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Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Inconsequential: (In·con·se·quen·tial)
Pronunciation: /(")in-"kän(t)-s&-'kwen(t)-sh&l/
Function: adjective
2 : of no significance : UNIMPORTANT
- in·con·se·quen·ti·al·i·ty /-"kwen(t)-shE-'a-l&-tE/ noun
- in·con·se·quen·tial·ly /-'kwen(t)-shlE, -'kwen(t)-sh&-/ adverb
*Source: Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

No, I'm not trying to give you a word for the day. I'm not even trying to sound intelligent by providing anyone who might read this with the Merriam Webster style of phonetic transcription. This is what all life amounts to the end.

What do I mean? Well, there are some of us who are more prone to asking ourselves 'why' and 'what for' every second of every day. It seems to be a constant effort to answer the fundamental question of what we're doing on this planet. I mean, sure, this is the Earth, the third planet in the Solar System, and it happens to sustain life...but what the hell am I doing here? And for those of us who are more inclined to follow this up, we'd go so far as to ask, "And why the hell am I doing it?" If anyone has this figured out, please keep the answers to yourselves...I don't want you taking away from the only excitement left in my existence. No no no...not at all. I'd encourage people to come up with an answer. And I realize that having made that statement, the one about "the only excitement" that I make it sound like I'm standing outside the window of some skyscraper ready to jump. But I'm don't worry about that...if at all you did. ;-)

But I find it hard to believe that realizing that one's life is "inconsequential" is a pretty hard idea to be able to live with from one day to the next. I mean, why would you want to get out of bed if you knew that no matter what you did, it didn't matter to anyone...or to anything. So, what's the point? And how did I even come up with this idea in the first place?

Well, as it turns out, the idea came up in a discussion with Sulekha...except I seem to have taken the idea and run with it like a Malayalee out of hell...or out of coconut oil, at the very least. She was kind enough to tell me about a W. H. Auden poem that was based on a painting of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I'd like you guys to take a look at the picture, and then the poem, and then let me know what you think.

The Picture

LANDSCAPE WITH THE FALL OF ICARUS, painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder*If it's not very clear then here's a link you can visit to check it out in a much larger size.

The Poem

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the plowman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

-W. H. Auden
*Here's a link to the page with other poems about the same painting.

What was the point of all that? Well, for those of us who've heard this story before, it was always about Icarus who wanted to go higher and higher despite his father's warning...and after reaching his peak, and his manufactured wings giving way, he came all the way down. More an issue of failed 'lofty ambition' in a manner of speaking. For a better explanation of the legend, and this is rather succinct too, check out this link.

But what about in the painting? Here, Icarus is just a sideshow. It's like, he was trying something, albeit something very revolutionary and potentially well ahead of its time, but no one really noticed. Here was a man who was trying to conquer the skies, so to say, but even in his most ultimate effort his cause was 'inconsequential' to the farmer ploughing his field, and to the "expensive delicate ship", which according to Auden, "Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."

But does that mean we should all just give up doing whatever we're doing and never get out of bed, and just lay there and become rotten corpses that the next person couldn't be bothered to get rid of either? Or does it mean that we should understand that life, like all things in this world, is momentary and that not being given a purpose is reason enough to invent one and live in the hopes of truly achieving that purpose? I'm sure there are people who're going to think of Hitler and Stalin as individuals who attempted to carve out a meaningful existence for themselves. For that matter, there was also Pol Pot...and our current favorite 'household name' Osama bin Laden. Purpose is purpose, no matter what comes of trying to achieve it or realize it. But at the end of the day, and this is something that I believe in at a fundamental level, our purpose in this life is to live, to the best of our abilities of course, in any way that we know how to and to strive for our beliefs and our convictions. Sure, they may be incongruous with those beliefs and convictions that your neighbors may have...but ultimately, and this is another thing that I believe in, there is cosmic balance that will exert itself on a macro scale to reset the status quo.

So, as the song in Evita goes, "Where do we go from here?" Well, where are we right now? What is it that we're trying to achieve?Why are we trying to achieve it? And without getting into who it's going to benefit and all that, why do we stop to think about these things? What is it about this life that makes us sit around and ponder our existence instead of just 'being'? What the hell am I trying to do by writing about all of this? In conclusion, what is the point of it all? He he he.
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