In most academic work the point of analysis is to make sense, to find meaning, to explain intricate or confusing phenomena, to provide clarity from complexity. What happens when we can’t do this, indeed, when the objects of our analytical attention seem willfully designed to thwart the attempt? Such is the challenge of “understanding” the traditions of the absurd. In this tutorial course, we will engage this challenge within the realm of Western theatre and performance from 1900 to the present. Beginning with selected readings from writers who have engaged the absurd in theoretical fashion (Albert Camus, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Esslin), the course will move swiftly to original artworks for contemplation and analysis. Some questions we will grapple with include: How do we, can we, should we respond to art that specifically defies meaning? Can art that seems pointless have a point? How and when have strategies of nonsense, circular reasoning, linguistic obfuscation, and intentional theatrical absence been employed to disguise, or deflect attention from, specific didactic (even political) agendas? What role specifically does theatre, theatricality, or performativity play in the presentation of art that refuses understanding? Playwrights will range from canonical (Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco) to more obscure but equally engaging (as well as baffling) artists (Peter Handke, Slavomir Mrocek, Richard Foreman). We will follow standard practice in tutorial pairs, as each week one student will prepare original analysis of the assigned reading, and the other will craft a response to prompt an hour-long discussion. Whether we “make sense,” or perhaps discover different ways of appreciating the varied works of art, will depend on the nature of those weekly attempts.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Requirements/Evaluation: Standard tutorial requirements; weekly paper or response paper from each member of the tutorial pair. Evaluation based on improvement in written expression and engaged contribution to weekly discussions.
Enrollment Preferences: Theatre, English, and Comparative Literature majors and prospective majors.
Distributions: Division I Writing Skills
WS Notes: This tutorial will demand writing from each student each week (either a primary paper or a shorter response paper), and each student will receive regular, extensive feedback including a focus on strategies for successful persuasive argumentation.