The philosopher Thomas Nagel once wrote, "Most people feel on occasion that life is absurd, and some feel it vividly and continually". I am one of these people who feel it vividly and continually, and I have felt it for more years than I can remember. To say that I spend time thinking about what all this means would be an understatement. The fact is, I have spent the better part of 20 years trying to figure out what life is all about and what it all means, and believe me when I say that I have ran the gamut in trying to pin point what it is that I feel in such a profound degree. Almost every book I read touches on it in some way; almost everything I do feels the effects of this central theme of my life.
I've been quiet here lately but that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say, on the contrary. It's just I don't know how to say it. I've been writing this post in my head for a couple months now, and have started it more than a couple times, each time deleting it because it just wasn't what I wanted to say. I'm hoping today I get finally get it down.
The above quote from Thomas Nagel sums it up nicely for me. Albert Camus pointed out that once a person confronts the absurd, he/she can never just let it go again; once confronted, the absurd will remain forever at the forefront of life. Over the past few months I have finally understood what has been plaguing me for all these years. It's not that I didn't know it intellectually, this part I've know for many years now, but not until somewhat recently did I know it deep down inside. I finally get it, you could say. Now, since the kitchen is the one place where I can confront life on terms I can understand, it is within these walls I try to answer the big questions of life. My food and my approach to cooking sheds light on the overarching themes in my life, and that is why I started this blog, to explore why I cook, and in extension, why I live.
In a nut shell, the absurd is the conflict we feel when we desire inherent meaning in life and our inability to find it. You can say I have tried so hard looking for meaning in my food in the attempt to understand meaning in my own life. If I can find meaning in a saute pan, then perhaps I can find meaning in waking every morning. But alas, I can't find meaning in my food, and this is the reason I have been silent on the blog for a couple months. I've been trying to figure out, what now?
My realization that cooking has no inherent meaning leaves me with two choices: 1) Quit cooking, 2) Cook anyway. The first choice isn't really an option. It might have the appearances of an option but at closer examination it is easy to see it is merely a mirage. What would quiting cooking actually solve? It doesn't get rid of the problem. In fact, quiting cooking actually means I accept defeat, and this isn't something I do easily. The only thing quiting cooking would accomplish would be to put the problem off a little longer. Eventually I would have to face it.
So, I cook. The question before me then is how do I cook? And I'm not talking about technique here. I mean, how do I approach the kitchen now that I understand there is no real meaning there? For me this is the crux of the issue. Everything hangs on the balance of it's answer. There is always the danger of nihilism setting in when a person is confronted with this question, but I am not a nihilistic person, nor am I a fatalist; much to my surprise, I discovered the opposite. It is on this edge I have been perching for these past few months; what now? This what now in the kitchen will answer the what now of my life. If I can understand what the absurd means to me as a cook, then I am sure I can understand what the absurd means to me as a person.
Even now as I type I am still unsure what this means to me and my cooking. I've been working on this version of the post for 29 days, and when I re-read it I don't seem to have said much as far as resolution is concerned. But I want to post this anyway, even in it's unfinished form, because I need to move on to other things. I do, however, feel a very profound sense of freedom; the freedom to be authentic. I hope to flesh out some consequences of my past few months musings in the next couple posts, but for now this is going to have to due.