Laughing at Nothing

It seems so important as you do what you do,
But in times to come no one remembers you.
Your actions are forgotten and your feelings destroyed.
You’ve become one with the nihilist void.

John Marmysz

Absurdity is often humorous. If life is absurd, then perhaps it may be quite humorous as well.

Disputing the common misconception that nihilism is wholly negative and necessarily damaging to the human spirit, John Marmysz offers a clear and complete definition to argue that it is compatible, and indeed preferably responded to, with an attitude of good humor. He carefully scrutinizes the phenomenon of nihilism as it appears in the works, lives, and actions of key figures in the history of philosophy, literature, politics, and theology, including Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus, and Mishima. While suggesting that there ultimately is no solution to the problem of nihilism, Marmysz proposes a way of utilizing the anxiety and despair that is associated with the problem as a spur toward liveliness, activity, and the celebration of life.

If, as the nihilist claims, nothing that we do is ultimately very important, then it makes little sense to take things too seriously, even our own frustrations and failures. The humorous response to nihilism brings this insight forth and challenges nihilists to take their own world view to heart.

John Marmysz holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from State University of New York at Buffalo. His primary research interests focus on issues of nihilism and its cultural manifestations. Marmysz is the author of The Nihilist’s Notebook (Moralinefree Publishing, 1996), Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism (SUNY Press, 2003), The Path of Philosophy: Truth, Wonder and Distress (Wadsworth, 2011), and The Nihilist: A Philosophical Novel (No Frills Buffalo, 2015). He is coeditor (with Scott Lukas) of Fear, Cultural Anxiety and Transformation: Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films Remade (Lexington Books, 2009). Marmysz has also written articles and reviews for various journals including Film and Philosophy, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Film-Philosophy, The Journal of Popular Culture and The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.

“Writing about and researching the topic of nihilism helps me to remember how meaningless life really is. Running, motorcycling and listening to punk rock music helps me to forget,” says Marmysz.

Marmysz is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award For Excellence in Scholarship and Creativity and has served as an NEH fellow. He currently teaches philosophy at the College of Marin in Kentfield, CA.

Though nihilism has been relentlessly criticized for overemphasizing the dark side of human experience, it might be equally true that this overemphasis represents a needed counterbalance to shallow optimism and arrogant confidence in human power. Nihilism reminds us that we are not gods, and that despite all of the accomplishments and wonders of civilization, humans cannot alter the fact that they possess only a finite amount of mastery and control over their own destinies.

Laughing at Nothing: Humor as a Response to Nihilism

Further Reading: In Defense of Humorous Nihilism