New Perspectives on the Absurd (Roundtable)

Comparative Literature

Sara Sanchez-Zweig (Rutgers University)

For a time, the Absurd was one of the chief literary movements of the day. When Martin Esslin published The Theatre of the Absurd he would frame various emerging playwrights such as Ionesco, Beckett and Pinter under one label. Though they would reject the term, the notion of the Absurd stuck and would invite a flurry of criticism from the academic world. Interest in the Absurd, however, was like a match, burning with intensity before fizzling out just as suddenly. Why was this the case? Did new trends push the Absurd to the side? Were all of its possible avenues explored? Was the Absurd limited to its temporal context? Or perhaps it evolved into novel concepts such as post-humanism?

This roundtable will look to tackle these questions and more, inviting papers that examine the history of the Absurd, as well as its present and predictions for future developments. Submissions are encouraged to approach the topic in novel ways, such as Lavery and Finburgh’s Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd (2015) which considers the Absurd in light of ecology and environmental studies or Bennett’s Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd (2011), which attempts to reclassify the term. Other possible examples include approaching the Absurd through case study analysis (examining canonically Absurd texts in new lights or evaluating new texts - especially non-Western texts - through the Absurd lens), through interdisciplinary approaches to the Absurd (e.g. cultural studies, gender studies, etc.), or through analysis of the very essence of the Absurd (be it Esslin’s, Camus’, or other).

For the past two years NeMLA has hosted lively discussions on the Absurd and has been home to some of the latest debate on the subject. This roundtable seeks to continue that tradition, looking to centralize the study on the topic, delineate its contents and limitations, and reinvigorate it through new approaches so that we can begin to consider the Absurd, as it rightly deserves to be, as a literary field of its own.

This roundtable aims at exploring the literary potentiality of the Absurd, welcoming papers that delve into new approaches to the concept as well as its applications. What authors are Absurd? What theories intersect with it? What is the Absurd, really?