In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously.
As a philosophy, absurdism furthermore explores the fundamental nature of the Absurd and how individuals, once becoming conscious of the Absurd, should respond to it. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence while also defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning.
Absurdism shares some concepts, and a common theoretical template, with existentialism and nihilism. It has its origins in the work of the 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who chose to confront the crisis that humans face with the Absurd by developing his own existentialist philosophy. Absurdism as a belief system was born of the European existentialist movement that ensued, specifically when Camus rejected certain aspects of that philosophical line of thought and published his essay The Myth of Sisyphus. The aftermath of World War II provided the social environment that stimulated absurdist views and allowed for their popular development, especially in the devastated country of France.
In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual's search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe. As beings looking for meaning in a meaningless world, humans have three ways of resolving the dilemma. Kierkegaard and Camus describe the solutions in their works, The Sickness Unto Death (1849) and The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), respectively:
Absurdism originated from (as well as alongside) the 20th-century strains of existentialism and nihilism; it shares some prominent starting points with both, though also entails conclusions that are uniquely distinct from these other schools of thought. All three arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd: the apparent meaninglessness in a world in which humans, nevertheless, are compelled to find or create meaning. The three schools of thought diverge from there. Existentialists have generally advocated the individual's construction of his or her own meaning in life as well as the free will of the individual. Nihilists, on the contrary, contend that "it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found." Absurdists, following Camus's formulation, hesitantly allow the possibility for some meaning or value in life, but are neither as certain as existentialists are about the value of one's own constructed meaning nor as nihilists are about the total inability to create meaning. Absurdists following Camus also devalue or outright reject free will, encouraging merely that the individual live defiantly and authentically in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd.
Camus himself passionately worked to counter nihilism, as he explained in his essay "The Rebel," while he also categorically rejected the label of "existentialist" in his essay "Enigma" and in the compilation The Lyrical and Critical Essays of Albert Camus, though he was, and still is, often broadly characterized by others as an existentialist. Both existentialism and absurdism entail consideration of the practical applications of becoming conscious of the truth of existential nihilism: i.e., how a driven seeker of meaning should act when suddenly confronted with the seeming concealment, or downright absence, of meaning in the universe. Camus's own understanding of the world (e.g., "a benign indifference", in The Stranger), and every vision he had for its progress, however, sets him apart from the general existentialist trend.
Such a chart represents some of the overlap and tensions between existentialist and absurdist approaches to meaning. While absurdism can be seen as a kind of response to existentialism, it can be debated exactly how substantively the two positions differ from each other. The existentialist, after all, doesn't deny the reality of death. But the absurdist seems to reaffirm the way in which death ultimately nullifies our meaning-making activities, a conclusion the existentialists seem to resist through various notions of posterity or, in Sartre's case, participation in a grand humanist project.
What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act... The Absurd, or to act by virtue of the absurd, is to act upon faith ... I must act, but reflection has closed the road so I take one of the possibilities and say: This is what I do, I cannot do otherwise because I am brought to a standstill by my powers of reflection.— Kierkegaard, Søren, Journals, 1849
Here is another example of the Absurd from his writings:
What, then, is the absurd? The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up. etc., has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being, in as much as all immediate recognizability is pre-Socratic paganism and from the Jewish point of view is idolatry.
—Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, 1846, Hong 1992, p. 210
How can this absurdity be held or believed? Kierkegaard says:
I gladly undertake, by way of brief repetition, to emphasize what other pseudonyms have emphasized. The absurd is not the absurd or absurdities without any distinction (wherefore Johannes de Silentio: "How many of our age understand what the absurd is?"). The absurd is a category, and the most developed thought is required to define the Christian absurd accurately and with conceptual correctness. The absurd is a category, the negative criterion, of the divine or of the relationship to the divine. When the believer has faith, the absurd is not the absurd — faith transforms it, but in every weak moment it is again more or less absurd to him. The passion of faith is the only thing which masters the absurd — if not, then faith is not faith in the strictest sense, but a kind of knowledge. The absurd terminates negatively before the sphere of faith, which is a sphere by itself. To a third person the believer relates himself by virtue of the absurd; so must a third person judge, for a third person does not have the passion of faith. Johannes de Silentio has never claimed to be a believer; just the opposite, he has explained that he is not a believer — in order to illuminate faith negatively.
—Journals of Søren Kierkegaard X6B 79
Kierkegaard provides an example in Fear and Trembling (1843), which was published under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio. In the story of Abraham in the Book of Genesis, Abraham is told by God to kill his son Isaac. Just as Abraham is about to kill Isaac, an angel stops Abraham from doing so. Kierkegaard believes that through virtue of the absurd, Abraham, defying all reason and ethical duties ("you cannot act"), got back his son and reaffirmed his faith ("where I have to act").
Another instance of absurdist themes in Kierkegaard's work appears in The Sickness Unto Death, which Kierkegaard signed with pseudonym Anti-Climacus. Exploring the forms of despair, Kierkegaard examines the type of despair known as defiance. In the opening quotation reproduced at the beginning of the article, Kierkegaard describes how such a man would endure such a defiance and identifies the three major traits of the Absurd Man, later discussed by Albert Camus: a rejection of escaping existence (suicide), a rejection of help from a higher power and acceptance of his absurd (and despairing) condition.
According to Kierkegaard in his autobiography The Point of View of My Work as an Author, most of his pseudonymous writings are not necessarily reflective of his own opinions. Nevertheless, his work anticipated many absurdist themes and provided its theoretical background.
Though the notion of the 'absurd' pervades all Albert Camus's writing, The Myth of Sisyphus is his chief work on the subject. In it, Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, an opposition, a conflict or a "divorce" between two ideals. Specifically, he defines the human condition as absurd, as the confrontation between man's desire for significance, meaning and clarity on the one hand – and the silent, cold universe on the other. He continues that there are specific human experiences evoking notions of absurdity. Such a realization or encounter with the absurd leaves the individual with a choice: suicide, a leap of faith, or recognition. He concludes that recognition is the only defensible option.
For Camus, suicide is a "confession" that life is not worth living; it is a choice that implicitly declares that life is "too much." Suicide offers the most basic "way out" of absurdity: the immediate termination of the self and its place in the universe.
The absurd encounter can also arouse a "leap of faith," a term derived from one of Kierkegaard's early pseudonyms, Johannes de Silentio (although the term was not used by Kierkegaard himself), where one believes that there is more than the rational life (aesthetic or ethical). To take a "leap of faith," one must act with the "virtue of the absurd" (as Johannes de Silentio put it), where a suspension of the ethical may need to exist. This faith has no expectations, but is a flexible power initiated by a recognition of the absurd. (Although at some point, one recognizes or encounters the existence of the Absurd and, in response, actively ignores it.) However, Camus states that because the leap of faith escapes rationality and defers to abstraction over personal experience, the leap of faith is not absurd. Camus considers the leap of faith as "philosophical suicide," rejecting both this and physical suicide.
Lastly, a person can choose to embrace the absurd condition. According to Camus, one's freedom – and the opportunity to give life meaning – lies in the recognition of absurdity. If the absurd experience is truly the realization that the universe is fundamentally devoid of absolutes, then we as individuals are truly free. "To live without appeal," as he puts it, is a philosophical move to define absolutes and universals subjectively, rather than objectively. The freedom of humans is thus established in a human's natural ability and opportunity to create their own meaning and purpose; to decide (or think) for him- or herself. The individual becomes the most precious unit of existence, representing a set of unique ideals that can be characterized as an entire universe in its own right. In acknowledging the absurdity of seeking any inherent meaning, but continuing this search regardless, one can be happy, gradually developing meaning from the search alone.
Camus states in The Myth of Sisyphus: "Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide." "Revolt" here refers to the refusal of suicide and search for meaning despite the revelation of the Absurd; "Freedom" refers to the lack of imprisonment by religious devotion or others' moral codes; "Passion" refers to the most wholehearted experiencing of life, since hope has been rejected, and so he concludes that every moment must be lived fully.
According to absurdism, humans historically attempt to find meaning in their lives. Traditionally, this search results in one of two conclusions: either that life is meaningless, or life contains within it a purpose set forth by a higher power—a belief in God, or adherence to some religion or other abstract concept.
Camus perceives filling the void with some invented belief or meaning as a mere "act of eluding"—that is, avoiding or escaping rather than acknowledging and embracing the Absurd. To Camus, elusion is a fundamental flaw in religion, existentialism, and various other schools of thought. If the individual eludes the Absurd, then he or she can never confront it. Camus also concedes that elusion is the most common.
Even with a spiritual power as the answer to meaning, another question arises: What is the purpose of a belief in God? Kierkegaard believed that there is no human-comprehensible purpose of God, making faith in God absurd itself. Camus on the other hand states that to believe in God is to "deny one of the terms of the contradiction" between humanity and the universe (and is therefore not absurd but what he calls "philosophical suicide"). Camus (as well as Kierkegaard), though, suggests that while absurdity does not lead to belief in God, neither does it lead to the denial of God. Camus notes, "I did not say 'excludes God', which would still amount to asserting".
For Camus, the beauty people encounter in life makes it worth living. People may create meaning in their own lives, which may not be the objective meaning of life (if there is one), but can still provide something to strive for. However, he insisted that one must always maintain an ironic distance between this invented meaning and the knowledge of the absurd, lest the fictitious meaning take the place of the absurd.
Freedom cannot be achieved beyond what the absurdity of existence permits; however, the closest one can come to being absolutely free is through acceptance of the Absurd. Camus introduced the idea of "acceptance without resignation" as a way of dealing with the recognition of absurdity, asking whether or not man can "live without appeal", while defining a "conscious revolt" against the avoidance of absurdity of the world. In a world devoid of higher meaning or judicial afterlife, the human nature becomes as close to absolutely free as is humanly possible.
The rejection of hope, in absurdism, denotes the refusal to believe in anything more than what this absurd life provides. Hope, Camus emphasizes, however, has nothing to do with despair (meaning that the two terms are not opposites). One can still live fully while rejecting hope, and, in fact, can only do so without hope. Hope is perceived by the absurdist as another fraudulent method of evading the Absurd, and by not having hope, one is motivated to live every fleeting moment to the fullest. In the words of Nikos Kazantzakis's epitaph: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free."
The absurdist is not guided by morality, but rather, by their own integrity. The absurdist is, in fact, amoral (though not necessarily immoral). The Absurdist's view of morality implies an unwavering sense of definite right and wrong at all times, while integrity implies honesty with one's self and consistency in the motivations of one's actions and decisions.
What is the Camusean alternative to suicide or hope? The answer is to live without escape and with integrity, in “revolt” and defiance, maintaining the tension intrinsic to human life
What is the Camusean alternative to suicide or hope? The answer is to live without escape and with integrity, in “revolt” and defiance, maintaining the tension intrinsic to human life
Absurdist fiction is a genre of fictional narrative (traditionally, literary fiction), most often in the form of a novel, play, poem, or film, that focuses on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value. Common elements in absurdist fiction include satire, dark humor, incongruity, the abasement of reason, and controversy regarding the philosophical condition of being "nothing." Works of absurdist fiction often explore agnostic or nihilistic topics.Absurdity
An absurdity is a thing that is extremely unreasonable, so as to be foolish or not taken seriously, or the state of being so. "Absurd" is an adjective used to describe an absurdity, e.g., "Tyler and the boys laughed at the absurdity of the situation." "this encyclopedia article is absurd". It derives from the Latin absurdum meaning "out of tune", hence irrational. The Latin surdus means "deaf", implying stupidity.
Absurdity is contrasted with seriousness in reasoning. In general usage, absurdity may be synonymous with ridiculousness and nonsense. In specialized usage, absurdity is related to extremes in bad reasoning or pointlessness in reasoning; ridiculousness is related to extremes of incongruous juxtaposition, laughter, and ridicule; and nonsense is related to a lack of meaningfulness. Absurdism is a concept in philosophy related to the notion of absurdity.After Magritte
After Magritte is a surreal comedy written by Tom Stoppard in 1970. It was first performed in the Green Banana Restaurant at the Ambiance Lunch-hour Theatre Club in London.Albert Camus
Albert Camus (; French: [albɛʁ kamy] (listen); 7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay The Rebel that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44 in 1957, the second youngest recipient in history.Camus did not consider himself to be an existentialist despite usually being classified in that way, even in his lifetime. In a 1945 interview, Camus rejected any ideological associations: "No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked."Camus was born in French Algeria to a Pied-Noir family and studied at the University of Algiers, from which he graduated in 1936. In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons to "denounce two ideologies found in both the USSR and the USA".Bizarro fiction
Bizarro Fiction is a contemporary literary genre, which often uses elements of absurdism, satire, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive, weird, and entertaining works. The term was adopted in 2005 by the independent publishing companies Eraserhead Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Afterbirth Books. Much of its community revolves around Eraserhead Press, which is based in Portland, Oregon, and has hosted the BizarroCon yearly since 2008. The introduction to the first Bizarro Starter Kit describes Bizarro as "literature's equivalent to the cult section at the video store" and a genre that "strives not only to be strange, but fascinating, thought-provoking, and, above all, fun to read." According to Rose O'Keefe of Eraserhead Press: "Basically, if an audience enjoys a book or film primarily because of its weirdness, then it is Bizarro. Weirdness might not be the work's only appealing quality, but it is the major one."In general, Bizarro has more in common with speculative fiction genres (such as science-fiction, fantasy, and horror) than with avant-garde movements (such as Dadaism and surrealism), which readers and critics often associate it with. While the genre may place an emphasis on the cult and outré, it is not without critical praise. Books by authors who have identified or have been identified as Bizarro have been praised by Lloyd Kaufman, Michael Moorcock and guardian.co.uk. Bizarro novels have been finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Rhysling Award. A book of Bizarro criticism and theory was named Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2009 by 3:AM Magazine in ParisBrigitte Kaandorp
Brigitte Kaandorp (born 10 March 1962 in Haarlem) is a Dutch comedian and singer-songwriter. She started her show business career in 1983. Kaandorp's style is a mix absurdism and sensitive songs, sometimes playing the ukulele. Many of her shows have been broadcast on Dutch TV. She also performed in Belgium.Dimension of Miracles
Dimension of Miracles is a 1968 satirical science-fiction novel, with elements of absurdism, by American writer Robert Sheckley.
The novel concerns the odyssey of Tom Carmody, a New Yorker who wins a prize in the Intergalactic Sweepstakes.Exile and the Kingdom
Exile and the Kingdom (French: L'exil et le royaume) is a 1957 collection of six short stories by French writer Albert Camus.
The underlying theme of these stories is human loneliness and feeling foreign and isolated in one's own society. Camus writes about outsiders living in Algeria who straddle the divide between the Muslim world and France.These works of fiction cover the whole variety of existentialism, or absurdism, as Camus himself insisted his philosophical ideas be called. The clearest manifestation of the ideals of Camus can be found in the story "La Pierre qui pousse." This story features D'Arrast, who can be seen as a positive hero as opposed to Meursault in The Stranger. He actively shapes his life and sacrifices himself in order to help a friend, instead of remaining passive. The moral quality of his actions is intensified by the fact that D'Arrast has deep insight into the absurdity of the world but acts morally nevertheless (not unlike the main character in The Plague). In the Silent Men, Camus reveals his understanding of the life of lower class laborers. The main character, Yvars, is a barrel maker, like Camus's uncle, for whom he worked as a teenager.The six works collected in this volume are:
"The Adulterous Woman" ("La Femme adultère")
"The Renegade or a Confused Spirit" ("Le Renégat ou un esprit confus")
"The Silent Men" ("Les Muets")
"The Guest" ("L'Hôte")
"Jonas or the Artist at Work" ("Jonas ou l’artiste au travail")
"The Growing Stone" ("La Pierre qui pousse")Faust (1994 film)
Faust is a 1994 film directed by Jan Švankmajer. It merges live-action footage with stop-motion animation and includes puppetry and claymation. The film was produced by Jaromír Kallista and the title character is played by Petr Čepek. The film does not relate the legend of Faustus accurately according to the original, instead borrowing and blending elements from the story as told by Goethe and Christopher Marlowe with traditional folk renditions. It has elements of Modernism and Absurdism, and has a Kafkaesque atmosphere, enhanced by being set in Prague, and the tone is dark but humorous. The voices in the English version were provided by Andrew Sachs. The film was selected as the Czech entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 67th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.Heinrich Hoerle
Heinrich Hoerle (1 September 1895 – 7 July 1936) was a German constructivist artist of the New Objectivity movement.
Hoerle was born in Cologne. He studied at the Cologne School of Arts and Crafts but was mostly self-taught as an artist. After military service in World War I he met Franz Wilhelm Seiwert in 1919 and worked with him on the journal Ventilator. Together with his wife Angelika (1899–1923), Hoerle became active in the Cologne Dada scene. He co-founded the artists' group Stupid, and in 1920 he published the Krüppelmappe (Cripples Portfolio). Hoerle's work retained a certain dour absurdism after he adopted a figurative constructivist style influenced by the Russians Vladimir Tatlin and El Lissitzky, by Fernand Léger, and by the Dutch movement De Stijl. His paintings feature generic-looking figures, presented in strict profile or in stiff, frontal poses.
In 1929 he began collaboration with Seiwert and Walter Stern on the publication of "a-z", the journal of the Cologne Progressives art group. He was among the many German artists whose works were condemned as degenerate art when the Nazis took power in 1933. He died in Cologne in 1936 at the age of 40.
Public collections holding works by Heinrich Hoerle include Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Kölnisches Stadtmuseum; Stadtmuseum Düsseldorf; The Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal; and the Busch-Reisinger Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Kjell Höglund
Kjell Höglund (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈɕɛlː ²høːɡlɵnd]; born December 8, 1945 in Östersund, Sweden) is a Swedish singer-songwriter.
Höglund, who found his musical breakthrough in the 1970s, is in his native country renowned for his mixture of realism, absurdism and surrealism.
In 1992 he was nominated for a Grammis award for best male pop.
Kjell Höglund has also published books with esoteric and pseudo-scientific content.
Many of Kjells beliefs presented in these works are similar to those of the Danish new age mystic Martinus.List of existentialists
Existentialism is a movement within continental philosophy that developed in the late 19th and 20th centuries. As a loose philosophical school, some persons associated with existentialism explicitly rejected the label (e.g. Martin Heidegger), and others are not remembered primarily as philosophers, but as writers (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) or theologians (Paul Tillich). It is related to several movements within continental philosophy including phenomenology, nihilism, absurdism, and post-modernism.Non sequitur (literary device)
A non-sequitur (English: ; Classical Latin: [noːn ˈsɛkᶣɪtʊr] "it does not follow") is a conversational literary device, often used for comedic purposes. It is something said that, because of its apparent lack of meaning relative to what preceded it, seems absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing.
This use of the term is distinct from the non-sequitur in logic, where it is a fallacy.Philosophical fiction
Philosophical fiction refers to the class of works of fiction which devote a significant portion of their content to the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including some science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and the Bildungsroman.Philosophy of suicide
In ethics and other branches of philosophy, suicide poses difficult questions, answered differently by various philosophers. The French essayist, novelist, and playwright Albert Camus (1913–1960) began his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus with the famous line "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide" (French: Il n'y a qu'un problème philosophique vraiment sérieux : c'est le suicide).Sam Shepard
Samuel Shepard Rogers III (November 5, 1943 – July 27, 2017), known professionally as Sam Shepard, was an American actor, playwright, author, screenwriter, and director whose career spanned half a century. He won ten Obie Awards for writing and directing, the most won by any writer or director. He wrote 44 plays as well as several books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. Shepard received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979 for his play Buried Child and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of pilot Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. He received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award as a master American dramatist in 2009. New York magazine described Shepard as "the greatest American playwright of his generation."Shepard's plays are known for their bleak, poetic, surrealist elements, black comedy, and rootless characters living on the outskirts of American society. His style evolved from the absurdism of his early off-off-Broadway work to the realism of later plays like Buried Child and Curse of the Starving Class.The Summer Company
The Summer Company is a Pittsburgh-based theatre company that produces classical and contemporary plays. Established in 1993 by Steve Fatla, Jay Keenan, and John E. Lane, Jr., the company was initially founded with the mission “to produce quality productions of classical and soon to be classic plays in the company of friends concentrating on plays written between 1850 through 1950” and has since expanded to include more recent material, including the original musical Homeless: The Musical. The company has produced material with varying stylistic content, including absurdism, realism, and comedic revues. The Summer Company's productions have been held at performance spaces located on the campuses of Duquesne University and Carlow University.