She thought Sartre had all the answers.
The universe is dark, unforgiving, and random. But I never saw much to this argument. Everywhere I look I see patterns.
I took randomness to heart when I was young. My photography teacher in high school took a sabbatical, after I graduated, and I used to go visit him. He was always so light and free when it came to matters of art and literature, and his constant advice to me was that I should lighten up and have some fun. He helped me with Milton and Blake, and he helped me relax in my worries about finding a “voice.” I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always felt drawn to teaching. This man, and a few more, really changed my life. I was particularly inspired by one project he did while completing his MFA.
He took a map of the city and drew a grid of 52 squares. He developed a procedure where he would use a deck of cards to pick a location, a time, and a direction to point a camera. Then he’d make a photograph there. He took a proof sheet of 36 images made in this fashion and blew it up to 30”x 40” and then displayed it next to a description of the process. At the time the University of California at Bakersfield was filled with many of the movers and shakers in the conceptual art field, and this project was well received.
The point of the process was to show that art is everywhere. Even taken totally at random, these photographs had a singular beauty. The same teacher introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut, who asserts through one of his characters that “life would be little changed if I had done nothing more than carry a rubber dog bone from room to room for sixty years.” I suspect this is true as well. But it doesn’t make the patterns stop.
So I believe in randomness as a way of life, not as a way of death. The inevitable conclusion of reading a lot of Sartre is “What’s the point?” The question, restated by my teacher would be “Does there need to be a point?”
She didn’t seem to understand my resistance to proofs of pointlessness. There’s a subtle distinction there. In her world view, the universe was an evil machine bent on her destruction. A tornado ripped her home apart when she was growing up. Medical mistakes screwed up her body. She seemed to be quite relieved with by the thought that there was no point behind it. On the other hand, I want to believe that there is something behind the patterns of beauty in this world. Though I suspect that they are indeed random, I don’t see them as dark and unforgiving. I think forgiveness is the glue that holds it together. No, there doesn’t have to be a point. But there are indeed patterns, even if sometimes we fudge and forgive to make things fit.
The pattern between us followed her belief system, not mine. I couldn’t overcome it. When you want the universe to be dark, cold, and unforgiving— things do have a tendency to turn out that way.