Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Absurdism

In brief, absurdism arises from a conflict between our need for a meaningful life and the chaotic yet meaningless nature of the universe. We constantly seek to give our lives purpose; we create coherent narratives from our experiences. However, the universe provides no guiding narrative or value system. The fundamental conflict between our desires and the indifferent reality leads to a sense of absurdity: the disconnect makes us feel alienated and lost.

Confronted with the vastness of the natural universe and the inevitability of our mortality, how do we find meaning in our lives? The profound existential question lies at the core of Albert Camus‘ philosophy of absurdism. Camus’ idea of the absurd remains highly relevant in a chaotic yet bizarre world depicted in Inio Asano’s manga Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction—also known as DDDD.

In his most influential 1942 philosophical essay titled The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus explores the concept of absurdity. The idea centers on the conflict between the desire to find meaning and the silent indifference of the universe, which offers no inherent or grand purpose. In DDDD, the philosophy is vividly reflected. The story occurs in a world facing a profound existential crisis, echoing Camusian themes. The alien invasion in the manga metaphorically represents the random yet incomprehensible nature of existence. The main characters, Kadode Koyama and Ouran Nakagawa, continuously grapple with the uncertainty of living. Their struggles reflect the essence of the human condition: the relentless quest for personal meaning in a world devoid of intrinsic significance.

Absurdism emerged in the mid-twentieth century, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the absurd theme exploration began much earlier, with artistic and literary movements setting the stage for its formal development.

Similarly, absurdism and existentialism hold the belief that life inherently lacks meaning. However, both differ in their specific reasons. Existentialism focuses on the individual’s ability to create meaning and purpose. In contrast, absurdism does not support the idea; it accepts the futility of finding meaning in the universe. Objectively, it holds how the universe is meaningless.

Existentialists believe we are free from predetermined meaning. We create our purpose through choices and actions. It can be very empowering, as it puts the responsibility and control in our hands. While freedom is sublime, it can also be a heavy burden. Choosing our path means no external validation or pre-defined “right” answer. Its lack of inherent meaning can be daunting. Existentialists acknowledge the innate absurdity of the universe. There’s no grand plan or guaranteed outcome. It can be liberating but lead to feelings of isolation and insignificance.

Besides existentialism, nihilism shares a similar belief, asserting that creating meaning is impossible. Absurdism takes a different view. Adherents of absurdism are uncertain whether the creation of meaning is ultimately possible. Even if we can create meaning, absurdism questions the universe’s value. In the end, it holds how there is no inherent meaning.

Fundamentally, the absurd worldview emphasizes the idea that existence is irrational; human reason has limitations in comprehending it. As we will see, acknowledging the absurdity does not necessarily lead absurdists to despair.

The Absurd Hero and the Myth of Sisyphus

Before absurdism became a formal philosophy, its themes were evident in the works of Franz Kafka—often referred to as the “King of Absurdism.” A prime example is his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis. It tells the story of a man who wakes up one morning to transform into a giant insect. Confronted with alienation, the protagonist struggles with the psychological and social consequences of his transformation and finds the world he once knew is utterly incomprehensible.

Along with the broader Kafkaesque themes, the central device provides an example of the core ideas of absurdism. Unlike existentialism, Kafka’s stories highlight the futility of efforts in a bewildering, often nightmarish world and do not focus on creating personal meaning. The absurdity of the protagonist’s situation in The Metamorphosis reflects a condition devoid of inherent meaning or clear order.

However, it is such meaninglessness because it drives Kafka’s characters to embark on a journey of profound self-reflection. Confronted with the absurdity of their situations, they grapple with questions about the human condition and the nature of existence. Through the introspective process, Kafkaesque narratives offer a glimmer of hope, suggesting the possibility of gaining understanding in a meaningless universe.

Returning to the formal proponent of Camus’ absurdism, The Myth of Sisyphus investigates a question. Does human life fundamentally have value? Does human life inevitably reach an unexpected conclusion?

To illustrate the idea, Camus powerfully uses the mythological figure of Sisyphus. Sisyphus condemns pushing a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down each time he reaches the summit. The symbolic story metaphorically represents the endless, futile nature of human existence. Like Sisyphus, humans often feel trapped in a cycle of struggle to achieve meaning. We constantly pursue goals that ultimately lead to disappointment because our actions are transient and lack inherent significance.

However, the core message of The Myth of Sisyphus is not about succumbing to despair or nihilistic resignation. Camus does not equate absurdity with a lack of value in life. Despite acknowledging the absurdity of human existence, he argues how individuals can find personal satisfaction and even objective meaning.

Unlike existentialism, absurdism adopts a more skeptical stance. According to Camus, human efforts to use reason to find meaning are misguided. The reason is that the universe itself does not support these efforts. The concept of the “absurd” arises from the tension. While irreconcilable conflict between our natural tendency to impose order, the meaning through reason is the impossibility of achieving the goal. Paradoxically, an individual can find true meaning by accepting the absurd or acknowledging the lack of inherent meaning.

In the case of Sisyphus, he accepts the absurdity of his task and acknowledges the futility of his eternal struggle. Consequently, he finds a new sense of freedom. Camus quotes, “The struggle towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. We must imagine Sisyphus happy.” With the paradoxical statement, Camus highlights the transformative power of accepting absurdity. The most noteworthy aspect is not the outcome of our efforts but the act of striving that gives human life purpose and meaning.

Camus’ Absurdism in DDDD

Camus’ absurdist philosophy emerges as a strong theme flowing through the narrative of DDDD. The story follows Ouran and Kadode as they face existential challenges amid the chaos and uncertainty engulfing their lives. Confronted with a world slipping into disorder, they embody the essence of absurdism: the continuous struggle between humanity’s desire for order and meaning and the stark reality of the inherent meaninglessness in life.

They face their absurd situations, and Ouran and Kadode embark on a wholehearted quest to find meaning and purpose. Often, they find solace in their relationship with each other and in pursuing their passions. As they navigate the absurdity of their lives, they embody an aspect of absurdism: the importance of creating personal meaning in a universe devoid of inherent purpose. By fostering meaningful relationships, pursuing personal growth, and dedicating themselves to their interests, they carve out purpose and satisfaction within their chaotic existence.

The deep friendship between Kadode and Ouran becomes a focal point; it offers a rich exploration of Camus’ absurdism. Camus suggests how individuals must confront the lack of inherent meaning in the universe with resilience and defiance.

When Kadode first faces the loss of her father and the threat of an alien invasion, she sinks into despair and disillusionment. As the story progresses, a significant shift occurs in her mindset. Kadode embarks on a journey of self-discovery, gradually adopting Camus’ perspective. She decides to live with determination and meaning, creating a purposeful life in defiance of the chaotic absurdity around her.

In contrast, Ouran responds to the absurd (with a more direct and immediate approach). Her seemingly carefree and reckless behavior embodiment Camus’ idea that one should acknowledge absurdity while embracing it with boundless enthusiasm. Kadode’s and Ouran’s contrasting yet surprisingly complementary approaches to the absurd highlight the diverse human reactions to a universe without inherent meaning. Through their differing perspectives, Asano emphasizes that confronting and even accepting the absurd can take various forms.

The world of DDDD is depicted in a deeply yet unmistakably absurd condition. The narrative unfolds amid an impending apocalypse, with malevolent entities threatening the destruction of humanity. There is a further conflict between political groups: those who want to eliminate the aliens, called “warctopuses,” and those who want to negotiate peace, called “peacesquids.” Despite the looming threat, a strange sense of normalcy persists. Characters continue to grapple with everyday issues such as exams, relationships, and balancing part-time jobs. The contrast between the mundane and the catastrophic is a powerful metaphor for living in a universe devoid of inherent meaning.

Freedom Through Rebellion

According to Camus, acknowledging absurdity is not a sign of despair but a path to freedom. Once humans accept the lack of inherent meaning, they gain the power to create their own systems of meaning. In DDDD, the characters grapple with the concept of liberation amid the absurdity they face.

Kadode explores a world on the brink of destruction. Despite the constant threat of annihilation, she seeks connection and a sense of normalcy. Her pursuit through music and the relationship embodies a core principle of absurdism: the importance of embracing the present and forming genuine bonds with others even in the face of looming oblivion.

However, Asano delves into the darker side of the philosophy of absurdism. On the other hand, the characters constantly grapple with feelings of loneliness, existential anxiety, and foreboding. Kadode symbolizes inner turmoil. Her quiet and mysterious demeanor hints at a state of paralysis caused by the absurdity of her life. Ultimately, her breakdown underscores the significant psychological impact of existing in a world without intrinsic meaning or purpose.

Camus’ idea of the absurd hero also highlights the path to freedom through accepting the futility of one’s tasks. The theme resonates strongly within the character arcs. Instead of succumbing to nihilistic despair amid their chaotic world, the characters embark on a gradual journey of acceptance. They find comfort and meaning not in external circumstances but in close relationships and the pursuit of personal passions. Acceptance is not a passive resignation; it is a deliberate and challenging choice to live with purpose and carve out a meaningful existence, even in the face of the surrounding absurdity.

Cleverly, the manga contrasts the characters’ everyday lives with their extraordinary surroundings. Amid seemingly ordinary routines, the formation of friendships, and personal growth, we witness evidence of human resilience and the power to find meaning, even in the face of an uncertain and potentially disastrous future. The narrative approach echoes Camus’ fundamental idea: individuals can imbue their experiences and actions with significance, even in a universe devoid of inherent cosmic importance.

Camus argues that rebellion is an essential response to the absurd. He advocates for a persistent defiance against the lack of meaning in life and urges society to rebel through solidarity and collective action. In DDDD, the characters’ strong sense of community and unwavering support for one another embody the spirit of rebellion.

Despite constantly facing existential threats, the characters in the story form a strong support network. They find strength in shared experiences, common goals, and steadfast loyalty to one another. The solidarity is evident in how they handle personal and social problems dominating their world. The interactions and bonds they build become acts of resistance against an indifferent universe; the narrative aspect echoes human relationships and steadfast solidarity as crucial tools for navigating the absurdity of existence.

A Testament

DDDD offers an exploration of Camus’ absurdist philosophy. The story acts as a microcosm; it illustrates how individuals can find meaning and purpose in a universe devoid of inherent significance. Through the touching and journeys of the characters, Asano’s manga transcends mere entertainment; it evolves into a profound reflection on the human experience. The characters’ journeys are far from easy. They grapple with a sense of absurdity and permeate their existence in a world on the brink of destruction under the shadow of an unidentified threat. Amid the pervasive fear, they exhibit an extraordinary capacity for resilience. By accepting the inherent absurdity of their situation, they choose to live with passion and authenticity. In doing so, they embody the core principles of the defiant act of creating subjective meaning in a purposeless world. Their efforts to achieve it manifest through acts of solidarity, the cultivation of meaningful relationships, and a steadfast commitment to living life to the fullest, even in the face of an uncertain future.

Ultimately, Asano’s narrative is a powerful testament to the enduring human spirit. DDDD stands as a potent reminder of the importance of acknowledging the absurdity of existence while persevering in the face of it. The characters’ journeys underscore that meaning forged even in chaos; they highlight our ability to find solace and purpose through challenges, connections, and authentic living. In a world on the brink of oblivion, the narrative compels us to confront fundamental questions about meaning; it reminds us that the answers do not lie in external validation but in the defiant act of creating our purpose through our actions and connections.

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