The Absurd as a Representation: Towards a Hermeneutics of the Inexplicable (the Problematic Case of Godot)

By Rybinska, Krystyna | Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies, December 2016 | Go to article overview

The Absurd as a Representation: Towards a Hermeneutics of the Inexplicable (the Problematic Case of Godot)


Rybinska, Krystyna, Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies


1.Introduction

Joanna Gavins in the essay The Literary Absurd preceding her most recent book Reading the Absurd (2013) rightly notes that the conception of the absurd appears to be approximately one of the "most nebulous of literary categories". However, whereas she herself "shifts the discussion of the absurd away from obscure philosophical debate" (Gavins 2012: 67) the idea of this article is to do something different. I would like to add to this discussion of the reconsidered experience of the absurd as not a simple, more or less direct representation of the external existential situation conveyed through artistic measures or through performance. On the contrary I wish to distance this investigation from both pre-artistic experiences and conceptions of absurd and from realm of performance theory in order to analyse the absurd as an experience originating precisely in the complex ontological structure of the work of art. Gavins as well as Bennett appear to follow the existentialist idea of the absurd as inherently bound to the idea of experiencing the absurdity of existence.

Although such a thesis cannot be directly invalidated it needs to be re-examined in the face of the modern philosophical and literary controversy oscillating around the fact that the primal subject-object relation ceases to be transparent, and that to advance this proposition results in the disquieting possibility that "perhaps no relationship exists between or among the artist, his art, and an external reality" (Dearlove 1982: vii)--the thesis that J.E. Dearlove ascribes to Beckett writings. Thus the metaphysical anxiety no longer occurs before the action of a solitary human but rather it permeates the very constricted space before the word as the founding structure of reality we perceive. In this context we may formulate the assertion that the literary experience is in fact transfigured into an existential experience, not the other way around. Hence Butler's argument may appear partly accurate: "If it is true that the meaning of being can only be experienced and not explained it is perhaps the case that literature can come closer to it than philosophy. Samuel Beckett may in fact offer us a purer insight into ultimate reality even than those philosophers most neatly attuned to it" (Butler 1984: 205).

If so, a question arises whether it is possible for literature to deliver an insight into a state of the absence of meaning. Yet, the doubtful premise of such a thesis is the claim that meaning is beyond question assigned to existence for which the work of art is a mere means of expression. In this article I wish to risk the claim that perhaps it is possible to experience both the meaning of being and the lack of it due to the fact that what is, i.e. being, either can or cannot be explained within the no longer transparent structure of representation. The impression of an absence of meaning emanating from the work of art makes possible a negative methodological perspective revealing the metaphysical basis of the absurd conceived as a literary category which, if investigated separately, proves highly refutable.

2. Philosophical hermeneutics and the objectivity of meaning in art

In its first part my article endeavours to present the underlying hermeneutical conditions under which absurdity comes to existence on the theatrical scene. We may provocatively ask: how is it possible that absurdity constitutes meaning in art? The paradoxical nature of this question resides in its reversed resonance given that approaching the absurd as an aesthetic phenomenon makes it possible to either invalidate art's claim for meaning or at least provoke a critical re-examination of this claim. Philosophical hermeneutics provides unique insight into literature since in its pursuit of meaning it addresses not only the extracted existential content of the work of art but it also encompasses its formal aspect and thereby challenges its very ontology. …

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