Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kierkegaard & Absurdism in the Bathroom

... Or: sometimes existentialism and absurdism meet and scrub toilets together:

This last week, I imagined the following scene while cleaning the park’s bathrooms.*

Three Knights applying for the job of housekeeper: a Knight of Faith, a Knight of Resignation, and the Knight of Infinity.  At the job interview, the manager asked each of them how would they feel if they had to scrub a toilet that a human had left soiled inside and out, with the knowledge that the job only paid $7.25 an hour.

Knight of Resignation:

The Knight of Resignation accepted the job, since she was laid off from the job she really loved, giving hot air balloon tours.  However, she was resigned to the fact that although her past job was the job of all jobs, and although she will always love that job to her peek capacity to love, she will NEVER be able to return to that job.  She is sad, but resigned to this fact.  Regardless, she does not wish to have her hopes dashed again, and so instead of working toward a new love for a new job, she will disengage from the world, avoiding all extremes and accept her lot in life: toilet scrubbing.  She takes the job happily because she has known happiness.  She is content with the fact that she will not have it again in this life, or even in any other life, acceptance is good, and that resignation allows her to happily scrub the toilets.

"Most people live dejectedly in worldly sorrow and joy; they are the ones who sit along the wall and do not join in the dance." Johannes de Silentio (aka Kierkegaard)

Knight of Faith:

The Knight of Faith basically had the same experience as the Knight as Resignation, but her past job of all jobs was that of an accountant.  Feeling much like the Knight of Resignation, she also accepts the position cleaning toilets, easily making the best of it, knowing that she will keep God's accounts straight when she enters the next world.  Her faith in God, and so in herself, allows her to live happily and independently from this material world and toilets - she scrubs but does not scrub at the same time.  So, she picks up the slop bucket and cleans all toilets with a smile on her face.  She is like the Old Testament's Abraham who was asked also asked to do a difficult job in sacrificing his son Isaac.  But in the end: God is .... and God is good.

"But to be able to fall down in such a way that the same second it looks as if one were standing and walking, to transform the leap of life into a walk, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian--that only the Knight of faith can do." Johannes de Silentio (aka Kierkegaard)
The Knight of Infinite

This Knight had been let go from the position of Fool on Wall Street. The influential only likes to be made fun of when things are going their way, and they can be confident that they can ignore the fool’s insights.  But, the recession was tough, and the rich got tired of the frank humor of the Fool; they got tired of hearing how, yes, it was their fault and, yes, the public was moments away from recreating the pitchfork scene from Mary Shelly's Frankenstein.  Indeed, the day the Knight of Infinite, aka the fool, had turned in his puppet doppelganger for a pitchfork, she was canned.  This Knight did not like the idea of toilet scrubbing, but took the job anyway, figuring that it would lead to greater things or in no time at all greater things would appear down the line - and I do not mean the sewer line.  She happily went to her first day of work, but was crushed by the rather disgusting nature of people, and eventually had to quit.  She had fallen again, took at least 24-48 hours to dwell on the rather dismal realities of life, and then brushed herself off and sought a better job, maybe writing for the Onion.  Life was learning and evolution, she thought: “Since I don't really know what will come next in this world, or in the next world (if there is a next world - like there is any evidence of that really sitting around), I might as well keep trying and seek meaning here and now.  The journey to meaning, motivation, is all we got baby - now pass me the chocolate.
"The knights of infinity are dancers and possess elevation. They make the movements upward, and fall down again; and this too is no mean pastime, nor ungraceful to behold. But whenever they fall down they are not able at once to assume the posture, they vacillate an instant, and this vacillation shows that after all they are strangers in the world. This is more or less strikingly evident in proportion to the art they possess, but even the most artistic knights cannot altogether conceal this vacillation. One need not look at them when they are up in the air, but only the instant they touch or have touched the ground then one recognizes them." Johannes de Silentio (aka Kierkegaard)

I realized I was the Knight of Infinite.  Which Knight do you think you are?

*Inspired by “Fear and Trembling” by Kierkegaard


  1. Ok, first off I LOVE that the knights are all female. That's just so YOU. I'm definitely the Knight of Infinite. Try, try again I say... Nice job of making Kierkegaard something I could understand.

  2. Beth,
    I like the idea of the Knight of Faith, but it seems to me that you miss too much of living! To skip the hard stuff, and float up before touching the ground, is to also disengage yourself from everyday life. Since I am a pragmatist, it just doesn't work well with my dancing shoes :) Thanks for reading.


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