Is Absurdism a part of, or response to Modernism? The style, mainly embraced by those in the Avant-Garde camp, and decidedly a major moment in theatre shares much in common with Nihilism and also criticizes ‘idealistic’ sentiments in the same vein as the spearheading Modernist authors and poets. But, in its very nature, Absurdism is a slippery thing.
By the 50s, not long before the counterculture explosion of the 60s, Modernism was assuming a different shape. While literary Modernism had historically been a very loose and hard to define movement (some prefer to call it a period), it had, in retrospect, been defined by the correspondence and conversation between a number of prominent figures. The Modernist approach was centralized within certain literary circles or came about from collaboration in sub-movements, like Imagism, Surrealism, or Impressionism.
While notable writers such as Franz Kafka may have explored Absurdity in their fiction, the style gained traction with playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Luigi Pirandello, and Harold Pinter. These writers were preceded by The Theatre of the Absurd in France during the 1940s and visionary practitioner Antonin Artaud.
The style became defined by fragmentary dialogue, subversion, esoteric structure, and lack of resolution. The best summation of the movement’s philosophy comes from Albert Camus, who coined the term in his book The Myth of Sisyphus: Sisyphus endlessly pushes his rock up the mountain only for it to roll back down each time he gets to the top.
Unlike Nihilism, it’s not about the admittance of meaninglessness, but the repetitive and bizarre struggle to look for it when there is none.
Even today, Absurdity seems to be an appropriate mode to address the chaos of the world. After all, did we ever stop pondering meaninglessness?