Monday, 9 July 2018


As we flew back from a sultry Venice last week I thought about one of the books I’d read whilst there. Mike Foley’s “The Age of Absurdity.” It was an appropriate book to read in the world’s most absurdly beautiful city built on a marsh in a lagoon where the roadways are water, there are no cars and bicycles (absurdly wonderful) and the diversity of nations is similar to what it was in 1500 spending their absurd money shopping for absurd luxury goods.

Mike is a Northern Irish novelist, poet and philosopher. He is also a misanthrope and an angry man. This is a 272 page rant about the world we live in which occasionally goes off the rails like when he says the south of England only comprises concrete and motorways nowadays. Not so. On our return we flew over East Sussex - green (well actually greenish-brown) field after greenish-brown field with the occasional stately home or cottage, village and church – South East England in 2018 is a greenish-brownish and very pleasant land.

Mike rants especially angrily about shopping – “the thrill of desire not of purchase” and the “new infantilism” of want, want, want. New books unread, new clothes unworn. It is he says “a hedonic treadmill”. But what’s new? In 1500 Venice the markets were full of the unattainably beautiful, delicious and luxurious.

And it still is

He hates this PC world of PC – “professional cheeriness” whereas I enjoy people being nice to me in shops, planes and restaurants.

Those entitled millennials get a kicking too. They are constantly distracted by anticipation and a belief than anything is possible. Success is an imperative, a given - hence all those Ist class degrees and A*s. There’s a need to be liked by everyone and a belief that the world is easy. Oh and everything is someone else’ fault. Wrong, Wrong. Wrong. Wrong says Mike. Failure is normal; half the people won’t like you; the world is a harsh, aggressive place and you are to blame for where you find yourself. Being late is just that … not Temporal Disorder Syndrome. And not anyone can be a millionaire.

No especially not you two.

Indifferent is the new cool, he laments. But the new cool is “enthusiasm” related to “professional cheeriness”.

The book revels in the absurdity of love, of work, of politics and has one or two great quotes:
 “Be what you are – something always comes up” (Earl Hines, jazz pianist)
“The first feeling of happiness is power” (Nietzsche)

He’s best on age as he reflects that Shakespeare, Yeats, Tolstoy, Hokusai and others flourished in their later years with insights and crisp expression. He finds numerous sources to define his core philosophy of life, one that I profoundly agree with. Effort matters; you only get anywhere by trying; and it’s the journey that matters not the destination.

He describes reading as a “contact sport” which makes books like this so agreeable, energetic and thought provoking.

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