Thursday, 24 October 2013

That's Absurd!

As promised, here are the notes from my presentation on the Theatre of the Absurd.

 “What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple? Or by affirmations and negations invalidated as uttered, or sooner or later? Generally speaking. There must be other shifts. Otherwise it would be quite hopeless. But it is quite hopeless. I should mention before going any further, any further on, that I say aporia[1] without knowing what it means.”
-          The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
·         What is the Absurd?
Absurd = “out of harmony” (Hinchliffe, 1)

Wikipedia says: “Absurdist fiction is a genre of literature, most often employed in novels, plays or poems, that focuses on the experiences of characters in a situation where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events. Common elements in absurdist fiction include satire, dark humour, incongruity, the abasement of reason, and controversy regarding the philosophical condition of being "nothing."Works of absurdist fiction often explore agnostic or nihilistic topics.”

“[T]he Theatre of the Absurd strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought” (Esslin, 24).

-          Against usual rules: no linear sense of plot, no beginning-middle-end, vague characters, babblings as opposed to wit (Hinchliffe, 9-10)
-          Inner landscape – fluid environments, language as only “defense against the chaos of living experience” (Irving Wadle)
-          Banal language instead of poetic
-          Satirical: criticizing petty/ dishonest society
-          No history/ social context – left only with basic questions of existence
-          Alienation
-          Critical attitude must be taken on by audience – making sense out of non-sense
-          Zen Buddism connection – nothingness at the base of existence
-          Promethean – purposeless existence
-          Man is free and so must bear responsibility (Hinchliffe, 57)
-          Woven images to impress static situation – explore ONE MOMENT (Esslin, 404)
-          Complex perspectives broken down and placed in linear order to create illusion of time (Esslin, 405)
-          language as contradiction
-          combines laughter with horror (Esslin, 411)
-          circular structure – not what happens next that creates suspense, but what is happening? (Esslin, 416)
-          Tragicomedy/ Anti-play
-           “Absurd drama, whatever its form or method of staging, is usually very funny and very terrifying” (Hinchliffe, 60)
-          free from logic – spontaneous kindness/ destructiveness

·         How did it develop? Who influenced its development?
-          “Theatre is always more than mere language” (Esslin, 329)
-          Antiquity: mimus – character types in spontaneous clowning (Esslin, 330)
-          Shakespeare: clowns, fools, ruffians – free association, poetry of feigned madness – sense of futility of human condition
-          Nonsense Literature: Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear – liberation through nonsense: Freud – a freedom for Carroll in losing one’s name.
-          Ring Larder: “[Mama enters from an exclusive waffle parlour. She exits as if she had had waffles.]”
-          Satirical and destructive use of cliché – Flaubert’s  Dictionnaire des Idees Recues – ex: “Money – the root of all evil…Jansenism – one does not know what it is, but it is very chic to talk about it” (Esslin, 348)
-          Literature of dreams – Divine Comedy (Dante), Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – August Strindburg: A Dream Play, The Ghost Sonata (1907) – dreams and obsession – grim hopelessness and despair
-          Joyce, Dostoevsky – subconscious
-          Kafka – anxious “lost in a world of convention and routine” (Esslin, 354) – guilt, loss of contact with reality - arbitrary, irrational universe (Esslin, 356)
-          Music hall comedy
-          Silent film comedy – dream/ nightmare like strangeness – constant purposeless movement/ action (Esslin, 335)
-          Dadaist – destruction of conventional/ bourgeois art
-          German Expressionist – too idealistic, politically conscious for Absurd –projection of inner reality (Esslin, 370)
-          Surrealism – healing through subconscious
-          Zarathustra: Nietzsche – “God is dead” – increase in number of people who believe that (Esslin, 399)
-          Two world wars

·         Who was involved in the Theatre of the Absurd?
Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, (early Bertolt Brecht)
Ionesco: The Bald Soprano (1950) -anti-theatre – communication between human beings is impossible (Esslin, 128)
Brecht – early: rejection of character motivation – music hall techniques – negative and absurd universe run by imbecile gods (Esslin, 378)
Samuel Beckett:
-          Wrote Molloy trilogy 1946-1950
-          Stabbed in the street, man who did it said he didn’t know why he had done it – disconnection from meaning of action.
-          Waiting for Godot (1953)
-  (11:55-13:25)
-          Static situation
-          Constant state of deadness
-          Question of self
-          Beckett – nothing to express but at the same time an obligation to express (Hinchliffe, 67)
-          Circular reasoning, circular plot, return to same images, same questions
-          Compassion for characters looking for meaning in a meaningless world (Hinchliffe, 72)
-          Physical humour
-          Two thieves – one was saved, one was damned

-          The Room (1957) – rambling irrelevancy of every day speech
-          Omission of motivation/ explination – “Well-made play” not realistic – we are always interacting with people who’s history, motivations, psychology we don’t know (Esslin, 242)
-          Reoccurring theme – people in a room – what’s going to happen to them?
-          Suspense, scared of the outside
-          Mystification
-          Fusing tragedy with farce
-          The Birthday Party – “everything is uncertain and relative. There is no fixed point; we are surrounded by the unknown” (Esslin, 242).
-          Deliberate failure of language
-          The Room
-          The Birthday Party
-          Evasion of communication – frightening, rather engage in small talk (244)

·         The Existential Search
How to confront world devoid of purpose?
Kind of religious search – way out of trite, mundane existence (Esslin, 400)
Social criticism of inauthentic society
 “No pretense of explaining the ways of God to man” - no didactic purpose (Esslin, 402)
Impossible to know why there is existence, no system can explain – ineffable – Zen Buddism, mystic Christianity (soul cannot comprehend God) (Esslin, 426)
Not despair – modern struggle to come to terms with meaningless world – sober acceptance of reality, not drugging it out

·         Beyond the Absurd
Tom Stoppard – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – huge debt to Beckett

“Waiting For Godot.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 23 Sept 2013.
Beckett, Samuel. “The Unnamable”. Three Novels by Samuel Beckett. Grove Press, New York: 1955.        Print.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Methuen, London: 2001. Print.
Hinchliffe, Arnold P. The Absurd. The Critical Idiom. Ed. John D. Jump. Methuen & Co. Ltd, London: 1969.
“Absurdist Fiction”. Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 2013. Web. 23 Sept 2013.

***Check out Tom Stoppard's radio drama DARK SIDE for a recent example of Absurdist existentialism (also very well written!)*** 

[1] “A perplexing difficulty” (OED); see also David Lodge’s article on page 219 in The Art of Fiction

Friday, 11 October 2013

grocery list

All you people who worry that I'm not eating properly, look what I picked up at the store today!

*1 jar of organic peanut butter
*1 loaf of whole wheat bread
*1 container of organic honey
*1 carton of brown eggs
*1 box of almond granola bars
*1 can of condensed vegetable soup
*1 container of margarine made with olive oil
*1 can of tuna
*1 small block of orange cheddar
*1 tetra pack of almond milk

I had a grilled cheese sandwich and tea for dinner, which was the best. And if you're worried now because I don't have any fresh vegetables or fruit on that list, I am going to the farmer's market tomorrow. Okay? Okay mom?

Though...I am still lacking cookies.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

NaNoWriMo Planning

Less than a month until National Novel Writing Month begins! I'm determined to hit 50 000 this year, and so have started planning plot, theme, etc! If you haven't heard of NaNoWriMo before, it's a great event where thousands of crazy writers across the world write a novel in a month. Here's the website if you'd like to join us: It's free, it's fun, and it sure gets the creative juices flowing! I find it helpful: during November I have to be really intentional about sitting down every day to write something; even if it isn't very good, at least it's a start, something I can go back and revise later.

So, here's what I have so far: the preliminary development of my idea and a step-by-step plan to take me to November 1st!

Cyborg Theory
by Brittni Ann Carey
NaNoWriMo 2013

During our first GA meeting with Dr. P, L. shared with us the matter of a panel at a conference he had attended in London; the panel was concerned with cyborg theory (at least, that's what I call it in my head). Or, in plain terms, in this society of ours where medicine is becoming increasingly technological and invasive into the human body, replacing joints, valves, bones with artificial substitutes, pacemakers, and plates, how do we define what it means to be a human being, or a cyborg for that matter? If you have dentures instead of teeth, does that make you one percent less human? Even wearing glasses renders part of you “artificially dependent”.

This struck me as terribly fascinating. How do we define ourselves as human beings in the 21st century. Materially? Ethically? Is the idea of a personal soul even a factor in what shapes our behavior and thought and morality?

So, I thought I’d write a story involving the development of this idea in medicine and how it could affect how we view ourselves and technology.

Step One: ask L. who the presenter was and look them up.
Step Two: research using the library database, internet
Step Three: Talk to people about the idea.
Step Four: sketch out a basic plot and character list
Step Five: arrange a writing time with C. and other NaNoers
Step Six: Stock up on caffeinated tea

Step Seven: Write a novel in a month!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

skaz in literature (with a story of Syd and Sally)

A Clockwork Orange. The Catcher in the Rye. Huckleberry Finn. Their Eyes Were Watching God. "West Side Story". "ER". That blog post by a teenager with horrible grammar and slang everywhere. What do all of these have in common?

Skaz, ladies and gents. That is, the use of spontaneous language that mirrors speech. Written from a first person perspective, where the narrator is a character as well, revealed through his/ her use of language. Or, in the case of cop shows, law dramas, or the turtle from Finding Nemo ("Duuuude"), the ornamental use of what I like to call "shop talk". Gives a film, book, theatrical work, whichever, an authentic sense of place, social dynamic, and character.

Personally, I'm a big fan of this method. Skaz can be used to create dissonance between the world we are used to and the environment of a particular story. Something I'm learning about writing all the time is that it is better by far to be specific. Don't say Sally is a twelve year old in love with a pop star, say that she has a poster of Jusitn Bieber on the back of her bedroom door that's held up with four generous strips of masking tape. And then cringe a little. Poor Sally, she should know that there are better kinds of music in the world. Don't just say it's a nice day out, say there's sunny blue and a breeze. Sally blows Bieber (ugh) a kiss on her way out the door, and leashes up the family dog, Maximillan, for a pleasent afternoon walk. Hey, there's that weird punk kid on skateboard. "Sup Sally?" "Oh, not too much, Syd, how are you?" "Hey, I downloaded this sick song on iTunes last night, you should check it out." "Okay, thanks Sid." Sally doesn't even realize that this song is going to change her life. Syd slides off, rumbling along the sidewalk like a train off its tracks. After the walk and feeding Maximillan a dish full of dry kibble and bits, Sally sits at the family computer, a clunky white PC from the early 2000s, and looks up the song on YouTube. As the song rushes over her, her world is changed. No longer is she in love with Justin Bieber (sorry, Justin, I'm really too mean to you), nor has she fallen in love with George Fredric Handel whose sweet Water Music is at the moment totally changing her world: she is fully and unremittingly in like with Syd.

See what I did there? We have Syd's teenage "skaz" to contrast Sally's conventional middle-class speak, but also, the narrative voice has a particular style and flavor, yes? This could be considered meta-fiction, as the author is interjecting into the story, but if I did end up making my "skaz" persona into a character, it would become a first-person narrative, using colloquial language with a feel of spontaneity and impression of natural speech-patterns. Even this blog post as a whole could be considered "skaz"!

Enjoy this tune of classic gang-speak. Next week: the Absurd!