Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcome folks: step right in, the Theatre of the Absurd is in progress

“The Theatre of the Absurd” is a term first used by the literary critic Martin Esslin for the work of a number of playwrights, mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s. The term is derived from an essay by the French philosopher Albert Camus. In his 'Myth of Sisyphus', written in 1942, he first defined the human situation as basically meaningless and absurd.

What we are witnessing in politics these days, is a politic Theatre of the Absurd, and the center stage is in Washington DC as both parties take the country to the brink of financial disaster.

The origins of the Theatre of the Absurd are rooted in the avant-garde experiments in art of the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, it was undoubtedly strongly influenced by the traumatic experience of the horrors of the Second World War, which showed the total impermanence of any values, shook the validity of any conventions and highlighted the precariousness of human life and its fundamental meaninglessness and arbitrariness.

Our current Theatre of the Absurd has proved traumatic for hundreds of thousands military personnel who have come home from warrantless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The fundamental flaws in their missions came from arbitrary politics.   

As a result, absurd plays assumed a highly unusual, innovative form, directly aiming to startle the viewer, shaking him out of this comfortable, conventional life of everyday concerns. The Theatre of the Absurd openly rebelled against conventional theatre. Indeed, it was anti-theatre. It was surreal, illogical, with no conflicts or plots. The dialogue seemed total gobbledygook.

In the 21st century version of the Theatre of the Absurd our polarized politicians seek to scare the public into accepting their surreal and illogical arguments. Bits and pieces of the Constitution are thrown around like alms for the poor, but little seems to apply to today’s reality. 

One of the most important aspects of absurd drama was its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language had become a vehicle of conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Absurd drama uses conventionalized speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down.

The way our government functions (?) politicians speak in cliches, spout slogans, and spew technical tidbits to the public about arcane laws few are interested in. All talk no substance. Our political system a parody of a democracy. A country in decline. 

In the realm of traditional verbal nonsense we have: François Rabelais, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Many serious poets occasionally wrote nonsense poetry (Johnson, Charles Lamb, Keats, Hugo, Byron, Thomas Hood).

In the world we live in, all the verbal nonsense that comes from our politicians could fill encyclopedias and instructional manuals on the absurd. The players are all clowns. The current act: GOP presidential hopefuls are preparing for a beauty contest in Iowa where verbal nonsense is a must!

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