The bad news: the Internet was down on my six hour New York to Los Angeles flight yesterday. The good news: it gave me the chance to read Colorado Law Prof Pierre Schlag's new novel (American Absurd: A Work of Fiction) and article (The Law Review Article), brought to my attention by Jeff Lipshaw of our The Legal Whiteboard:
Mr. David Madden lives in L.A. He's an ordinary man. Every day, he gets up and drives to work. Only he never gets there. Instead, he drives from here to there, from Westwood to Santa Monica, Santa Monica to Venice . . . and so on. It seems he's always just going from point A to point B. Of course, driving from point A to point B--that's pretty much what people do in L.A.
But then one day a mishap occurs, a breakdown of sorts, on Santa Monica Boulevard. Soon the media takes notice, and overnight Mr. Madden is transformed into a pioneering cultural figure as his "A-to-B thing" goes viral and becomes the defining issue of our time. Questions are asked, solutions offered, and blame assigned as therapists, academics, police, and lawyers all get involved. Safe to say, no one escapes unscathed in this caustic, irreverent, and hilarious social satire.
American Absurd is a hoot, with its background of L.A. drivers going from point to point forever for its own sake and writers with writer’s block walking the streets of Manhattan for the same reason. The banality of it all gets interrupted by David Madden’s journey from ordinary upscale Mercedes driver to public urinator to cultural icon, the subject of Professor Stein’s typology and analysis of going from A to B. ...
It would be easy to dismiss Pierre’s message as cynicism. I don’t believe it is. If it were, he wouldn’t keep at it. We have to aim for a catharsis of “why”, one that acknowledges the futility of it all (in the long run) but still, against all rational hope, refuses to give up. My friend, Susan Neiman, in her masterful reflection on coming to terms with evil, said,
At times the most hopeful gesture we may be able to manage is not to answer whether life is justified but merely to reject the question. Meaning is a human category, and must be won against a background. A life that was inevitably meaningful would defeat itself from the start. Between the adult who knows she won’t find reason in the world, and the child who refuses to stop seeking it, lies the difference between resignation and humility.
That’s me at seventeen and sixty-two. If it’s going from A to B, so be it. But it’s also why I like Pierre’s provocation.