Thursday, 24 October 2013

That's Absurd!

As promised, here are the notes from my presentation on the Theatre of the Absurd.

 “What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered, or sooner or later? Generally speaking. There must be other shifts. Otherwise it would be quite hopeless. But it is quite hopeless. I should mention before going any further, any further on, that I say aporia[1] without knowing what it means.”
-          The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
·         What is the Absurd?
Absurd = “out of harmony” (Hinchliffe, 1)

Wikipedia says: “Absurdist fiction is a genre of literature, most often employed in novels, plays or poems, that focuses on the experiences of characters in a situation where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events. Common elements in absurdist fiction include satire, dark humour, incongruity, the abasement of reason, and controversy regarding the philosophical condition of being "nothing."Works of absurdist fiction often explore agnostic or nihilistic topics.”

“[T]he Theatre of the Absurd strives to express its 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” (Esslin, 24).

-          Against usual rules: no linear sense of plot, no beginning-middle-end, vague characters, babblings as opposed to wit (Hinchliffe, 9-10)
-          Inner landscape – fluid environments, language as only “defense against the chaos of living experience” (Irving Wadle)
-          Banal language instead of poetic
-          Satirical: criticizing petty/ dishonest society
-          No history/ social context – left only with basic questions of existence
-          Alienation
-          Critical attitude must be taken on by audience – making sense out of non-sense
-          Zen Buddism connection – nothingness at the base of existence
-          Promethean – purposeless existence
-          Man is free and so must bear responsibility (Hinchliffe, 57)
-          Woven images to impress static situation – explore ONE MOMENT (Esslin, 404)
-          Complex perspectives broken down and placed in linear order to create illusion of time (Esslin, 405)
-          language as contradiction
-          combines laughter with horror (Esslin, 411)
-          circular structure – not what happens next that creates suspense, but what is happening? (Esslin, 416)
-          Tragicomedy/ Anti-play
-           “Absurd drama, whatever its form or method of staging, is usually very funny and very terrifying” (Hinchliffe, 60)
-          free from logic – spontaneous kindness/ destructiveness

·         How did it develop? Who influenced its development?
-          “Theatre is always more than mere language” (Esslin, 329)
-          Antiquity: mimus – character types in spontaneous clowning (Esslin, 330)
-          Shakespeare: clowns, fools, ruffians – free association, poetry of feigned madness – sense of futility of human condition
-          Nonsense Literature: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear – liberation through nonsense: Freud – a freedom for Carroll in losing one’s name.
-          Ring Larder: “[Mama enters from an exclusive waffle parlour. She exits as if she had had waffles.]”
-          Satirical and destructive use of cliché – Flaubert’s  Dictionnaire des Idees Recues – ex: “Money – the root of all evil…Jansenism – one does not know what it is, but it is very chic to talk about it” (Esslin, 348)
-          Literature of dreams – Divine Comedy (Dante), Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – August Strindburg: A Dream Play, The Ghost Sonata (1907) – dreams and obsession – grim hopelessness and despair
-          Joyce, Dostoevsky – subconscious
-          Kafka – anxious “lost in a world of convention and routine” (Esslin, 354) – guilt, loss of contact with reality - arbitrary, irrational universe (Esslin, 356)
-          Music hall comedy
-          Silent film comedy – dream/ nightmare like strangeness – constant purposeless movement/ action (Esslin, 335)
-          Dadaist – destruction of conventional/ bourgeois art
-          German Expressionist – too idealistic, politically conscious for Absurd –projection of inner reality (Esslin, 370)
-          Surrealism – healing through subconscious
-          Zarathustra: Nietzsche – “God is dead” – increase in number of people who believe that (Esslin, 399)
-          Two world wars

·         Who was involved in the Theatre of the Absurd?
Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, (early Bertolt Brecht)
Ionesco: The Bald Soprano (1950) -anti-theatre – communication between human beings is impossible (Esslin, 128)
Brecht – early: rejection of character motivation – music hall techniques – negative and absurd universe run by imbecile gods (Esslin, 378)
Samuel Beckett:
-          Wrote Molloy trilogy 1946-1950
-          Stabbed in the street, man who did it said he didn’t know why he had done it – disconnection from meaning of action.
-          Waiting for Godot (1953)
-  (11:55-13:25)
-          Static situation
-          Constant state of deadness
-          Question of self
-          Beckett – nothing to express but at the same time an obligation to express (Hinchliffe, 67)
-          Circular reasoning, circular plot, return to same images, same questions
-          Compassion for characters looking for meaning in a meaningless world (Hinchliffe, 72)
-          Physical humour
-          Two thieves – one was saved, one was damned

-          The Room (1957) – rambling irrelevancy of every day speech
-          Omission of motivation/ explination – “Well-made play” not realistic – we are always interacting with people who’s history, motivations, psychology we don’t know (Esslin, 242)
-          Reoccurring theme – people in a room – what’s going to happen to them?
-          Suspense, scared of the outside
-          Mystification
-          Fusing tragedy with farce
-          The Birthday Party – “everything is uncertain and relative. There is no fixed point; we are surrounded by the unknown” (Esslin, 242).
-          Deliberate failure of language
-          The Room
-          The Birthday Party
-          Evasion of communication – frightening, rather engage in small talk (244)

·         The Existential Search
How to confront world devoid of purpose?
Kind of religious search – way out of trite, mundane existence (Esslin, 400)
Social criticism of inauthentic society
 “No pretense of explaining the ways of God to man” - no didactic purpose (Esslin, 402)
Impossible to know why there is existence, no system can explain – ineffable – Zen Buddism, mystic Christianity (soul cannot comprehend God) (Esslin, 426)
Not despair – modern struggle to come to terms with meaningless world – sober acceptance of reality, not drugging it out

·         Beyond the Absurd
Tom Stoppard – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – huge debt to Beckett

“Waiting For Godot.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 23 Sept 2013.
Beckett, Samuel. “The Unnamable”. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett. Grove Press, New York: 1955.        Print.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Methuen, London: 2001. Print.
Hinchliffe, Arnold P. The Absurd. The Critical Idiom. Ed. John D. Jump. Methuen & Co. Ltd, London: 1969.
“Absurdist Fiction”. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 23 Sept 2013.

***Check out Tom Stoppard's radio drama DARK SIDE for a recent example of Absurdist existentialism (also very well written!)*** 

[1] “A perplexing difficulty” (OED); see also David Lodge’s article on page 219 in The Art of Fiction

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