The Absurd

Th 3:00PM - 5:25PM / 126 Cathedral of Learning / CRN 31322

How does the Absurd reflect historical responses to cataclysmic world events? Can the Absurd be pleasant or even beautiful? How do absurd elements manifest themselves in  non-literary media, and to what ends and effects? In Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin arrgues that absurdist works of art suggest that life is inherently meaningless. In this interdisciplinary course, we will examine this assertion and others concerning the  intellectual movement of the Absurd, with particular attention to the Absurd of East Central Europe.  In addition to reading several classics (Nikolai Gogol's The Nose and Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, to name a few), we will read (and--if participants agree--also enact) works of the Theater of the Absurd (by Samuel Beckett and Slawomir Mrozek, for example).  To better understand these works,  we consider the artist's aesthetic convictions in the context of several important artistic movements (e.g., Surrealism, Dadaism, and the Avant-Garde).  In analyzing texts as well as paintings and musical compositions that defy expectations and traditions, our task will be to explore both interpretations of these often plot-less stories and to appreciate them for their idiosyncratic aesthetics.  How do we make sense of these blatantly unrealistic works, which bewilder and amuse us at the same time? In discussing each work, we will define the absurd and investigate various degrees and nuances of the term.

Number of Credits


Tony Lin

Course Term


Course Category

Category A: Text and Theory

Course Year