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Is the World Absurd? Throughout history, the perception of time has dumbfounded philosophers and baffled scientists. According to string theory, our particular universe consists of nine spatial and one temporal dimension. Where we as humans living on Earth categorize time into hours, minutes, and seconds, the concept of time extends far beyond our minimal comprehension and into the deepest levels of quantum physics. For simplicity purposes, time is the product of an ever expanding universe traveling in a singular direction. Therefore, what we choose today determines what happens tomorrow and thereafter.
“If you mix the mashed potatoes and the sauce, you can’t separate them later. It’s forever. The smoke comes out of daddy’s cigarette, but it never goes back in. We cannot go back. That’s why it’s so hard to choose. You have to make the right choice. (Nemo Nobody, Mr. Nobody)” The idea that we somehow are able to choose our own destiny links directly to the notion that there is in fact some inherent value to be found in it all.
Well, is there meaning? If so, how do we find it? We continuously search for the meaning in life as we choose certain paths to take, but the more we search, the more we realize how far away we really are. As Jennifer Egan attempts to illustrate the philosophic theory of absurdism in her new book A Visit From the Goon Squad, we are shown various characters who attempt to find meaning in their fight against time.
In an attempt to accurately portray the chaotic nature of life, Jennifer Egan disrupts basic chronology as she purposely scrambles various stories. As the novel progresses, or jumps from one story to another, the concept of time continues to elude the characters, thus rendering them victims of the goon squad. A notable conflict within the novel is Bennie Salazar’s inability to remain relevant in the world. As time ticks on, Bennie finds his entropic life continually dissipating much like the atoms of the universe. Like many of us, we wake up one day only to realize how much time has passed before our eyes much like in Pink Floyd’s song Time as they say “And then one day you find ten years have got behind you/ No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun/… And you run and you run to catch up with the sun but its sinking/ Racing around to come up behind you again.” For Bennie Salazar, his race against time leads him to find nothing but emptiness and irrelevance in his own life. In an attempt to combat the effects of time, he sprinkles gold flakes in his coffee to counteract his impotence. Ultimately, Bennie searches for meaning in his life only to realize how much he has lost throughout the years. Similar to the Myth of Sisyphus, Bennie relives his pain over and over again as he records all of his shameful memories, thus reinforcing the idea of absurdism within the novel.
However, contrary to the lifestyle of Bennie Salazar, Bosco represents those who see life as a temporary platform to exhibit the totality of their abilities within a given timeframe.
Where Bennie attempts to hold on to the debilitating life he has left, Bosco believes it is better to “flame away” than to “fade away.” (p. 129) As a rock star, his entire life remains a function of his relevancy. He subsequently embarks on a “suicide tour” to conclude his time on Earth today rather than allowing time to conclude his life tomorrow. As he says, “Suicide is a weapon; that we all know (p. 129)” which encapsulates his mentality towards life. Considering the underlying theme of absurdism, Bosco’s awareness of the lack of meaning in life warrants his suicide. For he knows the more he searches for value in his life as a rock star, the more time passes, and the less meaningful he becomes to the world. Ironically, the solace he finds in death allows him to find value in his remaining time alive.
In the end, we must realize the goon is not time but our own inability to construct our lives within the time we are given. For Bennie, his impotence and lack of self-confidence is a direct result of his divorce to Stephanie. As for Bosco, his hubris as a rock star disallows him to find value in other facets of life. Ultimately, no one knows why time exists the way it does, but what we do know is that it moves in only one direction. There is no going back. Jennifer Egan illuminates the effects of time in conjunction with characters’ decisions which allows the reader to question whether the characters find meaning in their lives. Or do they live in a world of utter absurdism?
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