This book offers a comprehensive account of the absurd in prose fiction. As well as providing a basis for courses on absurdist literature (whether in fiction or in drama), it offers a broadly based philosophical background. Sections covering theoretical approaches and an overview of the historical literary antecedents to the ‘modern’ absurd introduce the largely twentieth-century core chapters. In addition to discussing a variety of literary movements (from Surrealism to the Russian OBERIU), the book offers detailed case studies of four prominent exponents of the absurd: Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Daniil Kharms and Flann O'Brien. There is also wide discussion of other English-language and European contributors to the phenomenon of the absurd.
This book takes four stories by the Russian Romantic author Vladimir Odoevsky to illustrate ‘pathways’, developed further by subsequent writers, into modern fiction. Featured here are: the artistic (musical story), the rise of science fiction, psychic aspects of the detective story and of confession in the novel. The four chapters also examine the development of the featured categories by a wide range of subsequent writers in fiction ranging from the Romantic period up to the present century. The study works backwards from Odoevsky's stories, noting respective previous examples or traditions, before proceeding to follow the ‘pathways’ observed into later Russian, English and comparative fiction.
This chapter introduces the concept of the absurd, which is frequently used in literature and is defined as something applied to the modern sense of human purposelessness in a universe with no meaning or value. It studies the connections the absurd has to nihilism, existentialism and ontology, and then takes a look at ‘negative theology’, which is relevant to practitioners of the absurd. From there, the discussion considers the problems related to the perception of inherent absurdity and the deconstruction of a philosophical system into nonsense, contradiction and absurdity. The chapter also considers the concept of the socio-linguistic absurd, as well as the nature of jokes and humour.
This chapter focuses on the antecedents to the absurd. It first traces the antecedents of the absurd to the older stages of Greek theatre, and reveals that the absurd can be found in Greek tragedy, which returned to the European consciousness during the Italian Renaissance. The chapter then studies absurdity as seen in medieval drama, which featured a dramatised allegory of morality, and the works of Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift. It describes Sterne's work as ‘nonsense prose’ and reveals that Swift's ‘gloomy world’ in prose and poetry came from medieval forebears, and even had an affinity with the danse macabre tradition. The final part of the chapter examines the adoption of the ‘Romantic grotesque’ and pre-Surrealist nonsense by several popular authors, including Charles Dickens, Lewis Caroll, Nikolai Gogol and Ugo Foscolo.
This chapter explores the absurdist tendencies in twentieth-century literature, noting that prose fiction had its own proto-absurdist moments, which can be seen in the works of Peter Conrad and Henry James. It then examines avant-garde theory and some related concepts, including futurism and surrealism, concluding with a discussion on the move towards ‘absurdism’.
This chapter discusses absurdist practice during the twentieth century, examining absurdism in the works of some writers, namely Fernando Pessoa, Antonin Artaud and Camus. It notes that these writers can be regarded as absurdists, and that they sometimes embrace absurdist qualities. The chapter also clarifies that the use of the word ‘absurd’ does not guarantee that a work is to be considered – with justification – as fully or solely belonging to the ‘literature of the absurd’.
This chapter studies the concept of the Theatre of the Absurd, which is based on the precepts of Antonin Artaud, and goes on to describe Artaud as the bridge between the present Theatre of the Absurd and the pioneers of the concept. It then identifies the five major dramatists of the absurd: Arthur Adamov, Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet. The chapter focuses on the works of these dramatists – except for Beckett – and views the Theatre of the Absurd in (Soviet) Russia and in east Europe (during the Cold War).
This chapter discusses Daniil Kharms – Daniil Ivanovich Iuvachev in real life – a writer who was only able to gain limited local renown as an avant-garde eccentrist from Leningrad and a children's writer of the 1920s and the 1930s. However, he is also considered as the main example of a certain ‘Russian brand of absurdity’. The chapter shows the changes that occurred in Kharms's works, and shows that the boundaries between genres and the differences between fragment and whole are fluid in his works. It then looks at Kharms's use of the poetics of extremism, which he constantly adopted at various levels, and humour theory, which is considered as an essential approach to his work. The chapter also considers Kharms's writing, which can be closely connected to writers during and after his period.
This chapter explores Franz Kafka, who has been universally considered as a staple of absurdism. It observes that there are a number of absurdists, proto-absurdists and supposed absurdists who seem to have been at the head of the anticipation, promotion and reinvigoration of the spirit of Kafka. The chapter then studies Kafka's relations with, and influence on, other writers, ending with a section on the concept of ‘bureaucratic fantastic’, as personified in Kafka's works. It notes that Kafka was an exponent not only of stories and novels, but also of fragments, diaries, aphorisms and letters.
This chapter explores several of Samuel Beckett's works, where one can find traces of the absurd. It first takes a look at traces of Kafka in Beckett's work, and then studies the prose fiction of Beckett's prewar period, a period that covers three works: Dream of Fair to Middling Women, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy. This is followed by a discussion of Beckett's foray into drama, wherein Endgame and Waiting for Godot are examined. The chapter also explores the Kharmasian trace in Beckett, views Watt as the epitome of Beckettian absurdism and considers the nature of the absurd in terms of Beckett.