Thursday, May 31, 2018

Storyteller's Rulebook: Let Absurdity Clash with Meaning

“A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is beloved by nerds everywhere, many of whom, like myself, are atheists, and indeed Adams defined himself as a “radical atheist”, but he followed that up with “I love to keep poking and prodding at it. I've thought about it so much over the years that that fascination is bound to spill over into my writing.”  Indeed, let’s look at that prodding.  First we get this exchange, about the Babel fish:

  • Now, it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some have chosen to see it as the final proof of the NON-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:
  • “I refuse to prove that I exist,” says God, “for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.”
  • “But,” says Man, “the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that You exist, and so therefore, by Your own arguments, You don't. QED”
  • “Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn't thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
  • “Oh, that was easy,” says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

But of course, God is right there having this conversation, isn’t he? He doesn’t stand up to logical scrutiny, so he must go, but only after he created the universe: “In the beginning the universe was created. This made a lot of people very unhappy and has widely been regarded as a bad move.”

So, setting aside what we know of Adams, the theism of the book is ambiguous. What about Christianity specifically? Right there on the first page, we get praise for Jesus...

  • And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…

Then there’s the issue of the larger quest. We later find out that humankind has a greater purpose. It has been determined that the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is “42”, but then what’s the question? It turns out that Earth were invented to discover that question. In other words, life on Earth is a search for meaning.

By the fourth book, Earth has been recreated, and presumably that search is still going on, but the characters get distracted by another quest, to find “God’s final message to his creation”. The fact that they even seek this out is telling. It turns out the message is “WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.” So we get the sense that Adams, and by extension, his characters, are really deists: God created us, and gave us a purpose, but then we banished him with a “puff of logic” and now have to search out his meaning on our own, using the scraps he’s left behind.

We love these books for their absurdity, but Adams’s grappling with God give them a lot of their power. Absurdity is more powerful if it clashes with meaning.


Bernice Stockstill said...

"Hitchhiking Guide to the Galaxy" - one of my favorite films. Although I do not consider myself a nervous, but that subtext and an incredible number of references in this film is simply amazing! To watch this movie, you must completely immerse yourself in it, which is completely understandable. Because it raises many "deep" topics for discussion in the future. A few things that require so much mental load. You will say: "OK, i cant write my essay and this will require a lot of mental load."
I will answer you: "No, I can write essays easily, it's my job, and everyone will be unique. But to fully understand the meaning of this film - this should be sat in full attention "

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