Guide to Literary Terms Complete Index

(the) Absurd

(the) Absurd - an avant-garde style in which structure, plot, and characterization are disregarded or garbled in order to stress the lack of logic in nature and man’s isolation in a universe which has no meaning or value.

The term is derived from the Latin absurdus, formed from ab and surdus, meaning “deaf” and “stupid”. Albert Camus used the word in discussing his concept of existentialism, the philosophy that the individual is responsible for whatever decisions (s)he makes according to the doctrine of free will, but that (s)he makes those decisions without knowing what is right or wrong, as demonstrated in his novel, The Stranger. In this novel, the protagonist, Meursault, commits a murder without seeming to realize either the seriousness or the consequences of such an act; there was neither an evaluation of the act before it was committed nor remorse for having done “wrong” after the fact. Living this way was considered absurd or senseless, illogical, and contrary to common sense.

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is an example of an absurdist short story, in which a man wakes one day having been mysteriously transformed into an insect. The term is usually used to indicate the Theater of the Absurd, a phrase invented by Martin Esslin in 1961 to refer to the plays of such 1950s dramatists as Eugéne Ionesco, Edward Albee, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter, and Samuel Beckett.