Here’s a good one. You know that thing where you’re sitting at a table in a fast-food restaurant and you’re listening to the conversation of the people in the table next to you, not because you want to (obviously enough) but because you can’t help doing so, and then you realize that absolutely everything that is being said in the conversation is completely and irredeemably banal? Everyone’s had that experience, I know. Everyone can relate to that. Well that happened to me in Supermacs in Headford just the other day. That exact thing. I’d like to point out that I’m not being judgemental or superior here like I’m a better person than they are or that they’re idiots or anything like that – I’m just describing my perceptions exactly as they were. I’m not lying about my perceptions in other words – I really did perceive exactly that. You might (or you might not) like me saying something like that but that’s the way that it was. And I’d be the first to admit that maybe my perception was erroneous and the conversation that I was inadvertently listening to in the next conversation wasn’t infinitely banal at all and that maybe that was just in my head. Maybe – for all I know – that was only my interpretation, my projection. Maybe it was me that was infinitely banal and I was projecting my own banality on the two women talking at the nearby table. I don’t know. There’s no way that I can know. The point that I’m making however is that it doesn’t matter which way it was – it’s irrelevant to the argument that I’m making and so I’m not going to carry on talking about these two women or making unwarranted inferences about their lives. Not at all am I going to do that. The point of this story is that I had some kind of an insight at that precise moment (I won’t say ‘epiphany’ because only utter wankers say ‘epiphany’) and that this insight – I would argue – is valid whether the conversation I was compelled to listen to was ‘infinitely banal’ or whether this was just a projection on my part, does not matter at all. It’s the insight itself that counts after all and the insight was this. I actually have to struggle to remember it at this point because I have spent so much time leading up to it. Plus the fact that these type of insights are by their very nature highly elusive and liable to slip away as quickly as they came. The insight – as I remember it – was that it is possible (in fact not just ‘possible’ but highly likely) for any of us to lead a life which was – in objective truth – infinitely banal in every respect, and yet for us not to realize this, nor even come close to realizing it. Instead, we would of course perceive it to be quite interesting and full of content and reasonably genuine and profound and all the rest of it. Even though it totally wasn’t, or isn’t. The consequence of this would be that our life would be – in technical terms – a nullity. We ourselves would not exist. The whole thing would be null, it would be a ‘null event’ – it would be null from beginning to end and we would never realize it! This would be an insight that would never come our way. So, this being the case, what are we to think of this? What are we to make of such an insight? How can we ‘process’ it? These are very difficult questions indeed, wouldn’t you say? They are I would say tremendously difficult questions. I certainly don’t have any answers….
Art – Ralph Steadman