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Existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd

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Jesmira Bonoan

on 6 May 2011

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Transcript of Existentialism and the Theatre of the Absurd

The Influence of Existentialism on the Theatre of the Absurd by Jesmira Bonoan What absurdity does really mean Absurdity (noun ) the condition or state in which human beings exist in a meaningless, irrational universe wherein people's lives have no purpose or meaning In literature and philosophy, the theme of absurdity contrasts naturalism, which seeks to accurately depict life, shows a general distrust of language as means of communication, abandons logic, and plainly pushes the boundaries of human condition { “[Humans are] strangers in a meaningless universe, and assess their situation as absurd, or essentially pointless”. –Albert Camus The Theatre of the Absurd... a term coined by critic Martin Esslin, tries to instill “the lost sense of cosmic wonder and primeval anguish.”and “hopes to achieve this by shocking man out of an existence that has become trite, mechanical and complacent.” circular reasoning Inspired by Albert Camus’s ‘Myth of Sisyphus’, the “Theatre of the Absurd” categorizes a number of playwrights in the 1950s sharing the view that “man is inhabiting a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose." (Other leading absurdist playrights include: - Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet) Absurdist plays stray from the traditional play format and tend to be more surreal, illogical, conflictless and plotless. It was “anti-theatre”. It often involved & attempts to create an "allegorical vision focusing on basic existential questions." "Absurdity is what I like most in life, and there's humor in struggling in ignorance. If you saw a man repeatedly running into a wall until he was a bloody pulp, after a while it would make you laugh because it becomes absurd." -David Lynch Absurdity in Literature & Theatre: In Waiting for Godot, the circular structure represents the repetivity of life and the main premise is the futility of waiting. The language and the set are very basic and the characters show no development and more flaws than virtue. Although the play presents an overall mood of desperation and despair, its objective is not to suggest negativity but “to force the audience to find a way out of the senselessness” -Albert Camus explored absurdity in Myth of Sisyphus in which Sisyphus becomes the “Ultimate absurd hero” by being condemned to push a boulder up a hill and continually have it roll back down for the rest of eternity. He compares this to the “endless repetition with no significant progression” dilemma that he saw in post-war society. -The Theatre of the absurd is also undoubtedly influenced by the horrors of World War Two “which showed the total impermanence of any values, shook the validity of any conventions and highlighted the precariousness of human life and its fundamental meaninglessness and arbitrariness”

Absurdity can be seen in many post-war literature such as Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five “Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that ...” –George carlin E X I S T E N T I A L I S M Existentialism is “the philosophy that is centered upon the analysis of existence and of the way humans find themselves existing in the world” Existentialism ponders the questions: Why do we exist? Why is there suffering? Why do we die?

It is the "dillema of modern humanity" -"What do I know about man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes."
-Samuel Beckett The Theatre of the Absurd presents an existentialist point of view of the world and reality, and forces the audience to "consider the meaning of their existence in a world where there appears to be no true order or meaning"

Driven by the basis of existentialism, it expands the role of philosophy and metaphor in theatrical drama.

Existentialism sprung out directly after the Great Depression and World War Two, a period of despair and hopelessness.

It seeks to find and define meaning and identity in a world of chaos and meaninglessness.
Famous existentialists include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, and of course, Camus The Theatre of the Absurd has forever altered theatre by enriching the traditional dramatic technique and "contributing to an enlargement of human perception"

The movement has produced some of the most brilliant and original works of the twentieth century, and has presented thought-provoking ideas for its audiences and for the entire world Most importantly, the Theatre of the Absurd and Existentialism has brought philosophical growth and revolutionized the way in which the world viewed and understood (or better yet, attempted to understand) existence and conciousness. "We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."
-Chuck Palahniuk
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