Absurdist fiction is a genre that came to prominence in the 1950s and 60s. The genre took hold after the Second World War and the period of disillusionment with government and societal norms that followed. The philosophy of absurdism comes out of nihilism, and the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. Even more integral to the genre than Nietzsche is Søren Kierkegaard. He is remembered as the “father of existentialism” and is often cited as one of the primary influences on Kafka and the study of the Absurd.
Ideology of Absurdism
The word “absurdism” refers to the conflict between the human need to find value or meaning in life and the inability to find any. The chaotic and unstable universe lacks any of the value the seeker is trying to find. These two exist side by side, the need to meaning and the lack of meaning, leading to the rise of the Absurd.
Philosophers such as Albert Camus explored Absurdism. He came to the conclusion that human beings should “embrace” the absurd conditions of human existence. Kierkegaard understood the Absurd well and chose to address it by creating his own philosophy of life.
Kierkegaard and Camus describe how there are only three ways of resolving the conflict between the search for meaning and the lack of meaning in the world. These are suicide, religion, and accepting the absurd in life and living on in spite of it.
The Metamorphosis and Absurdism
Absurdist fiction is often irrational in some fundamental way, stories and novels contain strange juxtaposition, plot twists, and sometimes intentional humor. These novels sometimes lack a traditional plot structure and many of the elements that go along with it such as character development and conflict. The “normal” elements of life often fade into the background and a reader is left with a new, absurd normal. This is certainly the case with the story of Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis.
Kafka is generally recognized as the leader of the absurd movement. Not just for The Metamorphosis but also for The Trial, “In the Penal Colony,” and “The Hunger Artist”. Kafka brings together the surreal and the mundane, often not drawing a distinction between their treatment, to create memorable and challenging nightmarescapes. This style of writing is now referred to as “Kafkaesque”.
Other Absurdist Fiction and Writers
Alongside Kafka as a leader of the absurd movement is Albert Camus. The French writer’s best known work, L’Etranger or The Stranger is also cited as a great example of the strange worlds absurdist fiction creates. The novel was published in 1942. His essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” is also quite important to the genre. Other writers who have made contributions to the genre include Samuel Beckett who wrote Waiting for Godot and The Unnamable, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, and Jean-Paul Sartre.