Absurd is a concept that refers to that which is meaningless, not understood, is not coherent, and in general, to irrational thinking (the opposite of rational thought), which departs from reason or is opposite or opposite to the same, and also refers to extravagant behavior, strange, crazy, illogical, ridiculous or foolish (the opposite of behavior considered normal or conventional).
- If we mean by meaning the purpose of an act or an object, “for what exists,” the absurd would mean the absence of such an end.
- If we mean by meaning the meaning of a proposition, the absurd would denote the lack of agreement between the statement and the meaning.
The term “absurdism” is also used to refer to the use of the absurd in different areas, such as the philosophy of absurdity, theater and literature of absurdity and absurd humor.
Philosophy of the absurd
The philosophy of the absurd, sometimes called absurdism, states that the efforts made by the human being to find absolute and predetermined meaning within the universe will ultimately fail because there is no such meaning (at least in relation to man), thus characterizing his skepticism about the universal principles of existence. He therefore argues that the meaning of existence is the creation of a particular sense since life is insignificant in itself, and that the absence of a supreme meaning of human life is a situation of rejoicing and not of desolation, for means that each individual of the human race is free to shape his life, building his own future.
For Albert Camus the absurd expresses a fundamental disharmony, a tragic incompatibility in our existence. In effect, Camus argues that the absurd is the product of a collision or confrontation between our human desire for order, meaning and purpose in life and the indifferent silence of the universe. Camus asserted that absurdity is a defining and inevitable characteristic of the human condition, and therefore, individuals must embrace the absurd character of human existence, the only adequate response, and their full, uncompromising and courageous acceptance.
The absurdity shares some concepts with existentialism and nihilism. Existentialism has its origins in the work of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the nineteenth century, who chose to face the crisis that humans perceive when confronted with the absurd. The absurd as a belief system was born of the existentialist European movement that followed from the publication of Camus of his essay “The myth of Sisyphus“. The aftermath of World War II provided the social environment that stimulated the absurd visions and allowed their popular development, especially in the devastated country of France.
In his essay “The Absurd” Thomas Nagel suggests that we realize the absurd condition of our existence when we contrast the subjective point of view of our own importance with the objective fact that our existence is worth no more than any other, even existence of any inanimate object. Nagel concludes that of all the possible escapes to the absurd (the challenge, the religion, the love, the suicide, etc.), the most suitable perhaps is the irony.
Theater of the absurd
The Theater of the Absurd encompasses a set of works written by certain American and European playwrights during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and in general, the one that emerged from their work. It is characterized by plots that seem to lack meaning, repetitive dialogues and lack of dramatic sequence that often create a dreamlike atmosphere. The theater of the absurd has strong existentialist features and questions society and man. Through humor and mythology they hid a very demanding attitude towards their art. Incoherence, nonsense and the illogical are also very representative features of these common works.
Among the principal playwrights of the theater of the absurd are Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Miguel Mihura and Fernando Arrabal. Some representative works are: Waiting for Godot, from Beckett and Rhinoceros and The Bald Soprano from Ionesco.
Literature of the absurd (also called absurd Fiction)
The absurd fiction is a genre of narrative fiction (traditionally, literary fiction), more often in the form of novel, game, poem or film, that focuses on the experiences of the characters in situations in which they can not find any inherent purpose in life, more often represented by actions and ultimately meaningless events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value. Common elements in absurd fiction include satire, dark humor, incongruity, degradation of reason, and controversy regarding the philosophical condition of being “nothing.” Works of absurd fiction often explore agnostic or nihilistic themes.
While a great deal of absurd fiction may be humorous or irrational by nature, the hallmark of the genre is not comedy but rather the study of human behavior under realistic or fantastic circumstances that seem to be purposeless and philosophically absurd. In absurd fiction the “morality” of the story is generally not explicit, and the themes or performances of the characters, if any, are often ambiguous. In addition, unlike many other forms of fiction, absurd works do not necessarily have a traditional frame structure (ie, upward action, climax, downward action, etc.).
“Hijo del alma” (“Son of the soul”) by Pardo Bazán
Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), was a noble and aristocratic novelist, journalist, essayist, literary critic, poetess, playwright, translator, editor, lecturer and Spanish lecturer introducing naturalism in Spain. It was a forerunner in her ideas about women’s rights and feminism. He called for the instruction of women as fundamental and devoted an important part of his public performance to defending it. Among his literary works the best known is the novel “The House of Ulloa” (“Los pazos de Ulloa”) (1886).
“La noche“ (“The Night”) by Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) was a French writer, mainly author of short stories, about three hundred, being the first “Boule de Suif” (1880), the most acclaimed, in addition to six novels , six plays, three travel books, an anthology of poetry and numerous journalistic chronicles. He wrote under various pseudonyms: Joseph Prunier in 1875, Guy de Valmont in 1878 and Maufrigneuse from 1881 to 1885.
“Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett
Waiting for Godot, sometimes subtitled Tragicomedia in two acts, is a work belonging to the theater of the absurd, written in the late 40’s by Samuel Beckett and published in 1952. Beckett wrote the work originally in French, his second language. The translation into English was made by Beckett himself and published in 1955.
“The Nonexistent Knight” by Italo Calvino
The non-existent knight is a novel by Italian writer and journalist Italo Calvino, published in 1959. In Castilian it was first published in 1961. His best known works include the collection of short stories “Cosmicomics” (“Le Cosmicomiche”, 1965), novels “Invisible Cities” (1978) and “If on a winter’s night a traveler” (1979).
“La Lógica del sentido“ (“The Logic of Sense”) by Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) was a French philosopher, considered among the most important and influential of the twentieth century. From 1960 until his death, he wrote numerous philosophical works on the history of philosophy, politics, literature, cinema and painting.
Among his most famous books are the two volumes of “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus” and “The Antidote”, both written in conjunction with Felix Guattari; the two books that followed May 1968 in Paris, “Difference and Repetition” (1968) and “Logic of Sense” (1969); his two books on film, “Image movement” and “Image time”; and finally, “What is philosophy?” (1991), in conjunction with Guattari.
Absurd humor, also known as surreal humor, is a type of humor that uses disparate or incoherent situations to generate laughter in the public, its comedy is based on irrationality. It is a humor completely removed from reality but at the same time immerses us in the essence of it.
Reductio ad absurdum
Reductio ad absurdum is a Latin expression that literally means ‘reduction to absurdity’, a logical method of demonstration that is used to demonstrate the validity or invalidity of categorical propositions; is assumed to be hypothetical the negation or falsity of the thesis of the proposition to be demonstrated, and through a concatenation of valid logical inferences is intended to derive a logical contradiction, an absurd; to derive a contradiction, we conclude that the hypothesis of departure (the negation of the original) must be false, and the original is true and the proposition or argument is valid. To prove the invalidity of a proposition, it is assumed as a starting point that the proposition is true. If the final derivation is a contradiction, we conclude that the original proposition is false and the argument is invalid.
Credo quia absurdum
Credo quia absurdum is a Latin phrase meaning “I believe because it is absurd”. In fact, it is a paraphrase of a sentence in the work of the second-century apologetic apostle Tertullian in “De Carne Christi”, in which he say: “prorsus est credibile, quia ineptum est,” which can be translated as: “one believes precisely because it is absurd” according to which the dogmas of the Christian religion must be supported with a conviction so much the less rationally comprehensible.
If you want to know more …
Castro, Y.S. (2010) Reflexiones sobre el absurdo, el suicidio y la esperanza. Thémata. Revista de Filosofía No. 43, 2010.
Deleuze, G. (2000) Lógica del sentido. Edición Electrónica de www.philosophia.cl / Escuela de Filosofía Universidad ARCIS.
La Torre, M. (1991) Mirando desde ningún lugar: una breve introducción a la filosofía de Thomas Nagel. Doxa. N. 10 (1991), pp. 141-171.
Pardo Bazán, E. (2003) Hijo del alma. Biblioteca Virtual Universal. Editorial del cardo.
Pérez, J.E. (2016) Las formas del absurdo y el sinsentido en la literatura. UNED Revista Signa 25, pp 865-877.
Nagel, T. (1971) The Absurd. The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 68, No. 20, pp. 716-727