Absurdist Fiction

Genre Spotlight 3: Absurdist

Absurdist fiction takes place in reality but exaggerates the incomprehensibility that reality often displays. It explores the human struggle to find meaning and purpose in a universe that often feels chaotic, illogical, and devoid of inherent order. It avoids offering its readers direct answers to dilemmas and instead forces one to confront the unsettling questions of life, and perhaps even embrace one another in the shared absurdity of our existence.

Characteristics

Absurdist fiction is littered with dark humor and satire. The grievances of the observant are framed to expose the absurdity of human existence and question the established beliefs of an assumed perfect society. This is all done with a sense of schadenfreude, as though this bitter accounting of events is the only way to cope with the insanity.

Existentialism and nihilism are two accompanying themes in absurdist fiction. The search for meaning in a meaningless world is often depicted as a tragic one filled with anguish. Characters are made to feel alienated, disoriented, and incapable of finding resolute answers in these stories. Sometimes, the inherent lack of an answer at all is the best solace.

Illogical plots and characters make up the majority of an absurdist tale, as mundane yet disarming as people in real life can be. Characters find themselves in bizarre, illogical situations where traditional cause-and-effect reasoning fails.

Unconventional storytelling has been a common staple of absurdist fiction. Writers may use the framing of the book itself to tell a meta story. Or, they may discard traditional plot structures entirely, trading them for dreamlike sequences, unfathomable dialogue, and repetition to reflect the disjointed nature of reality. The method of storytelling is used as a tool for social commentary in itself.

Absurdist fiction is an explicitly and hopelessly human genre. It raises the void of existence and hurls it into the face of the reader, craving community in shared dread and anguish.

Origins and Influences

The seeds of absurdist fiction were sown from the disillusionment following World War 2, a period marked by the collapse of traditional values and the rise of existentialist and nihilist philosophies.

Absurdist fiction also drew heavily from the artistic movements of Dadaism and Surrealism, which embraced the illogical and unconventional.

This confluence of philosophical and artistic influences gave birth to a genre that continues to challenge and resonate with readers by reflecting the inherent absurdity of the human condition.

Notable Writings

The Metamorphosis, published in 1915 and written by Franz Kafka.

Waiting for Godot, published in 1952 and written by Samuel Beckett.The Stranger, published in 1942 and written by Albert Camus.

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cheshir
21 days ago

I often thought that Lewis Carol’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” were absurdist, but Google said it wasn’t due to the lack of anguish and nihilism. That seems to be the case.

Melancholy Ennui
Editor
21 days ago

This was a really hands on detailed breakdown. I enjoyed it.