Sam Shepherd’s Chicago: The Drama of Absurd
The term “absurd” is no stranger to the contemporary man. It seems as if for the last seventy years since the beginning of its popularization we haven’t moved away from the same existential philosophy it stems from. Therefore, it could be said that the notion of absurdity is a prevailing element of postmodern art and of postmodern way of thinking in general. Ever since the term “absurd” was used by Alber Camus in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”, it attracted a lot of attention (“Absurdism”). Camus was one among the many intellectuals and artists who were, by the end of the Second World War, reciprocally disappointed at the state in which the terrors of war had left humanity. This overwhelming feeling of despair had been appropriately compared by Camus to the Sisyphus’s condemnation and the whole existence of the contemporary humanity to the act of repeatedly pushing the boulder just to watch it fall down the hill again and again. As we will be mainly interested in the appearance of the absurd in drama, it should be emphasized that the topic of absurdity, so closely related to the terms postmodern, avant-garde and experimental, has been overtly present in all other artistic media, genres and fields of activities, as well, all of which have tried to express the newly formulated idea of the modern world. And the drama of absurd, alike, could not be said to represent a unified movement but rather a “a complex pattern of similarities in approach, method, and convention, of shared philosophical and artistic premises, whether conscious or subconscious, and of influences from a common store of tradition”; helpful as it is, for the literary analysis, “it is not a binding classification; it is certainly not all-embracing or exclusive”(Esslin). Exactly what was understood by the idea of absurd, specifically in relation to the theatre, is best illustrated in Martin Esslin’s Introduction to ‘’Absurd drama’’. The theatre of absurd implies a wholly different approach from the drama in classical terms. As deduced from Esslin’s “manifesto” and the theory of literature in general, the innovations could be classified under the few roughly divided basic domains: the structure of the plot, characterization, use of language, use of unrealistic images such as dreams or nightmares, the lack of a final resolution and ultimately, the intended effect. First of all, one of the most distinctive features is that, instead of the typical respect of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and the resolution, which determine the traditional linear storyline, an absurd drama is almost always of a circular, more chaotic form. From Esslin’s point of view “these plays often start at an arbitrary point and seem to end just as arbitrarily”. As far as the use of unrealistic images is concerned, this is mainly aimed at the appearance of dreamlike scenes or dreams which is very often the case; these mostly function as symbolic interludes, also called guignols (Esslin). These insertions in the plot add to the experimental structure of the plays and awaken the sense of the surrealistic. Another distinguished element of absurd drama is, as already mentioned, the lack of a final resolution. In addition to the incoherent plotline, the audience is also deprived of any sort of coherent conclusion to the play. As a matter of fact, the author of an absurdist piece of work is, just like S. Becket in the renowned Waiting for Godot, inclined to deprive the audience of the satisfaction normally gained through the proposed solution to the problem raised (Martin Esslin). As the author is neither interested in telling a story nor in providing us with the meaningful resolution, the final perplexity we are confronted with is formulated in the question Esslin himself puts forward: “Why should the emphasis in drama have shifted away from traditional forms towards images which, complex and suggestive as they may...
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