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موسوعة الادب الانجليزي Absurdism in the English Literature Empty موسوعة الادب الانجليزي Absurdism in the English Literature

الثلاثاء سبتمبر 11, 2012 7:53 pm

موسوعة الادب الانجليزي Absurdism in the English Literature
موسوعة الادب الانجليزي Absurdism in the English Literature



MOVEMENT ORIGIN

Absurdism,
and its more specific companion term Theatre of the Absurd, refers to
the works of a group of Western European and American dramatists writing
and producing plays in the 1950s and early 1960s. The term ‘‘Theatre of
the Absurd’’ was coined by critic Martin Esslin, who identified common
features of a new style of drama that seemed to ignore theatrical
conventions and thwart audience expectations. Characterized by a
departure from realistic characters and situations, the plays offer no
clear notion of the time or place in which the action occurs. Characters
are often nameless and seem interchangeable. Events are completely
outside the realm of rational motivation and may have a nightmarish
quality commonly associated with Surrealism (a post-World War I movement
that features dream sequences and images from the unconscious, often
sexual in nature). At other times, both dialogue and incidents may
appear to the audience as completely nonsensical, even farcical.
However, beneath the surface the works explore themes of loneliness and
isolation, of the failure of individuals to connect with others in any
meaningful way, and of the senselessness and absurdity of life and
death. The writers most commonly associated with Absurdism are Samuel
Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, and
Edward Albee, as well as a number of lesser known dramatists. The
avant-garde nature of absurdist writing contributed in part to its short
life as a literary movement. Features of the plays that seemed
completely new and mystifying to audiences in the 1950s when absurdist
works first appeared, soon became not only understandable, but even
commonplace and predictable. With the exception of Ionesco, most
playwrights abandoned the absurdist style after the 1960s; however, many
of the individual plays were later considered classics of European and
American drama.

THEMES

Absurdity

Absurdity
is the most obvious theme explored in Absurdism. Absurdity
characterizes a world that no longer makes sense to its inhabitants, in
which rational decisions are impossible and all action is meaningless
and futile. Absurdity also describes many situations and events that
take place in plays associated with the movement, such as orators who
speak in gibberish (The Chairs), a clock that strikes seventeen (The
Bald Soprano), or a rhinoceros that walks across the stage (Rhinoceros).

Cruelty and Violence

Beneath
the nonsense and slapstick humor of Absurdism lurks an element of
cruelty, often revealed in dialogue between characters but occasionally
manifested in acts of violence. Pinter’s plays are noted for the latter.
In The Room, a blind man is brutally beaten; in The Birthday Party, the
celebration becomes an interrogation and eventually an abduction; and
in The Dumb Waiter, a pair of assassins are involved in an apparently
random murder. Similarly, in Ionesco’s The Lesson, a professor
frustrated by his students’ inability to understand his meaningless
lessons, savagely kills them one after another. The seemingly innocent,
child-like characters created by Arrabal engage in unspeakable acts of
torture, even murder. On a less physical level is the cruelty hiding
behind the apparently humorous dialogue in Beckett’s Endgame, which
features a master/servant relationship in which Hamm dominates Clov.
Hamm, in turn, has suffered from the cruelty of his parents when he was a
child. His father recounts how the youngster would cry because he was
afraid of the dark, and their response, according to the father, was
‘‘We let you cry. Then we moved out of earshot, so that we might sleep
in peace.’’

Domination

Several
well-known absurdist works feature pairs of characters in which one is
the dominator and the other the dominated. Some of these are quite
literally master/servant relationships, such as in Genet’s The Maids or
Beckett’s Endgame. Others reproduce the master/slave relationship within
marriage, as in Albee’s The American Dream in which Mommy dominates the
spineless Daddy character or within the traditional teacher/student
dynamic, as in Ionesco’s The Lesson.

Futility and Passivity

The
futility of all human endeavor characterizes many absurdist works, such
as Adamov’s Ping- Pong in which two promising students abandon their
studies and devote their lives to the appreciation of pinball machines.
Adamov’s earlier play La Parodie (1947) shares the idea that individuals
are powerless to direct their own lives; it does so by presenting two
characters, one who refuses to live and one who embraces life with joy.
The fate of both is ultimately exactly the same. Havel’s early plays,
such as The Garden Party, deal with the inability of even the most
ambitious individual to make any headway against a self-perpetuating
bureaucracy. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot suggests that human effort is
meaningless and leads to nothing in the end. Beckett’s characters are so
ineffective and doomed to failure that they are unable even to commit
suicide successfully despite two attempts. Their passivity, established
by their interminable waiting, is even more famously illustrated by the
closing scenes of both first and second acts, in which each stands
rooted to his spot on the stage despite having made the decision to
leave.

Language

The
failure of language to convey meaning is an important theme in the
literature of Absurdism. Language is either detached from any
interpretation that can be agreed to by all characters, or it is reduced
to complete gibberish. The play entitled The Bald Soprano, for example,
has nothing to do with a soprano, much less a bald one. The standard
philosophical discourse is mocked by the nonsensical dialogue in Waiting
for Godot; although it is meaningless, it bears a strong resemblance to
the structure of the real thing. The language of religious fervor is
employed by Adamov in Ping- Pong, but the object being venerated is a
pinball machine. The characters in Havel’s plays speak in cliches and
slogans, from which all real meaning has been drained.

Loneliness and Isolation

Many
absurdist works illustrate the loneliness and isolation of individuals,
resulting from the nature of modern life and, in some cases, from the
impossibility of effective communication between humans. Albee’s The Zoo
Story offers a prime example of this theme, featuring a character so
eager to make a connection with a complete stranger that he is willing
to die in order to do so. If the two men are unable to achieve contact
in life, at least the man is able to involve the stranger, however
unwillingly, in his death. Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano explores the same
theme with a husband and wife who are so isolated from each other that
they fail to recognize their connection in a social setting and have
only a vague sense of having met before.


Materialism

Materialism
is criticized in Albee’s The American Dream, in which even
relationships between family members are subject to the terms of profit
and loss statements. A woman marries a man she does not love simply
because he is wealthy, and they buy a baby to complete their family. The
baby dies, leaving them to mourn their financial loss rather than their
emotional loss. Adamov’s characters in Ping-Pong devote their lives to
the worship of a thing, which some critics consider a critique of
capitalism and materialism.

STYLE


Character

Absurdism
often abandons traditional character development to offer figures who
have no clear identity or distinguishing features. They may even be
interchangeable, as are the supporting characters in Waiting for Godot
who appear as master and servant in the first act and trade places when
they return for the second act. Role playing causes confusion among the
characters in Genet’s The Maids in which the audience initially thinks
the figure onstage is the lady of the house being served by her maid
Claire, but then realizes that Claire is impersonating the mistress and
the other maid, Solange, is impersonating Claire. These exchanges
continue throughout the play, which deprives the audience of any stable
sense of character identity.

Denouement

In
conventional literature or drama, the denouement serves to tie up the
loose ends of the narrative, resolving both primary and secondary plot
conflicts and complications. Since so little happens in an absurdist
work, the denouement has little to resolve. Thus endings tend to be
repetitious, such as the nearly identical ending of both acts of Waiting
for Godot. Such repetitive actions reinforce the idea that human effort
is futile, which serves as a prominent theme of Absurdism. In Ionesco’s
The Lesson, which features the murder of a student by a professor, the
audience learns that it is the fortieth such murder that day. Since the
ending of the play consists of yet another student arriving for yet
another lesson, the audience has every reason to believe the newly
arrived student will meet the same fate.

Dialogue

Since
the ability of language to convey meaning is called into question by
Absurdism, dialogue is of special importance in absurdist works.
Artificial language, empty of meaning, consisting of slogans and
clichés, is a hallmark of the movement. Many of the texts contain
dialogue that appears to be meaningless but that mimics the style of
educated or sophisticated speech. Often there is a marked contradiction
between speech and action, as in Godot when the characters claim they
are leaving but actually stay.

Plot

Absurdism
at its most extreme abandons conventional notions of plot almost
entirely. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has been described as a play in
which nothing happens. Its opening line is ‘‘Nothing to be done,’’ and
the characters proceed to do just that—nothing. Although the characters
do engage in various actions, none of those actions is connected in any
meaningful way, nor do the actions develop into any sort of narrative or
logical sequence of events.

Setting

The
use of setting is one of the most unconventional stylistic features of
Absurdism. Typically, an absurdist play is set in no recognizable time
or place. Stage settings tend to be sparse, with lots of vacant space
conveying the sense of emptiness associated with characters’ lives. The
empty chairs of Ionesco’s The Chairs serves as an example, as does
Waiting for Godot’s nearly bare stage with a single spindly tree as the
only prop. But the setting can also be cramped and confining, such as
the claustrophobic single room of Beckett’s Endgame.



MOVEMENT VARIATIONS

Dadaism

Dadaism,
a precursor to Surrealism and Absurdism, was founded in 1916 by Tristan
Tzara as a protest movement in art and literature. Followers of the
movement expressed their outrage at the destruction brought about by
World War I by revolting against numerous forms of social convention.
The Dadaists presented works marked by calculated madness and flamboyant
nonsense. They stressed total freedom of expression, commonly through
primitive displays of emotion and illogical, often senseless, poetry.
The word ‘‘dada’’ comes from either the Romanian words for ‘‘yes, yes’’
or the French word for a child’s hobby-horse. Dadaism ended shortly
after the war, when it was replaced by Surrealism. Proponents of Dadaism
include Andre´ Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and Paul
Eluard.

Philosophy

Absurdism
is often linked to Existentialism, the philosophical movement
associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, among others.
Although both existentialists and absurdists are concerned with the
senselessness of the human condition, the way this concern is expressed
differs. The philosophers explored the irrational nature of human
existence within the rational and logical framework of conventional
philosophical thought. The absurdists, however, abandoned the
traditional elements of literature in general and theater in
particular—setting, plot, character development—in order to convey a
sense of absurdity and illogic in both form and content. In general, the
two movements also differ in the conclusions each seems to draw from
the realization that life is meaningless. Many absurdist productions
appear to be making a case for the idea that all human effort is futile
and action is pointless; others seem to suggest that an absurd existence
leaves the individual no choice but to treat it as farce. The
existentialists, however, claimed that the realization that life had no
transcendental meaning, either derived from faith or from the essence of
humanity itself, could (and should) serve as a springboard to action.
An individual’s life, according to the existentialists, can be made
meaningful only through that individual’s actions.

Politics and Social Change

Because
many absurdist works have no temporal or spatial setting, they are
often considered apolitical, that is, they are neither criticizing nor
endorsing any country’s culture, society, or political system. There
are, however, exceptions. Vaclav Havel’s plays, for example, are
concerned with the dehumanizing effects of government bureaucracy,
particularly within Communist Czechoslovakia. The works apparently hit
their target, since the government banned them and imprisoned the
playwright. Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros could also be considered
political, since the author claimed that the inspiration for the play
was the gradual acceptance of Nazi fascism by an antifascist friend.
Based on a 1940 entry in Ionesco’s journal, the play opens with a
rhinoceros charging past as two friends converse. Although everyone
ignores the rhinoceros at first, eventually most of the characters
accept its presence, and one by one they even decide to become
rhinoceroses themselves. A lone individual is determined to fight the
growing herd. Ironically, Ionesco’s play varies from the usual plotless,
apolitical style of most absurdist dramas to offer a powerful critique
of mob mentality and conformity. The individual who decides to fight
rather than join the herd is also unusual, since most absurdist
characters are anonymous, passive, and ineffectual—certainly not given
to heroic actions. The failure of most absurdist works to call for any
meaningful action may also account for the almost total absence of women
playwrights involved in the movement. Toby Silverman Zinman, in ‘‘Hen
in a Foxhouse: The Absurdist Plays of Maria Irene Fornes,’’ suggests
that although female dramatists shared the ‘‘deep disillusionment’’
common to most practitioners of Absurdism, most of them were committed
to changing the conditions that led to that disillusionment. While they
may have employed some of the formal elements associated with Absurdism,
they rejected its bleak vision that human effort is futile.





REPRESENTATIVE WORKS

Waiting for Godot

The most famous and most critically acclaimed work associated with Absurdism is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, produced in 1953 in Paris as En Attendant Godot
and translated into English a year later. The setting is sparse, almost
vacant, and the characters are two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who
do little except wait, on two successive nights, for someone who never
appears. While waiting they engage in a series of apparently random
discussions, some involving philosophy, and a variety of antics—from
taking off their shoes to eating a carrot—that seem vaguely reminiscent
of a comedy routine or a vaudeville act. They also attempt suicide twice
but fail each time. At the end of the play, when Godot has still not
appeared, the characters agree to leave, at least according to their
limited dialogue, but the stage directions contradict their words by
insisting that ‘‘they do not move.’’ One of the most important
productions of Waiting for Godot took place in San Quentin
prison in 1957, performed by the members of the San Francisco Actors’
Workshop. Several critics have commented on the enthusiastic reception
the prisoners gave the play, suggesting that they seemed to
instinctively grasp its meaning at the same time audiences apparently
more educated and more sophisticated were confused by the play’s
unconventional nature. Many critics believe Waiting for Godot is Beckett’s most important work, citing its influence on the Theatre of the Absurd and on contemporary drama in general.

The American Dream

A long one-act play by Edward Albee, The American Dream (1961) targets the artificial values of family life and features plot events that are not only absurd, but
grotesque. The main characters are Daddy, who is weak and ineffectual,
and Mommy, who is domineering and cruel. All relationships in the play
are governed by material considerations. When the couple adopts a baby,
or their ‘‘bumble of joy’’ as they call him, they are actually buying
him. Mommy and Daddy gradually destroy the baby as they discover he is
less than perfect, depriving him of eyes, hands, tongue, sexual
organs—every possible means of communicating with others. When the baby
dies, the couple frets over the loss of their investment, regretting
that he has already been paid for. Albee also uses humor in The American Dream
to attack the phony language and stage clichés of sentimental
theatrical productions. For example, Mommy, describing the cause of
Grandma’s death, says ‘‘It was an offstage rumble, and you know what
that means.’’ The play, along with Albee’s other early one-act plays (Zoo Story and The Sandbox),
was successful both commercially and critically, although some critics
believe all three are too heavily influenced by the work of Ionesco. The
three plays were especially well received on American college campuses
during the 1960s.

The Bald Soprano

The Bald Soprano, written originally in French (La cantatrice chauve)
in 1950 and translated into English in 1958, was Euge` ne Ionesco’s
first play. It features such absurdist elements as a clock that strikes
seventeen and a married couple who fail to recognize each other in a
social situation. The Martins are guests at the home of the Smiths. They
engage in polite conversation, each feeling they have met before. A
series of questions and answers between the two reveals that they live
in the same house and are, in fact, husband and wife. Although the
dialogue of The Bald Soprano has been described as hilariously
funny, the play as a whole is considered a tragedy as Ionesco attacks
the stilted, artificial quality of language that hinders communication
between individuals.




The Chairs

Written in 1952, Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs
features the breakdown of language as well as one of the playwright’s
most famous metaphors for absurdity: the multiplication of objects. As
an elderly couple sets up chairs for an invisible audience arriving to
hear an important speech, the chairs begin to multiply until they fill
the entire stage. Meanwhile, the orator delivering the speech, which the
old man has written to convey an important message to the world, is
unable to produce anything except guttural sounds. The Chairs makes the point that language and communication are illusions; it is one of Ionesco’s most highly acclaimed plays.

Endgame

Samuel Beckett’s one-act play Endgame (1957), which is not as famous as Waiting for Godot,
is an even darker work dealing with the master/slave relationship. The
setting is sparse and claustrophobic, the dialogue is often comic, and
the activities of the characters resemble slapstick comedy. Yet overall,
the interaction of the principles is characterized by cruelty and
bitterness, and the tone of the work, despite its humorous moments, is
grim and pessimistic. Endgame made its U.S. debut at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre in 1958. The play’s reception was mixed; many critics who had praised Waiting for Godot were disappointed in the bleak view of humanity Beckett seemed to be presenting in Endgame.

The Garden Party

Originally Zahradni slavnost (1964), Vaclav Havel’s The Garden Party (1969),
targets the nature of bureaucracy and its dehumanizing effect on
individuals. Havel creates a world in which language is not a tool in
the service of the individual but rather acts as a weapon by which the
individual is controlled. The play’s main character speaks in cliches
and slogans and is unable to accomplish anything within a bureaucratic
system that perpetuates itself and defies humans’ attempts to intervene
in its operation. The Garden Party was Havel’s first play, and while it was a critical success, it was banned in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of 1968.

The Homecoming

Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming,
written in 1965, was the playwright’s third full-length drama. The
story involves a London working-class family whose eldest son has lived
in the United States for several years where he is a professor of
philosophy at a university. He returns, along with his wife Ruth, to his
father’s home, but when he later goes back to the United States, she
refuses to accompany him. Instead, she plans to stay behind and care for
her husband’s father, uncle, and brothers, and to earn her living as a
prostitute. The play features several absurdist elements but is also
characterized by violence, both emotional and physical, between the
family members. The Homecoming has generated a great deal of
controversy because of the shocking nature of the plot. Critical debate
has usually centered on the possible motivation for Ruth’s bizarre
decision. The Homecoming was revived on Broadway in 1991.

The Maids

In Jean Genet’s second play, The Maids
(1947), the writer for the first time explores a world outside the
prison, a setting he used in all of his earlier works. The characters
are Claire and Solange, maids to an elegant lady who mistreats them.
They take turns playacting the roles of mistress and servant whenever
the real mistress is away. Fearful that their plot to have their
mistress’s lover imprisoned is about to be discovered, they determine to
poison the lady, but she leaves before they carry out their plan. The
two maids lapse into their usual role-playing, and Claire, assuming the
part of the mistress, takes the poison and dies in her place. The world
represented in the play has been likened to a hall of mirrors, where
identities and perceptions are reflected back and forth between
characters switching roles between master and servant. Questions of
identity and impersonation were further complicated by Genet’s
insistence that all of the female parts be played by young men. The Maids was
commissioned and produced by Louis Jouvet in 1947, making it one of the
earliest dramas to be associated with the Theatre of the Absurd.

Ping-Pong

Critics consider Arthur Adamov’s Ping-Pong,
originally produced in French in 1955 and translated into English in
1959, the masterpiece of his early absurdist plays, with its emphasis on
futility. The play’s two characters are young students, Victor and
Arthur. Although they are initially studying medicine and art
respectively, they become obsessed with every aspect of pinball
machines, from the mechanics of their operation to the details of their
distribution and maintenance. Reality, including personal relationships,
is viewed through possible associations to pinball. At play’s end
Victor and Arthur appear as old men, close to death, who have wasted
their entire lives on their obsession. Although Adamov typically refused
to assign a temporal or spatial setting to his early plays, he was more
or less forced to do so by the subject matter in this work. Choosing a
contemporary pastime such as pinball as the centerpiece of the drama
necessarily called for a contemporary urban setting. Critics praised Ping-Pong,
but Adamov himself ultimately rejected it, along with his other
absurdist plays. Towards the end of his career, he began writing realist
dramas concerned with social and political issues.


The Zoo Story

Edward Albee wrote his first drama The Zoo Story (1959),
in three weeks. Uncluttered, even sparse, the play features two
characters, working- class Jerry and middle-class Peter, who meet in
Central Park. Jerry pours out his life story to Peter, and it is a life
characterized by loneliness, alienation, and failure. Peter refuses to
connect with Jerry and does not want to hear any more of his tale.
Provoking Peter into a fight, Jerry kills himself on a knife he gave to
Peter, thus involving him, despite his objections, in another’s death if
not in his life. Albee employs the diction of small children in The Zoo Story,
a device he used in many of his later plays. The one-act play won an
Obie Award in 1960 and established its author as a promising American
playwright.





موسوعة الادب الانجليزي Absurdism in the English Literature Ouuuso11



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الإثنين أكتوبر 08, 2012 10:06 pm

It is a highly effective topic

thanks


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