Absurdity and Inspiration

A Rhinoceros in Oakwood

A Rhinoceros in Oakwood

“My mother says my father will do anything to avoid working for Manpower Services as a canal bank renovator” First sentence, third paragraph of The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.


And why not?

When I signed up to the postaday2011 commitment, I also signed up to The Daily Post regular topic-provider aimed at anyone short on things to write about each day. Once or twice, they’ve come up with an excellent little piece. But most of the time the suggestions range from ‘What’s your worst ever fear?’ to ‘Where would you pack your bags and move to tomorrow?”

I haven’t taken any of these up. If I spent a while thinking about it, I’m sure I could make it relevant to the theme (yes, there sort of is one) of my blog, but most of the time the ideas seem to me to be great subjects for creative writing exercises, but not much use to me.  I may have to change my mind though.

The other day, The Daily Post urged me to “Grab the nearest book (or website) to you right now. Jump to paragraph 3, second Sentence. Write it in a post.” The random ridiculousness of this appealed to me enormously. As an artist, I love grabbing whatever is to hand without having to make a decision, and working then with the material to see what I can make of it. But absurdity is dear to my heart in daily life, and there are few things more absurd than grabbing the nearest book to hand and following directions to grab your opening sentence. It is quite possibly the most intriguing opening sentence I have written to date.

Experience of life for me is often temptingly exemplified by the 1950s and 1960s movement of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Albert Camus argued that it was impossible to work out any complete and rational explanation of our world, and that ultimately society had to simply be viewed as absurd. The writers who were considered to be part of this intellectual movement used various wonderfully random devices to affirm this worldview. In Eugene Ionescu’s play The Rhinoceros, a rhinoceros randomly crosses the stage to the shock of the townsfolk. In course of the play, all bar one protagonist turn into rhinoceroses. At a serious level it is a commentary on blind conformity. But the total absurdity of the storytelling works powerfully to force examination of the real issues.

I’m not sure quoting old Adrian Mole above serves any great literary or philosophical purpose in this instance though. And how much of it really was random? Within reach of my laptop as I type, I can stretch and grab an eclectic selection of works including Lionheart & Lackland King Richard, King John and the Wars of  Conquest; an Oxford French Dictionary, Tacitus Annals XIV, and a school planner. Yes, I’m in the homework corner, and it’s not my homework. You can consider yourselves lucky. The third paragraph of the Tacitus, it seems, is very lengthy indeed. I think my careful random selection of Adrian Mole was all for the good.


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