Sunday, March 13, 2011


Who has seen the videos and photos of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, made even worse now by possible nuclear meltdown, and not thought: what does anything mean when faced with such devastation? 

Even if we are presumed safe, doubts bubble up, rattling the foundations on which our daily lives rest. It's not only physical certainties which suddenly seem unreal: watching cars, trains, ships, planes, streets, buildings, towns and all sophisticated technology - not to mention people - being swallowed up, crunched and spat out in bits by the inexorable advance of a monster wave - but  also the To Do lists on my desk, the projects, the things I've done or am doing seem completely irrelevant, insubstantial, confronted by such irrefutable proof of the fragility of all human activity. You could say that simply facing one's own mortality gives rise to the same existential angst. But it's not quite the same, is it? As long as something remains after you've gone, there's continuity. But what if it all goes, on the kind of scale they're witnessing in Japan right now and perhaps, in future, even worse? Don't you wonder: what is the point? 

The answer given by many creative people would be: the point is the point. You do what you do because that's who you are and you would go on doing it even if there is no point - the meaning is in the doing. 

Well...h'm...okay...sort of. Intellectually I kind of go along with that but it doesn't satisfy my soul, if you know what I mean. Or even if you don't know what I mean. It doesn't satisfy my guts either, those pesky guts which always demand other answers, something beyond intellect, beyond words. Gutsy answers.

Photo from BBC news



Murr Brewster said...

These are questions I rarely ask myself. I seem to have a built-in aversion to conundrums I cannot answer. The way it works in practice is: what is the point of living? I don't know. What's for dinner?

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hello Murr. I too don't like questions I can't answer but I'm addicted to asking them anyway. It started when I was a very young child and I hope I'll be asking when I leave this world: Hey! Where am I going?

Brigita said...

I found your blog post through Dorothee Lang.
I've been asking myself similar questions these past few days. Last week, just before the earthquake in Japan two of my loved ones escaped death by a hair's breadth and with the catastrophe in Japan following just hours later, it really shook me. It feels like the ground under my feet trembled too.
Although I rarely find the answers to the nagging questions, I feel like just posing the questions gives some meaning to life. But perhaps I'm wrong.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Thanks for coming by,Brigita. I felt the same as you, even if the current tragedy in Japan is only one of the many huge and devastating ones that have in recent years hit this fragile planet. Of course every single personal tragedy - like the loss of a loved one - is equally tragic and the more so when we are personally involved. But somehow these apocalyptic events bring home the ephemeral nature of everything we think of as 'civilization' and all the things we tale for granted in our daily lives.

linda severn said...

Last week i caught Prof. Brian Cox, the universe program- can't remember what it's called, telling us all that everything will be destroyed one day - you know the theory- everything is descending into chaos...and then the earthquake... and i must confess to thinking the same, Natalie. Well we can't sit around doing nothing so we'd better get on with what we're doing. Like you, I'm always asking "what is the point", I guess some of us just do. Nice to know others are on the same wave length:)

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hi Linda, good to know you're still here!
I missed the Cox programme but I've felt the same as you when watching other scientists describing the end of everything in calm, rational voices.I think it's up to artists and philosophers - and/or philosophical artists - to put a different slant on the subject.