What and if, two words as nonthreatening as words come. But put them together side-by-side and they have the power to haunt you for the rest of your life: What if?… 1
Sixteen days went by since you’ve made the decision of leaving her. Yet, you still haven’t found the courage to write the exact words — or perhaps those that you remember — that were said during that afternoon. Likely because, once again, even if every fibre of your being knew that that was the only possible path, you kept hope, as always, that the world would show you things could be different. And, in that last breath of hope, you’ve let — you’ve forced — her to be the one saying out loud what both knew to be the purpose of that meeting, that day, that conversation, that last embrace. There’s no place for pride in the game of love, and the only way for you to approach the certainty you were looking for was, once again, to put in her hands the decision of both of your fates.
And ever since, those words haunt your days, your dreams, your unconscious mind. You recurrently ponder every hypothesis, every past decision where things could have been different. Perhaps if — at that time, at that point, when she said what she have said — you’ve reacted differently. If at least you’ve tried to be more understanding, more tolerant, less worried, more disconnected… If you’ve had the courage, or the patience, of giving time to time…
That hateful sentence… That concept that seems to be against everything that defines you, that defines what you’ve learned to be in these last decades, so against the human condition. Time, our worst enemy, simultaneously the source of our existence — no one exists as an immutable being — and our doom:
We live on the future: “tomorrow”, “later on”, “when you have made your way”, “you will understand when you are old enough”. Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for, after all, it’s a matter of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognises his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it. 2
And yet, without time, there is no hope, for:
A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future. 3
And from this realization, deliberately or not, your mind decided to do what it does best every single day: to analyze the situation, to ponder the alternatives, to create solutions, to test hypothesis; if the solution doesn’t work, if the hypothesis doesn’t hold, then one has to simply backtrack, to ponder where it went wrong, to look for the detail that eluded us; because something eluded us… something always eludes us:
Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness. 4
And if it really becomes necessary, then you scratch everything, you throw all away and start from the beginning! Yet another course of action that comes so easy for you; something that would scare so many people or be simply regarded as a complete waste. But not to you; you never hesitate in throwing away hundreds of hours of work. Why? Because nothing is lost: nothing is ever lost! You always keep something… the experience of failing, the knowledge of what doesn’t work, the intuition that leads you to join point A, with point B, with point C… but that missed something along the path; the frustration that keeps you moving, and the tenacity that there is no problem that cannot be solved… because the solution always existed — somewhere — and if it is currently out of your reach, it’s because you, and only you, don’t possess the skill to find it. The responsibility always felt down over the one and same person, and you’ve learned — or today you choose — that there’s no gain in sharing it with others. You are, simultaneously, the victim, judge, and executioner of your own failures.
And effectively, nothing is lost… your daily experimental laboratory is so free of effects, that trying, by the sheer act of merely trying, is such a common strategy that borders recklessness. So common that you’ve learned not to measure the consequences, to not deeply ponder about what may happen if you are proven wrong. You create the perfect testing environment and isolate from the outside world any effect due to your guesses and intuitions. If you cannot rigorously calculate the solution to a problem, then you never hesitate to use that amalgamation of experience accumulated throughout the years, that storm of electricity and chemistry in your mind, that leads to the emergence, in the blink of an eye, of casuistically selected heuristics due to those times were they actually worked; and if, epistemologically, you dedicate your life to the search of The Truth, positivistic and exact, whatever works ninety percent of the time in the real world is more than acceptable.
And in that process, you forget the role of chance, the uncontrollable variables, the scenarios where, by throwing the dice so many times, even the oddest and most improbable outcomes will eventually happen. You forget one of the effects that you know so well, that you reject so many times in your analysis, that always makes you doubt when things are too good to be true: serendipity… sometimes, the universe does seem to conspire in order to make improbable things happen. But you know that it isn’t a real conspiration; you know that nothing happens by chance; and although you’re also keenly aware that your understanding of that phrase is not the same as poets and dreamers have — that there is a deliberate reason, a hidden driving force, a conscious agency that posits the meaning of things — you are well acquainted with the fundamentals of mathematics and physics, of cause and effect, of the meta-determinism that exists in a quantic universe ruled by probabilistic laws, to know that not even chance happens by chance.
And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes — how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. 5
But because it’s in your nature to unveil those hidden variables, to seek the unknown alpha and omega; because you reject dissonance and ambivalence; because you do not accept what you cannot understand, your mind wanders throughout those processes every night while you sleep; every moment where you decide to let go — where you forget to keep? — the control over your thoughts. And it wanders always to the same subject, the same events, the same person…
What you are still struggling to conceive is that there is no possible control. There are no variables to be found. There is no equation to solve. Everything is too complex, too interconnected, too vast. Meaningless as you are — a mote of dust floating in a vast existence 6 — you wish to understand universes inside universes, and by sheer arrogance, you even think it to be possible…
But life isn’t made of that stuff; because would you think carefully, would you observe yourself writing down this text, would you contemplate the long sequence of actions, the chain of events that lead to the existence of tens of thousands of words dedicated to someone you hardly understood — someone that was probably nothing more that the idealization of your own mind — you would see that control is a mere illusion, and any attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible, the neverending quest for the meaning of life and the sensations that make us happy, are themselves the ultimate acts that impede us from being so:
Tu ne seras jamais heureux si tu continues à chercher en quoi consiste le bonheur. Et tu ne vivras jamais si tu recherches le sens de la vie. 7
What is then left to us, mere humans, also incapable of controlling that arrow of time dictated by entropy?…
— Why, Mr. Anderson? Why, why, why? Why do you do it? Why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something? For more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is? Do you even know? Is it freedom? Or truth? Perhaps peace? Could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson. Vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself, although only a human mind could invent something as insipid as love. You must be able to see it, Mr. Anderson. You must know it by now. You can’t win. It’s pointless to keep fighting. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why? Why do you persist?
— Because I choose to. 8
The choice, free of every and any illusion of consequence and meaning. We are not able to control the world or the people that surround us. We cannot bend reality to our own will. But we are — we believe to be? — able to choose.
La vie est la somme de tous vos choix. 9
And so you did it: in each moment, in each feeling of pain and joy, of anguish and hope, of frustration or happiness, you made a choice. Would you believe in free will, and you would be questioning if they were the right choices. But you know very well that’s just another illusion; an illusion that you decided to rebel since your early days, but an illusion nonetheless. And so you realize that your only possible choices, given who you were and the information you had at those particular moments, were, precisely, the ones you took. It doesn’t matter if you were wrong or right; all it matters is that, would everything happen again, you would have done the exact same thing, just like a movie being projected the umpteenth time over a canvas.
Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lair of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock. 10
And you obviously rebel against that… Another action that only an absurdist could take. You rebel against the inevitable, against the unavoidable, against the incomprehensible… You rebel against yourself. You find irritating that every — every — single morning you awake, the first thought you have once you gain conscience is always — always — the same: her. You irritate with yourself every time the phone rings, every time you receive a message, every time you open Facebook… You rebel against yourself by the absurdity of the situation, for rationally knowing there is only one path to take — only one choice to make — and that any other alternative you might ponder is doomed to fail because you are not in the control of the situation. You aren’t, you never were, and you will never be. You are not supposed to. It is not even something that is desirable.
You rebel because your life is all about solving equations and she’s not an equation that you can solve. She’s not an expression that you can understand; pages that you can scrutinize; symbols that you can unveil or a lexicon that you can learn. She’s a whole world, with her mountains and valleys; her rivers and oceans; her continents and islands; her secrets and mysteries. A world with its various languages, and alphabets, and books, and histories, and characters, and endless dreams kept within herself.
And you are another one of those worlds…
Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. 11
Two planets; two bodies that approached each other, whose gravity mutually influenced your own trajectory, that made you dance in elliptic curves around a common axis, facing one another, in rapid tangential movements of angular acceleration due to the sheer amount of mass that comprises your beings. But whose origins, whose path, whose genesis of your own structure, your own momentum, partially dictated even before you were both born, was too strong for those brief moments where nothing else existed besides you.
And that now depart from each other, due to the action of the exact same force that once attracted you… perhaps still looking onto one another, taking with you whatever both choose to take. While one of you, unable to forget all the wonders that were seen and felt in such a different, such fascinating, such strange but simultaneously such familiar world, forever revolted by the unshakeable laws of nature, ponder:
Lise Friedman in Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine. ↩︎
Nous vivons sur l’avenir: “demain”, “plus tard”, “quand tu auras une situation”, “avec l’âge tu comprendras”. Ces inconséquences sont admirables, car enfin il s’agit de mourir. Un jour vient pourtant et l’homme constate ou dit qu’il a trente ans. Il affirme ainsi sa jeunesse. Mais du même coup, il se situe par rapport au temps. Il y prend sa place. Il reconnaît qu’il est à un certain moment d’une courbe qu’il confesse devoir parcourir. Il appartient au temps et, à cette horreur qui le saisit, il y reconnaît son pire ennemi. Demain, il souhaitait demain, quand tout lui-même aurait dû s’y refuser. — Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. ↩︎
Un homme sans espoir et conscient de l’être n’appartient plus à l’avenir. — Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. ↩︎
Said by The Architect to Neo in the The Matrix Reloaded. ↩︎
Voici encore des arbres et je connais leur rugueux, de l’eau et j’éprouve sa saveur. Ces parfums d’herbe et d’étoiles, la nuit, certains soirs où le cœur se détend, comment nierais-je ce monde dont j’éprouve la puissance et les forces ? Pourtant toute la science de cette terre ne me donnera rien qui puisse m’assurer que ce monde est à moi. Vous me le décrivez et vous m’apprenez à le classer. Vous énumérez ses lois et dans ma soif de savoir je consens qu’elles soient vraies. Vous démontez son mécanisme et mon espoir s’accroît. Au terme dernier, vous m’apprenez que cet univers prestigieux et bariolé se réduit à l’atome et que l’atome lui-même se réduit à l’électron. Tout ceci est bon et j’attends que vous continuiez. Mais vous me parlez d’un invisible système planétaire où des électrons gravitent autour d’un noyau. Vous m’expliquez ce monde avec une image. Je reconnais alors que vous en êtes venus à la poésie: je ne connaîtrai jamais. — Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. ↩︎
We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing the long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. — Carl Sagan in Cosmos. ↩︎
You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life. — Albert Camus in The Stranger. ↩︎
Dialogue between Agent Smith and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions. ↩︎
Life is the sum of all your choices. — Albert Camus. ↩︎
Sisyphe regarde alors la pierre dévaler en quelques instants vers ce monde inférieur d’où il faudra la remonter vers les sommets. Il redescend dans la plaine. C’est pendant ce retour, cette pause, que Sisyphe m’intéresse. Un visage qui peine si près des pierres est déjà pierre lui-même! Je vois cet homme redescendre d’un pas lourd mais égal vers le tourment dont il ne connaîtra pas la fin. Cette heure qui est comme une respiration et qui revient aussi sûrement que son malheur, cette heure est celle de la conscience. À chacun de ces instants, où il quitte les sommets et s’enfonce peu à peu vers les tanières des dieux, il est supérieur à son destin. Il est plus fort que son rocher. — Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. ↩︎
Chacun des grains de cette pierre, chaque éclat minéral de cette montagne pleine de nuit, à lui seul, forme un monde. La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux. — Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus. ↩︎