625. The well (IX)
I went to university to study politics and philosophy and never stopped. What I was after was the meaning of life; however, as it turned out I would never find that at university or in books. If you take the book approach, you will soon discover that the question is a non-question.
So I came across Camus one day in the library at Hull, with the single flame from the oil refinery on the skyline and the perpetual smell of fish-processing and pharmaceutical factories in the air—pharmaceutical factories have a very distinct smell, thick and yeasty and yet with a sour undertone. The smell is so pervasive that it gets everywhere, it lies heavy on the ground—not unlike mustard gas. Your only hope is for the wind to change.
Camus says that the question “What is the meaning of life?” is itself meaningless—a view also voiced by the much-derided logical positivists, much derided because it is hard work to understand them and therefore most people, being lazy, sneer at them for being too mathematical. So, says Camus, we must “imagine Sisyphus happy”; we must roll the boulder up the hill, only for the boulder to fall down the other side—forever. C’est absurd!
Yes, just make the best of it. Camus was deficient in two ways: firstly, he was a democrat—he once told the writer Colin Wilson that he would accept no answer that did not also apply to a gaggle of Teddy Boys he gestured to on the street; secondly, he was only intellectually correct, there is effectively a meaning to life—although it is not an intellectual formula; hence it is not found in books and scholarship.
What people really want by “the meaning of life” is to see. To see is not an intellectual position, it is an activity achieved through a stance—Why, that’s very perceptive of you. The closer your adherence to what you see, without preconceptions, the more meaningful your life will become. The position is artistic and religious, since the two are a really synonymous. At the moment, Britain’s Chancellor is Rishi Sunak; so he is a “Rishi”—a seer in Sanskrit; it refers to a high caste Indian. If you see things, not what you wish to be but what surrounds you, then life will become meaningful—you will see the interconnection of all things.
The reason why philosophy and theology cannot provide meaning is that these are intellectual activities. In order to undertake intellectual activities, you have to separate subject and object, study cause-and-effect relations, and separate quality from quantity. When you undertake the move to intellectuality you begin to search for meaning as cause, purpose, or God’s final purpose for the world—yet the intellectual activities are dead in themselves and under rigorous analysis prove to be meaningless. The result is to create a cataract that prevents a person from seeing, since their sight is occluded by layer upon layer of intellectualisation—including what sort of person they wish to present themselves to be—facilitated by families, schools, and workplaces.
What we require is a scalpel to remove the cataract—to return to the mythopoeic and magical state where everything is connected and quality and quantity are intertwined. In modernity, many people reach this state through drugs and alcohol, although in a confused and sometimes self-destructive way—and then ask for other people to interpret what they see. So amateur ghost-hunters hear a disembodied voice on tape recorder say, “I am the Devil,” and then they umm and arrr about it. They never say what they saw, “It’s the Devil,” because they are too intellectual and too caught up in their ego game. A Hitlerite once asked me: “When did you awaken?” He meant “awaken to an intellectual laundry list of complaints about the race and the nation”—yet he was still asleep himself. To see is not an intellectual position, not a “national awakening” to more manipulation. To be awake is no-thing.