Among the many delights of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is Klatch, the Disc’s cognate of our world’s Arabia. And one of Klatch’s best-known exports is their coffee.
Klatchian coffee is usually recommended to sober up the extremely drunk, and even then it is to be had in small doses. If imbibed by the sober, its effects can be catastrophic. Because the coffee is so strong that it sobers you up in an existential sense.
In the ordinary run of things, even a person who stays away from alcohol or narcotics nurtures some, shall we say, ‘existential stimulants’. Your spouse loves you just as much today as the first day you met. Your parents still find joy in your presence just as they did when they held your newborn form in their hands. Your children consider you with awe and affection. Your job matters. You make a difference to people’s lives.
Or stimulants bigger in magnitude. Cosmic stimulants. There is a point to looking forward to tomorrow, because you can hope for something better. Your life has meaning beyond the mundane concerns of animal survival. There is an invisible fellow with a personal interest in your existence. Or there is an invisible fellow (perhaps the same fellow?) with a stake in the continuation of the universe, for good or bad.
Or the ideological stimulants. All people are, or should be, equal (with you perhaps getting slightly more preferential treatment). What goes around comes around. The everyday absurdities are part of a larger pattern that will someday make sense to you, failing which some fellow wiser than you may parse it for you.
Klatchian coffee, if imbibed when sober, wipes out the effects of these existential stimulants, and shows the true bleakness of this world. And unlike the implied humour in finally understanding the nature of an absurd world, a human with even a small amount of this coffee sees the starkness that lies beyond the absurd.
This condition, Pratchett tells us, is being knurd, the point where you finally face the world without your preferred stimulants. It is said to be a very painful experience, and for the unprepared creates an immediate urge to be drunk, or stoned, as quickly as possible. In Men At Arms, Sam Vimes, a policeman who is already dour and cynical to begin with, is given a small sip of Klatchian coffee, and becomes instantly knurd, causing him to howl in despair. What he sees is not described, and is left to the imagination. Knurd, as you will observe, is ‘drunk’ spelt backward.
On the Disc, several noted philosophers are recorded to have belted out works of excruciating unbearability after substantial doses of Klatchian coffee.
On our more mundane Roundworld, to arrive at an equivalent state of knurdness, one will have to take the longer route, beginning with stripping oneself of the comforts of organized religion, and then the next convenient philosophy that claims to explain your situation, and the next (because they come in waves).
What one does after discovering one is finally knurd is, of course, a matter of individual choice.