Narrating Fifteen Hours Of Doing Nothing: A Momentary Lapse Of Existentialist Angst – Essay


Today I am doing nothing for fifteen hours, sitting down bolted in my seat with the droning of white noise and minus 58-degree weather outside. What would you do if your life is relegated to not watching television, your mind is let loose free to make its own connections a conceptual exploration, your imagination is released and you are just there in your seat strapped for fifteen hours until you have that feeling of surrealism of a mind’s travel come to a close. 

What do you do? Doing nothing? Being and nothingness. Dust in the wind. Stone cold crazy. Empty the mind as a Buddhist monk would advise, as we become more immersed in the “internet of things,” of the “metaverse,” and the world of digital and its digitalization of chaos? How do you tell your mind to “resist” the temptation of being digital? Of being sucked into the temptation of wanting life to be “freer” with technology as our servant, as we surrender our autonomy to the technological powers that be?

I will not have a “thesis statement” as I write these passages, contrary to what I have been teaching my students, over these decades, especially these days when I am teaching to write structured essays with a thesis statement and all. Toulmin logic as one would use it these days. Writing and Argumentation, Rhetoric and Composition. Sociology of the Future. Cognitive Psychology. Cultural Perspectives. Global Issues. Modern World History. And many more I have taught and developed.

I think of Jamaica Kincaid and her brilliant prose. Of David Foster Wallace and his massive pouring of words and sentences, some extreme Joycean, some experimental nothingness in the chronicling of his “infinite jest,”. I think of those who write to agitate. To provoke. To revolt. To resist. To guillotine ideas. To write so that, as Albert Camus would say, will not commit suicide and later have coffee. Or to write only if you could stab and would the soul and spirit of others, as Franz Kafka would say. Then I think of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, as I too wish to perhaps one day be there on beaches on islands, in the mountains, in the forest, or anywhere where solitude is my company – to write and write and be there to narrate what my life have seen and what I have felt, and what I think the world should be, and most aptly, to leave those written memories to be read by others when I am no longer here but somewhere. Somewhere over the rainbow. The world of the “afterlife” wherein thus far we can only guess where it is, through our imagination fed by the things we were taught from young till we become believers of this and that. That’s what narratives are about and memories ought to look like – certitude amidst doubt. 

Still, there is no thesis statement in my essay and this is perfectly fine. 

Singapore. Melaka. Penang. 

Names of these cities have been in my mind since I started sitting silently waiting for the fifteen hours to end. These are iconic places in Malaysia. Former British Malaya’s colonial posts and one, Melaka.  was a failed kingdom yet propagated as a glorious one that defined Malaysia’s pride as the Malay nation. These three cities. Places I grew up in with fond memories and poignancy. The city is in me. The city was my teacher. The city is a classroom if one thinks deeply of this notion of education. I have been far removed from them, as life’s events brought me to places as if I was a coconut drifting in the Andaman Sea in Langkawi, letting the sea and its ebbs flow bring me to where I want to be and where I was forced to be so that my beingness as a human being continues to be shaped by the world within and the world outside of me. The words of the great Indonesian playwright WS Rendra come to my mind. The words of the radical existential Chairil Anwar too came along reminding me of the way life ought to be lived—to face challenges as they come and to enjoy the high points and low points it has to offer. 

Fifteen hours doing nothing. Just letting thinking think about what I am thinking. Absurdism of cognition. Metathinking of being and nothingness. Let things flow. Let it go. Our lives have been plagued with structuralism and the surrender of our thinking to others who structures life and matters and even society –Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds, the Elon Musks, the digerati and those who ones to means of designing hegemonies. Yes, we have been had. We have been played up by those who own the means of material and cognitive productions. Our lives have been mediated and manipulated and mauled beyond recognition—by the time we are about to leave his world. This world of absurdity of hegemony, Of virtual and augmented reality. 

How do we become human and more so realize what it means to be human? 

Has politics helped us evolve into better human beings? 

Has the conception of society made us become better members of society?

Has schooling educated us to become less schooled and more human, who create new artifacts useful to fellow human beings? 

Being and nothingness for fifteen hours. Writing this essay with no thesis statement. As if, life is not about structures. Not about having meaning. Rather, like a lone coconut floating in the sea. Wherever the wind takes it. Whenever the sea storms ravage and send it asunder. A game of fate and free will. Meaning I create as Time flows. As chaos and complexity rule. 

That lone coconut too a master of its destiny.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Dr. Azly Rahman is an academician, educator, international columnist, and author of nine books He holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in international education development and Master's degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies, communication, fiction, and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Columbia University chapter of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here. His latest book, a memoir, is published by Penguin Books is available here.

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