Jacques Derrida and the Meaning of Life

I just watched another one of the “School of Life” channel’s videos on philosophy on YouTube. This one was on Jacques Derrida. Their philosophy videos have been tremendously helpful as I continue struggling to figure out the whole “meaning of life” mess. I haven’t figured out what the meaning of life is obviously. I’m betting that damned near no one has, which was one of the things that I liked about the Derrida video. He talked about a state of mind known as “aporia” in Greek which describes puzzlement and confusion and having come to an impasse that makes drawing a definitive conclusion rather difficult. Good old Jacques considered this a mature state of mind. One would think that confusion and puzzlement would be how a beginning student feels, but to him it was the state that experts reach because of the complexity of the world and the many ways in which seeming opposites interact and rely on each other. 

This makes me recall my time studying Zen many years ago. The Zen masters said the goal was to achieve “beginner’s mind”. I wonder if aporia is the sort of thing that the Zen masters were talking about. 

The longer I try to figure out the meaning of life, the more that the simple answers seem insufficient. There are so many people out there that claim to know why we exist, what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, why the universe was created, and all the answers to the big questions. But as soon as I start digging into their answers and solutions, they start to fall apart. There’s a little bit of truth to some of them, but there’s also a lot of nonsense involved. And then you go look at someone who has an opposing opinion that you don’t like and don’t want to agree with, and you find a little bit of truth in it amongst the nonsense. The “School of Life” said this is what Derrida called “deconstruction,” when you tear apart an idea and examine it to find where it fails and where it works by comparing it to its counterpart in the world of theories. 

It made me feel much better about having so much trouble figuring out the meaning of my life and of all life. It’s good to know that you don’t know a whole hell of a lot. Takes me down a few notches from my old attitude of being an arrogant prick. (Not that I can’t still be an arrogant prick from time to time.)

There was one tiny detail in the video that made me literally guffaw as I sat here in the back of the house in front of the TV. The number “42” popped up in the middle of an animation while they were talking about the meaning of life and the animated characters struggled to shove it off the screen. I got a huge kick out of the inside joke. 

For those of us who have read Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy, we know that “42” is the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” And the joke is that even though they know the answer, they don’t know the question. I suppose the question might be, “What was Jackie Robinson’s uniform number?”. Just kidding. But I’ve found that stupid joke funny for so long, that I actually had “42” engraved into the temple of my latest pair of glasses. So, to see it pop up in a YouTube video about a French philosopher tonight made me exceptionally thrilled. 

In conclusion, my search for the meaning of life goes on, and in the meantime, I’m less distressed about my aporia.