A few words from our sponsors

A Few Words From Our Sponsors is a new quarterly segment brought to you by our local business sponsor,  Moustaches Are Us, suppliers of quality moustaches to existentialists and philosophers for over 150 years. Below are our favourite words for Spring.

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Posthumous

the state of despair arrived at when you have eaten all your hummus* and have none left to dip that last bit of pita bread into. (*some spell it humus or humous – a tasty dip of Lebanese origin, made from chickpeas.) Some believe that this state can lead to questioning the very meaning of existence and that it may have been a hummus shortage that triggered the beginnings of the existentialist movement in the late 19th Century.

 

Rejected cover art for the biography of Friedrich Nietzsche

A rejected submission for the cover of a biography of Friedrich Nietzsche

Phosphorescence

a word designed for the sole purpose of having a softly soothing word to whisper quietly to yourself in the dead of night when you cannot sleep. Try it tonight! For certain success, drink a large glass of brandy and swallow a valium before you crawl into bed to begin. As a cure for insomnia, the Phosphorescence method is highly recommended by Lady Macbeth, and endorsed by Dorothy Parker.

rhythm

a word that will forever feel incomplete, because of the oversight of the powers-that-be, who did not include a silent n at the end of this word when they built the original. This author bravely attempted, back in Grade 6, when taking part in the combined primary schools spelling bee, to bring this scandalous oversight to light, but her efforts to highlight the need for an n on the end of rhythm did not get the swell of community support hoped for, so rhythm continues to always seem one (silent) letter short of its full potential.

unrequited (by request from the Department of Speculation)

A word brimming with possibilities, but mainly only if you are playing the game where you locate other words hidden within it. This author put her timer on for 3.25 minutes and located the following:

quite

quiet

quieted

it

queer

tied

diet

die

tired

tried

ride

If you can find other words, please leave these in the comments below, to go into the draw to win one of our Existential Moustaches for October.

billious

this word is the result of a dysfunctional union between two already icky words: bile and ill, but that second syllable in billious adds a whole other dimension to it, making this writer imagine a sickly, yellow hue, and think of movement in a circular direction, all of which seems to suggest very clearly the vomit that is probably churning ferociously up your intestines as you read this.

orangutang

Nietzsche famously remarked that it’s a myriad of pleasure just to pronounce the word orangutang, let alone to visit the obligingly zany creature at the zoo. (I believe Nietzsche actually confided to a friend that in fact he got even greater enjoyment from the phrase, Hubba Bubba, and had spent many delightful evenings engaged in smoking his pipe on the verandah and repeating that diverting phrase to himself, but conceded that orangutang was a strong second choice and gave him a chuckle every now and then.) The burning question is, why has no-one named a tangy orange drink Orang-u-tang? Red bulls have a drink named after them, why not orangutangs? You heard it here first.

ferocious

While we are making predictions, this word has so much presence all by itself that it is just begging to be the startling, one-word title of the next Man Booker Prize winning novel, and following that, the Hollywood film based on the novel, starring Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Maggie Smith. (I really wanted Jake Gyllenhaal but he just wasn’t quite right for the part.)

ricochet

ricochet is fun to say. We like words that are fun to say, but we also like it when, in our imaginations at least, the word seems to convey the concept. Ric-o-chet sounds to us like the pinballs bouncing from one corner to another inside a pinball machine.

And that’s it for our words for this quarter. Stay tuned for summer when we will bring you another round, courtesy of Moustaches Are Us.

 

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A tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. (But it mentions stars exploding.)

In my last post I referred to the “spine-tingling” factor that happens when I contemplate the stars and universe.  As a reminder to all you regular readers out there (or should I say, “in there”, since most of you exist only in my head?  Still, thanks for reading either way) – I’m talking about how that light that we see, and call a “star,”  is the light from a massive body (that’s the star) that could have already exploded and died  – and yet that explosion won’t be seen (by the naked eye) for maybe millions of years.

Yeah, that’s right, I had to reiterate that fact, because I can’t get enough of it.

Anyway, strangely enough, when I think about this stuff, my mind often makes an association to something else that I find spine tingling – a quote from Macbeth! I say strangely, because it’s nothing to do with stars or the universe. It is the famous quote, which I have located this morning in a falling-apart copy of Macbeth (complete with scribbled notes all over it) and goes:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

(Shakespeare, Macbeth, v.5)

Did your spine tingle? Mine did. I can’t put my finger on why it is, but I have heard that this Shakespeare dude is quite a good writer, so I reckon he knew how to make a few words have an impact.

I suspect the reason why my brain connects this text from Macbeth with stars exploding and their light travelling for thousands or millions of years and still hitting our vision thousands of years later, is that idea that human existence is so brief, such a mere blip on the radar of what Macbeth describes as dark and dusty nothingness, or in my mind, is the fathomlessness of the universe.

Of course, the play is full of foreboding, and conveys a growing sense of dread and darkness, so all of that contributes to Macbeth’s famous speech, which comes close to the end of the story, feeling so potent and causing my spine to tingle.

I reckon that Samuel Beckett’s spine felt a little tingle when he read Macbeth, too. In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon echo some of Macbeth’s ideas.  I think the spine-tingling I experience at these passages is partly due to recognition of Macbeth’s famous speech, as well as my reaction to the similarly dark content of what they are saying. Have a look back at what Macbeth says, and then check out the similarities:

Vladimir: All evening we have struggled, unassisted. Now it’s over. It’s already tomorrow. (p77)

Vladimir: In an instant, all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness! (p81)

Pozzo: Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time!….One day,  is that not enough for you, one day like any other day, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?….They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more. (p89)

I wonder if Beckett was having a little bit of a joke, too (given the nature of his absurdist play it seems likely) as Vladimir and Estragon could very well be the “idiots” that Macbeth speaks of, telling the tale that signifies nothing. The power of their statements is achieved very differently in Waiting for Godot. This play does not develop a growing sense of dread, rather I think that, for me, the power of these deep, existential statements is probably highlighted by the contrast in the way they are delivered: amidst conversation that, on the surface, appears to be pure rambling, by bumbling, pathetic characters that we feel sorry for.

So art can make my spine tingle too, just like the idea of stars exploding, and the universe in general, can do.

I guess that what makes for a spine-tingling feeling varies for everyone, but occasionally we all feel it for some reason or other, either by staring up at the stars, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or reading Macbeth!

Star exploding

An explosion 7.5 billion years ago – visible in 2008

Photo Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler, et al.

(Click here if you want to read about this exploding star. Apparently it exploded 7.5 billion years ago – well before Shakespeare was born, or even before Macbeth, whose story took place a mere 1000 years ago.  After travelling for all that time, the light from the explosion finally arrived close enough to earth to be seen by the naked eye in 2008.)

Competing Moustaches

As so often happens, it seems as if I unwittingly tuned into the Zeitgeist, and grotesque moustaches are the latest must-have item. The Age must have got wind of my high rating, crowd pleasing* posts on Nietzsche’s moustache, and decided to compete with me, by featuring a different but almost as hideous moustache on the cover of the A2 this past Saturday.

When I saw the face of Mark Twain and his grizzly looking moustache,  it seemed uncanny, that right after my recent post about Nietzsche’s facial hair, The Age had also decided that some old guy with way too much unkempt hair on his face was worthy of an article.

Of course I could have posted a picture of Mark Twain, to illustrate the moustache, but really, there comes a point where you don’t really want your blog full of pictures of mouldy old men from the 19th Century with moustaches taking up half of their faces. (You don’t really want to be writing about them endlessly either, so don’t ask me why on earth I am still doing that.) (I swear this will be the last time.)

I think in the year 2010, Mark Twain’s popularity  is probably best summed up by the fact that when I looked up The Age website to find the article again, it says on the side bar, “You are the only person reading this post. Tell your friends!” Hmmmm. Maybe I hang out with an illiterate bunch of no-hoper generation Xers, but somehow I imagine If I was to alert my friends that I’m reading an online article about Mark Twain, they would probably de-friend me. And that’s without even being on Facebook. Yeah, that’s what I like about my generation.

If you would get a kick out of being the only person reading Don Watson’s article on Mark Twain, here it is. But don’t get too excited, there is no picture on the online article. That treat was saved for people who actually paid to get the paper, so that they could eat their breakfast while they looked at it. 

Mmmmm…milk! Some people have it for breakfast. (I can’t stand the stuff, but it’s better than another picture of a hairy moustache))

Anyway,  I realise that perhaps I am just making an unfair and discriminatory judgement on Mark Twain based purely on his facial hair, and perhaps he has a lot of fans out there.

So rather than spend any more time pondering how little I know about Mark Twain, instead I made a picture of how Nietsche might have looked if he’d had his moustache trimmed.

Nietzsche’s smile courtesy of The Age Good Weekend magazine

See – much happier!

*( in a crowd of imaginary people) (obviously all with moustaches)

More on Nietzsche and his moustache

Nietzsche talks animatedly about his latest theories

 

Nietzsche and his accidental, existential moustache

An unknown (but apparently real) reader (oh, alright! It was my sister. Thanks Cath!) posted a comment referring to Beckett as an “accidental existentialist.” I like this term. It sounds like the name for a new play by Tom Stoppard: The Accidental Existentialist. Can you be an existentialist by accident? Perhaps I am an existentialist and don’t even know it? After asking myself these questions, I had to admit that I couldn’t answer them, since I wasn’t even completely sure what existentialism means. So, lacking a copy of “Existentialism for Dummies,” naturally I turned to Wikipedia for an answer.

There I discovered that:

Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche were two of the first philosophers considered fundamental to the existentialist movement…. (and that)…. they were interested in people’s quiet struggle with the apparent meaninglessness of life and the use of diversion to escape from boredom

I can see why people mistake Beckett for an existentialist…based on that description, it seems a fair mistake to make.

Anyway! Once at the Wikipedia page, I was completely distracted by the enormous moustache perched on the face of Friedrich Nietzsche.

(Could this be deliberate? Do they track how many people immediately go to the Nietzsche page and from there start googling images of moustaches? Maybe it’s an experiment to prove that people who think they want to read about philosophy would actually rather giggle at pictures of large moustaches to divert themselves from the boredom of wondering about the meaninglessness of life?)

A creature crawls across the face of an existentialist.

One look at that moustache and you can easily understand why Nietzsche developed a philosophy based around alienation, despair, angst and absurdity. All I wonder is, which came first – the moustache or the philosophy?

Perhaps it went down like this. Maybe he had a run in with a renegade barber, who, to get revenge, glued a toupee he had lying around, under Nietzsche’s nose while he was in the barber’s chair. Unfortunately for Nietzsche, this barber had developed an early prototype for what became Supa Glue in the 20th Century, and the toupee was never able to be removed.

If this story is true (so far I haven’t come across any source that directly disputes it), this not-so-little moustache arrived at a crucial point in the development of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Stay with me: it was during a fit of angst that he fought with the barber. The fight resulted in him ending up with a toupee permanently stuck on his face, and that was obviously absurd. Because he now looked comically grotesque, no-one took him seriously any more so he was for ever in despair. And the moustache directly thwarted all his future attempts at communicating with the rest of the world*, thereby  causing him to feel alienated from the rest of society.

Thus was born existentialism.

 

*Tragically, as it had to travel through all that hair, his voice lost all it’s volume by the time it got through, so when he spoke, people heard a muffled sound and assumed his tummy was rumbling. Since his mouth was completely hidden there were no visual clues that he was speaking. There was no internet in those days so he couldn’t write  a blog.

Blathering about nothing in particular

Blathering About Nothing In Particular – Part 1.


Like a rabbit caught in the headlights, I seem to be frozen in my tracks. That is, I’ve got something stuck in my head that I’d like to blather on about, but after more than a week with this vague thought rolling around in that – apparently empty – space, I am unable to formulate anything to say. In fact I’ve come to the conclusion that I have nothing to say on this topic that is worth a post….yet I’m unable to let go of the topic and move on to anything that seems more promising.

In a perverse way, though, all of the above seems delightfully appropriate – so much so that I’m getting a gleeful enjoyment right now out of writing about how I am unable to write!

Confused?? Thinking of getting out now, yet oddly compelled to read on just to see if I say anything that actually makes sense???

Well that’s all ok, because that’s thematically appropriate too.

*At this point, I could if I chose to, imagine readers – as in, more than one person –  thinking Wow, this woman is an unrecognised genius who deserves a Nobel Prize for services to literature AND an all expenses paid trip to New York, which luckily I’m in a position to offer her! After all, imaginary people can do whatever you want them to.

Sadly though, even with the power to imagine that, I can’t quite get past the suspicion that even an imaginary reader would be thinking, OK, I gave her first few posts the benefit of the doubt, but now its clear she is a raving lunatic. That’s it! I’m not going to keep reading!

Alright, keep your imaginary hair on. If it’s any comfort (and it certainly is to me), that response also fits the theme. Because today’s volcano of suddenly erupting thoughts is inspired by recently seeing some plays by Samuel Beckett.

Samuel Beckett

Aaah, see…..some of you are nodding (although that could be because you’ve fallen asleep). Now it starts to make sense…..or alternatively, it still makes no sense, but for a reason. Or rather, it might make sense if you have ever read any Beckett. So in the spirit of Beckett, I shall continue to meander my way through this post with no fixed idea of what I intend to say, and acknowledge that whatever I might say is most likely not worth reading. But, I might also ask, is anything that you will ever read? Aha!

If you haven’t ever read any Beckett, yet have made it this far through this post, you should really delve into some Beckett at the first opportunity, because if you are willing to stick with this drivel, I’m guessing you will positively adore his work. That came out wrongly: I think Beckett is a genius! However, between his works of artistic genius and my lacklustre drivel, there are some similarities that you may perhaps enjoy. For example, so far, at least, this post cunningly gives the appearance of nonsensical rambling, bordering on the absurd, and is filled with self conscious references to the fact that I’m writing it and/or having trouble writing it.

Similarly, Beckett’s characters appear to ramble nonsensically, they carry out absurd conversations and rituals, and they refer to the fact that they feel compelled to keep talking, while acknowledging that everything they say is meaningless, or, at other times, remark that they can’t think of anything to say.

Waiting for Godot set, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 2009

Ah yes, that’s right, for anyone who hasn’t read Beckett, there is a lot of talking – about talking – and not a lot of action – in the traditional sense. But really, who wants to go to the theatre to see a phantom clomping around in an opera house, screeching about unrequited love, when you can have a homeless hobo struggling for 5 full minutes to pull off his boot and then peer inside it?

In case you’re wondering, there are also a few clear differences between my blog and Beckett’s writing. For example, my blog really is just nonsensical rambling, and lacks any deeper, existential* themes, I don’t have a Nobel Prize for writing nor am ever likely to own one, and, at time of writing, there are no odd characters who live in bins in my blog, although I guess that in the Global Financial Crisis, anything could happen – so stay tuned!

*Beckett apparently did not see himself as an existentialist, but it’s easy to interpret his writing as being influenced by existentialist ideas. I know – because I did this without even realising existentialism was a thing! The first time I ever heard  the term existentialism was in first year uni, when my tutor wrote on my essay on Endgame, something along the lines of “You failed to acknowledge that your analysis of  the text looks at it only through the framework of existentialist ideology and excludes any other possible interpretations.”

Huh?

After I’d managed to decipher his scrawled comment, I had to go and look up Existentialism to see what this framework was that I’d apparently been using without knowing. (in doing so, I probably learned about as much in doing that as I had in a whole year of English literature at Melbourne University). Until then, I’d been labouring under the delusion that the ideas in my essay were my own original thoughts, smattered with a few secondary references, as required. Apparently you lose points for accidentally clueing in instinctively to an ideology which, as a first year uni student, you are not yet aware of. Life is harsh for the privileged university student.*

In hindsight, I think Beckett would have enjoyed that (mis)communication

*

Estragon: ..Yes, now I remember, yesterday evening we spent blathering about nothing in particular. That’s been going on now for half a century.

(Waiting for Godot)

An academic at Melbourne University earlier today, worried that this blog may have discredited his 80,000 word thesis on Beckett

 

*(That was the last year that tertiary education was free in Australia so I suppose the tutors could afford to actually be tough on students back then, instead of passing them as long as they were able to pay the tens of thousands of dollars their courses cost.)

*Update 7 years later: I just came across this review of a Beckett play which delighted me because it tackles the problem of saying anything about the work of someone whose work questions the validity of using language to create meaning, in a far more eloquent way than I was able to.

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