Something and Nothing

Warningthis post is about nothing.

If you have something – anything – else better to do, you are advised to get on with it. Unless, of course, you can’t be bothered – in which case, reading this could be a perfect excuse to postpone starting that.

If by some unlucky chance you have to begin that without delay, why not treat yourself to a well-earned break after a little while and come back to this? Then you can read about nothing and save your mental energy for that important something – that vital anything – else.

And if you’re just kicking your heels, this is right up your street.

I’ve been reading plays by Pirandello. Don’t worry, they aren’t about anything. Turns out there’s nothing out there for them to be about. That wouldn’t stop theatres charging you to watch them, mind, nor reviewers and critics trying to sell you their opinions about Pirandello’s brilliant creation of nothing.

But this isn’t the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. His characters have plenty to say and nothing turns out to be surprisingly interesting. Something of why is contained in the following online critique of Pirandello.

Before that something, here’s a nothing that is – unsurprisingly – tedious. Watch it all and you may even turn with some relief to the final quotation. As Pirandello suggests, everything is relative, and as I once heard someone who showed us some very dull experimental films say in answer to an adverse audience reaction: ‘There’s no such bloody thing as boredom!’

Things we regard as Constant constantly change in the restless turmoil we call life. We think we catch a glimpse of the situation. But impressions change from hour to hour. A word is often sufficient or even just the manner in which it is said to change our minds completely. And then besides – quite without our knowledge – images of hundreds and hundreds of things are flitting through our minds, suddenly causing our tempers to vary in the strangest way.

In all his best self-questioning plays, Pirandello’s characters find that the firm selves they believe they own are in fact made up of evanescent hopes, impulses, wishes, fears, social pressures, the instincts of the animal inheritance.

They are driven deeper. Pirandello said he tried to make them express “as their own living passion and torment the passion and torment which for so many years have been the pangs of my spirit: the deceit of mutual understanding irremediably founded on the empty abstraction of words, the multiple personality of everyone corresponding to the possibilities of being found in each of us, and finally the inherent tragic conflict between life (which is always moving and changing) and form (which fixes it, immovable).”

Hence his characters usually wander as in a hall of mirrors, thinking they look for reality, while in fact they desperately try to find safe illusions -“ideals”- to live by. When, for a moment, they seem “real” to an audience, their non-realism is often suddenly declared: they turn out to be in a play-within-a-play.

Hmm, sounds a bit like blogging …

Haha, only kidding!

Or am I … ?

16 thoughts on “Something and Nothing

    1. King Lear comes to mind. In Act 1, when Lear stages his love test and asks Cordelia “What can you say to draw a third [of the kingdom] more opulent than your sisters?”, Cordelia replies, “Nothing.” Lear can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Nothing will come of nothing,” he tells her. “Speak again.”

  1. It’s been a long time since I considered the question “what is real?” I find it’s best just to ignore the concept of reality, whatever it may be, and carry on…if that’s nothing, well, that’s OK too. (K)

  2. Sounds Zen to me, Dave. Who, after all, is in charge? Depends on which of our mind modules has climbed to the top of the heap for the moment, or even second. It’s fleeting. And we like to believe we are in control. Ha. That’s my contribution to nothing. –Curt

    1. I think that’s a good description of the process, Curt. I suppose it starts to get interesting when you factor in Pirandello’s other ideas – that we’re locked into social structures and struggle with mutual understanding. To misquote Ian Dury, reasons to be fearful … 😦 … not that we are … 🙂 … are we? 😉

  3. There is nothing that can be about nothing. Everything is something. Nothing is something too. Hence this is about something. Indeed, if we understand the infinity of real infinity then everything is everything and nothing is everything. So this was about everything! Now that is something to meditate on!

    1. Haha, nothing to quibble over and everything to agree with here! Somehow Blake comes to mind –
      To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour

  4. Oh, I did enjoy reading this just now! All of it. Much to ponder including this: ‘Hence his characters usually wander as in a hall of mirrors, thinking they look for reality, while in fact they desperately try to find safe illusions -“ideals”- to live by.’

    1. Good to hear, Alan, just as I enjoyed reading the plays – more for their ideas than their entertainment value, I have to say. Don’t know about you but I’m casting around for fresh viewpoints at the moment, public discourse having gone rather stale. Strange times …

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