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Theatre of the Absurd

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Theatre of the Absurd. Foundations. First posited in Albert Camus’ 1942 essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” Humanity had to resign itself to recognizing that a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach

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  • First posited in Albert Camus’ 1942 essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”
    • Humanity had to resign itself to recognizing that a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach
  • Term was later coined in 1962 by Michael Esslinto discuss plays, and an artistic ideal, that articulated Camus’ idea
  • Developed from changing perception of the world
    • Individualism rather than communal
    • Rise of psychology
    • WWI and WWII
  • Rejection of traditional forms of art, shocking the audience, forcing people to question their conventional values
quotes from esslin
Quotes from Esslin
  • Theatre of the Absurd shows a “sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought”
  • “Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose… Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless”
  • Theatre of the Absurd shows the failure of man without recommending a solution
  • The Absurd takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning, or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by an invisible force
  • Absence, emptiness, nothingness, and unresolved mysteries are central features
  • The focus is not on logical acts, realistic occurrences, or traditional character development, but instead focuses on human beings trapped in an incomphrensible world subject to any occurrence, no matter how illogical, coupled with an inadequacy of language to form meaningful human connections
  • Dealt with conditions and definition of existence of the individual and their emotions, actions, responsibilities, and thoughts
    • Developed from modern ideal of a world in which meaning appears to have disappeared
  • Individual is responsible for giving life meaning, in spite of many existential obstacles and distractions including despair, angst, absurdity, alienation, and boredom
  • Soren Kierkegaard

“What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. ... I certainly do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.”

  • —Søren Kierkegaard , Letter to Peter Wilhelm Lund dated August 31, 1835
  • Prominent thinkers:
    • Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Sartre
  • Connection to the Absurd – there is no meaning found in the world beyond what meaning we give to it, this also includes the unfairness or amorality of the world.
    • No such thing as a bad person or good person, no karma, what happens happens – anything can happen to anyone

“Good is only an illusion. Evil is a Nothingness which arises upon the ruin of Good.”

Jean-Paul Sartre

  • Philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life.
    • Existential nihilism states that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value
  • Sometimes used to explain the general mood of despair at a perceived pointlessness of existence that one may develop upon realizing there are no necessary norms, rules, or laws

Theatre of the Absurd asks viewers/readers to draw their own conclusions, and make their own errors.

  • Broad comedy mixed with horrific or tragic images
  • Characters caught in hopeless situations, forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions
  • Dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense
  • Plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive
  • Parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the “well-made play”
  • Presence of an outside, absent force
  • Characters who are frequently stereotypical, archetypical, or flat
  • Characters often featured in interdepedent pairs
  • Automatons or “uber-marionettes”