but...the VBIED I was nearest to during my deployment was actually kind of humorous. They hid the explosives in a potato truck, so when the thing detonated, it flew mashed potatoes all over the street. Luckily, it malfunctioned. It blew the driver in half, and I think some shrapnel killed an Iraqi guard or two. But the thing I remember most was the street just being literally covered in potatoes. It was completely surreal. I wish I'd gotten a photograph of it, I really do. But at that point, I was so exhausted and sick of photography, that I couldn't even think creatively anymore with the still image. That coupled with the fact that I spent at least part of my time at the scene fending off guys requests to be photographed with body parts from the suicide bomber left me kind of de-motivated.

But what was I thinking earlier?

I was remarking on how one can easily lose their compass when confronted with such a disparately absurd tableau as the one I've tried to construct above. How do you react to a suicide bomber whose bomb malfunctioned but still managed to kill himself and possibly two others and left the road covered in potatoes? How do you react to something so utterly ridiculous? The potatoes just completely removes any sense of drama. And yet it can't be completely superfluous and comical because--hey!--there's a piece of an ear and--hey!--there's a trail of blood and--oh yeah!--that's where his foot went...I guess the way I worded it makes it kind of morbidly humorous, but nevertheless it's certainly not comical. Gallows humor? A certain kind of savage humor, definitely.

I think Camus answered this proposition best by (very paraphrased) saying something to the effect that when man is confronted with the reality of the absurd, his lucidity is what makes him happy. That even at his moment of greatest defeat, he can have his greatest triumph. Though he knows that his life is meaningless and all his efforts fruitless and futile, this clarity of vision is a victory over the absurdity of life in and of itself. So in that little epiphany lies man's transcendence. In the Absurd World, man cannot triumph over his fate but by accepting it...That's a very Zen philosophy.

Now the questions: how can I construct a story to embody that insight, deeply felt though it is.


So we start with a character. A man. What is a properly Sisyphean fate for him in the context of a realistic allegory? His fate must be one that embodies infinite repetition. Something can't motivate his appreciation of his fate. It must be a self-realization or its worthless. Infinite repetition, with a break in the repetitive act that allows a moment of reflection before willfully charging once more into the breach.

So, parameters so far:
- Man
- Infinitely repetitive action
- Break in action to allow for reflection
- Realizes his fate every night and rises every morning to accept it

What is the ultimate repetitive occupation?

A medic in the army -- no nation, no conflict, just a medic -- wakes up everyday to triage the wounded and save the dying and goes to bed every night knowing that when he wakes up in the morning he will be doing exactly the same thing tomorrow --


And we're golden. Huzzah!

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