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+ Literature of the Absurd What does it mean and do we care?

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1 + Literature of the Absurd What does it mean and do we care?

2 + Essential Questions What caused the disillusionment of modern mankind? What factors have contributed to the loss of a common basis for universally accepted values? How does the literature of the absurd reflect modern life?

3 + Traditional Literature The premise basing most traditional or conventional literature is that life has meaning, a goal and order or structure. Originating from Aristotle’s Poetics where he laid down the guidelines for the order and structure of literature, traditional literature tends to reinforce this by being coherent, linear in structure and aiming for order and unity. Traditional criteria aims for close correlation between character and plot. The conflict, rising action, the complications and especially the denouement or resolution of the conflict must follow rational ground rules of cause and effect to retain credibility and plausibility. This causality particularly must be reflected in the consistency of the actions of the characters. It is imperative that the characters act consistently throughout and never act “out of character”. The beginning, middle and end lead to closure.

4 + Four Historical World Views Ptolemaic – Geocentric – hierarchical, stable, superstitious - order is a high priority. Copernican – Heliocentric / man no longer the center of the universe Newtonian – egalitarian – rational & empirical Einsteinian - Infinite universe – chaos theory, atoms now can be split. Nothing is certain.

5 + The Origin of Literature of the Absurd The Literature of the Absurd had its origins in the Theatre of the Absurd, notably following the first and second world wars. This absurdity (that which has no purpose, meaning goal or objective) is the result of disillusionment with the rationalism, which attempted to justify the exploitation of the working class and poor, the affluence of the rich, the wanton yet condoned destructiveness of two world wars, and the unquestioned belief in evolution and progress. No longer can we accept a unanimous consensus of moral and social order. The decline of religious faith, the destruction of the belief in automatic social and biological progress, the discovery of vast areas of irrational and unconscious forces within the human psyche, the loss of a sense of control over human development in an age of totalitarianism, and weapons of mass destruction and mass persuasion, have all eroded a sense of confidence in the future of the world.

6 + In reflecting the world they live in, dramatists no longer enjoy universally accepted dramatic conventions in which the action proceeds within a framework of fixed and self-evident set of accepted values. Faced with this vacuum many artists turned to nihilism, the Da-Da movement, or existentialism or felt the need to fit their work into the frame of values and dogma expressed in contemporary ideologies: Marxism, psychoanalysis, aestheticism, or nature worship.

7 + Literature of the Absurd The Literature of the absurd attempts to depict a grotesque caricature of our world; a world without faith, meaning, direction or freedom of will. Human life is more and more removed from natural; we are alienated from the earth and each other. As human behavior becomes more conditioned and psychologically manipulated and pre- determined by the conformity of the mass media, it is no longer governed by logic or the rational.

8 + The meaningless and fecklessness (loss of a sense of direction and purpose) of life is depicted as rambling often chaotic structure of the works. Nothing is sequential and nothing follows from that which went before. The arbitrariness of decision making is indicated in the capricious way the promotions system works in most bureaucracies, especially the army. There seems little rhyme or reason for many decisions that are made- they are whimsical and illogical. The Literature of the Absurd shows the world as an incomprehensible place. Distortions occur both in time and place that perplex us. Language fails to communicate and explain symptoms.

9 + Literature of Absurd portrays life in the twentieth century. If characters change half way through the act, or have identity crises, it suggests they don’t know who they are. If people appear to be marionettes, helpless puppets without any will of their own it is because of the irresistible seductive powers of mass advertising and subtle persuasive techniques of mass media campaigns. Passive, impotent and powerless to possess genuine initiative to decide our own destiny we are at the mercy of blind fate and meaningless circumstance in an over- organized world where Narcissism rules: We are subtly encouraged by movies, marketing, advertising and pop culture, which also permeate government and political rhetoric not to regard each other as “selves” deserving respect and trust but as objects for consumption.

10 + Greed is sexier than gratitude, competitiveness is better than cooperation. Power and money are what matter. Mostly we live in a heightened state of insatiability, wanting what we can’t have, forgetting and discarding what we already have Brittle fragile relationships are normal, with each person watching his back rather than the faces of the person he most wants to love and be loved by. Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love.

11 + The Modern Age Determinism was an important tenet of modern thought and is based in the concept that all effects have demonstrable causes. Any mysteries in life are only puzzles that have not been solved. There is no magic. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had been accepted by most scientists as factual thus human beings were merely the latest version of a type of animal. Sigmund Freud published his Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, and psychoanalysis became a popular and widely accepted method of explaining human thoughts an actions. Freud believed that one’s life was a predictable pattern set in motion by one’s parents. The human mind worked according to understandable influences and desires.

12 + Religion was on the decline because of the acceptance of scientifically based theories. The so-called Jazz Age was well underway in the 1920s where “speak-easies” had replaced local bars and liquor still flowed like water Gertrude Stein was a leader and mentor of the “Lost Generation”. This included Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and their peers. World War I or “The Great War” had taken the lives of one quarter of a generation of young Englishmen and millions of others. “Man’s inhumanity to man” was brutally displayed. Along with the uncertainty and questioning brought on by philosophical, political, and scientific changes cam a loser morality, and almost desperate need to live for the moment, the future being hazy and incomprehensible. Conventional relationships (marriage) and life itself were seen less and less as sacred or deeply meaningful.

13 + T. S. Eliot Born 1888; grandson of a Unitarian minister; studied at Oxford an became more attached to England than America Married an Englishwoman and became an English citizen Wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1915 and The Wasteland in 1922. Popularized the Modernist style of thinking and writing. Modernism embraced free verse and questioned accepted ideas and norms.

14 + “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” The poem is an interior monologue based on the traditional dramatic monologue, a solo speech that often puts into words the speaker’s inner turmoil.

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