One day, when Denis and I were alone in the house, I was working on a Greek translation in the dining-room: he suddenly opened the door and walked in —his hair was on end and he had a green scarf round his neck. He sat on the end of the table, one of his legs swinging free, and he lit a cigarette. "Don't you ever feel like tossing all those books out of the window?" he asked me abruptly. I gazed at him: he looked half asleep. "And what should I do then?" I said. He smiled, tossing a small coin in his hand. "Anything."
"If I could find other worth-while things to do..." I said with a sigh (this was chiefly to make myself interesting: in fact I was quite fond of doing Greek translations).
"But nothing is worth-while," he murmured.
I pricked up my ears: as soon as anyone spoke to me of an absolute it went straight to my heart. With some embarrassment I said, "I'd like to leave home as soon as I can, you see; so I must get through my exams as quickly as possible."
He stood up and began walking to and fro; from time to time, with a jerk of his head, he threw back the lock of hair that hung over his eyes; and for a long while we remained without speaking. My ultimate reason for living had just vanished: in a flash I had grasped that work too was only another futile activity.
"You are going about things the wrong way," he said at last: his face was grave, his look keen and alive; it was as though he had been studying my case carefully for weeks. "It is not by methodically searching for freedom, as you are doing now, that you will ever find it. Listen, Marguerite: you have to be capable of throwing even freedom out of the window: the day you no longer value it, nor anything else, then, and only then, you will have it."
I felt appallingly humiliated: he was right: I belonged to a mean and reasonable breed — I was a dreary little bourgeoise. I was preparing my future liberty with the same careful economy as Mama, when she put money aside for her old age. Denis' magnificent and desperate unconcern dazzled me: a mass of questions rose to my lips, but I dared not ask them.
"But why does one live then, when one no longer values anything?" I said in a low voice.
He shrugged. "One lives," he said, and his eyes grew clouded. "Why shouldn't everything be absurd?" he went on with a kind of flippancy. "Dying is as absurd as living, and one can just as well twiddle one's thumbs as fire a revolver in the street. You can do anything at all, once you do not hope for anything. And sometimes you come upon the miracle."
"Yes: a genuinely gratuitous action, an unlikely conjunction of words or colours, an illusion, a two-headed woman, anything at all. Sometimes the absurd makes its appearance —always provided, of course, that you're neither a doctor nor a philosopher nor an artist nor a gentleman."
—Simone de Beauvoir, When Things of the Spirit Come First, p. 177