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Introducing Absurd Literature: Defining without Reducing
February 3, 2014 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Michael Y. Bennett
UW System Fellow (2013-2014)
There is the common notion that while someone may not be able to define absurd literature, one clearly knows absurd literature when one reads it. It is this very issue that this book attempts to address. The main difficulty is, is it possible to discuss the absurd without re-inscribing the “absurd” as a reductive category? In my project, I focus not on the themes or meaning of the texts, but rather on the techniques and structural similarities that absurd literature has in common: it is in this way that it is possible to group these disparate writers together without having to impose a straightjacket on what these texts mean or are saying to the reader/audience member. And this, importantly, allows each writer and each play under consideration to simultaneously exist on their own, while still being able to understand the context that there was some organic alignment among a number of writers writing around the 1950s through 1970s. The common threads I identify among absurdist writers are 1) experimentation with language (generally, working against “realistic” language) 2) tragicomedy is the genre of choice, 3) setting the literary work in “strange” (i.e., Kafkaesque, surreal, and ridiculous) situations, and 4) frequently, though not always, experimentation with non-Aristotelian plot lines.
Michael Y. Bennett is an IRH UW System Fellow and an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he teaches courses on modern drama. He is the author of Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd(2011); Words, Space, and the Audience (2012); and Narrating the Past through Theatre (2012); he is also the editor of Refiguring Oscar Wilde’s Salome (2011) and the co-editor of Eugene O’Neill’s One-Act Plays: New Critical Perspectives(2012). Currently, he is under contract to write The Cambridge Introduction to the Absurd.