Absurdism

Absurdism is a philosophical concept that refers to man's attempt to find reason in his life, which is thwarted by his humanely limited constraints. Numerous twentieth-century existentialist philosophers have tried to define absurdism. Their efforts are similar, as they all describe how an individual struggles to relate to the surrounding world.

Miguel de Unamuno called it the "tragic sense of life," while Jean-Paul Sartre termed it "nausea." Richard Wright perceives it as the shame, dread and fear that minorities experience within a dominant racist society, and which cause them to feel dispossessed and disinherited, as though they are living in a "No Man's Land." Walker Percy defines it as "alienation," "everydayness," and "homelessness." Another prominent philosopher associated with writing about the absurd is Soren Kierkegaard.

Arguably, the most comprehensive essay on the absurd is The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, the French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner. Camus's intention was to analyze the feelings, notions and consequences of the absurd in order to provide readers with a practical working definition of the term. Camus's definition of the absurd is "the divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting."

According to Camus, the world is not inherently absurd and neither is it specific to the individual. The absurd is itself the lack of communication between the two parties. The interaction between the individual and the world gives rise to the absurd because neither can be reduced to the other's reality.

As well as defining the absurd, Camus gives six examples of how the absurd is encountered in day-to-day life. The first instance is what he describes as feeling the void. This occurs when one truly thinks about nothing. The second instance is described as mechanical living. The repetition of daily work can foster a feeling of futility and this is the moment where internal consciousness awakes.

In the third situation, a person becomes aware of time passing and begins to make plans for a better future, but this is absurd and nonsensical because people are caught in time. The fourth example can be experienced when people perceive a familiar object differently because they have a different understanding of it. Camus says that means we feel solitary in a world in which we have nothing in common with others.

The fifth occasion is when we have an acute feeling of isolation between our fellow humans and ourselves, and we become confused when we perceive human beings as non-humans. The final instance is death and the emotional response it evokes within us. We are all mortal, but the fact that we want to live forever is ultimately absurd.

According to Camus's interpretation of the absurd, humans seek meaning in their lives and this can lead to one of two conclusions: either that life has no meaning, or that a higher power/god has created an essential purpose within life for humanity to find and follow. Within these two conclusions, there are a number of different options for activity.

For example, someone may commit suicide when concluding that life holds no meaning and is not worth living. Camus rejects this notion by saying that although life may be absurd, it is even more absurd to counteract it – therefore we should engage in living even though it may be a worthless activity. According to Camus. suicide is just another way of avoiding the absurd.

An alternative option is for people to attempt to find some beauty in their own life that creates personal meaning for them. People may be able to find a reason to live, even if this may not be the universal meaning of life. However, if someone has reached this stage, they must remember that their invented meaning for life is not the actual meaning of life, as this reconciliation is in itself, according to Camus, absurd.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Dynamics of the Absurd in the Existentialist Novel
Richard E. Baker.
Peter Lang, 1993
Absurd Again
Drukman, Steven.
American Theatre, Vol. 11, No. 10, December 1994
Dictionary of Literary Themes and Motifs: L-Z
Jean-Charles Seigneuret.
Greenwood Press, vol.2, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "Theatrical Absurdity" begins on p. 1267
Modern Literature and the Tragic
K. M. Newton.
Edinburgh University Press, 2008
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "The Theatre of the Absurd and the Tragic"
Dark Mirror: The Sense of Injustice in Modern European and American Literature
Richard Clark Sterne.
Fordham University Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Sense of Injustice in Modern Absurdist Fiction"
Society and Literature, 1945-1970
Alan Sinfield.
Holmes & Meier, 1983
Librarian’s tip: "Radicals and the Absurd" begins on p. 181
The Post-Utopian Imagination: American Culture in the Long 1950s
M. Keith Booker.
Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "'Soiled, Torn, and Dead': The Bleak Vision of American Literary Fiction in the Long 1950s"
Tradition and Modernity in the African Short Story: An Introduction to a Literature in Search of Critics
F. Odun Balogun.
Greenwood Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 10 "Fixions: A Study in the Absurd"
American Theater of the 1960s
Zoltán Szilassy.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1986
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Varieties of the Albee Generation"
Stop Making Sense: It Is a Cousin to Satire, Surrealism, Whimsy and Slapstick, but the Absurd Inhabits a Weird World All of Its Own
Self, Will.
New Statesman (1996), Vol. 135, No. 4816, October 30, 2006
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: A Reference Guide
William Hutchings.
Praeger, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "The Absurd" begins on p. 58
Edward Albee: A Casebook
Bruce J. Mann.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Absurdly American: Rediscovering the Representation of Violence in The Zoo Story"
The Thought and Art of Albert Camus
Thomas Hanna.
Henry Regnery, 1958
Librarian’s tip: Chap. II "An Absurd Line of Reasoning," Chap. III "The Literature of the Absurd," Chap IV "A Last Word about the Absurd"
How Can We Live in the World of the Absurd? the Humanism of Albert Camus
Lowen, Jeanette.
Free Inquiry, Vol. 14, No. 4, Fall 1994
Camus's "The Silent Men" and "The Guest": Depictions of Absurd Awareness
McGregor, Rob Roy.
Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer 1997
Aliens and Existential Elevators: Absurdity and Its Shadows in Douglas Adams's Hitch Hiker series/Ruimtewesens En Eksistensiele Hystoestelle: Absurditeit En Die Skadu's Daarvan in Douglas Adams Se Hitch Hiker-Reeks
van der Colff, M. A.
Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies, Vol. 29, No. 3, December 2008
'The Crack-House Flicker': The Sacred and the Absurd in the Short Stories of Dennis Cooper, Dennis Johnson, and Thom Jones
McCARRON, Kevin.
Yearbook of English Studies, Annual 2001
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