What is the difference between Absurdist Fiction and Absurd Realism?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Absurdist fiction is a genre where the action does not need to follow a sequential order, neither does the plot need to begin and end. The characters do not have to be concise, nor represent anything nor anyone. The theme in an absurdist fiction is mentioned, elaborated, but not sequentially worked. It is most commonly seen in theatre and poetry rather than plain narrative, but it is also found there.

If you see any theatrical piece of absurdity what you will find is maybe a character which starts saying something and may not end it, then the action quickly switching to another time and place, and maybe even other characters showing up and similarly disappearing throughout the action for no real reason. In other words, it is very similar to those Obsession commercials from back in the 80s.

Absurd realism is also an existentialist-based genre. It also abandons most rules of traditional storytelling in that the characters may use free dialogue, themes might not be fully explained, and there may or may not be a "lesson to be learned". The thing with this one is that sometimes there might be a realistic central theme, but all that occurs around it is quite, well, absurd.  The actions that take place are not as wild as with absurdist fiction, but also follow a trend of weirdness. An example of absurdist realism is said to be the story Catch 22.

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kc4u | Student

Absurdist fiction is a rather rare usage. Though the theory of 'Absurdism' was formulated by Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, it was theatre critic Martin Esslin who popularized the term in talking about the drama in 1960s as he applied it to playwrights like Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Genet and Albee. In fiction however, the novels of Kafka (The Trial and The Castle) and those of Camus (The Outsider, The Last Man, Happy Death) and Beckett (Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable) are considered to be absurdist in the sense that they depict a world beyond or beneath meaning, where meaning has been exhausted if not dead, due to its proliferation ad infinitum. Absurdist fiction shows man like the ever-trying ever-failing Sisyfian figure trying to make sense of his condition on earth and his relation to the world, which remains unfathomable.

Absurd Realism is not really a term in literary use that much. In writers like Pinter and Albee and also in Stoppard one sees a combination of absurdity and realism. Unlike Beckett, their theatre deconstructs realism from within, like the fiction of Borges, Cortazaar and Calvino. Even the magic-realists like Rushdie and Marquez make a combinatorial use of absurd fantasy and realism.