As a literature student, I have unfortunately had to spend substantial time looking at absurdism, that particular cultural movement that sprang out of the head of nihilism and existentialism like a demented Athena. Most people tend to blame Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus for this birth, but that is not entirely fair. Why should the massive stupidity of an entire philosophical class rest solely on the head of one man? That’s, well, absurd.
Regardless for who is at fault, however, the truth remains. Absurdism was a wrong turn on the philosophical map, but whether we like it or not, that wrong turn eventually got us to where we are. Yet I wonder: was it a necessary step, or just a scenic detour that wasted time and energy?
I propose that, while absurdism did influence metamodernism, it was not a large enough influence that we need waste time studying it. The existentialists were far more influential and slightly less pretentious. Let us look at two plays to illustrate this point. The first is No Exit by Sartre, and the second is Rhinoceros by Ionesco.
No Exit is indicative of the existentialist movement in literature. It addresses some of the Great Questions (Why are we here? What happens when we die?). The characters are perfectly matched to torture each other and expose the souls within. There is depth and a haunting sense that we are watching our own selves tearing apart the rest of humanity. By the end, we truly believe that “Hell is other people.”
While No Exit utilizes imagery to stir up its audience, Rhinoceros seems to use imagery for the sake of using imagery. As a poet, I have little objection to this. But when the image becomes more important than what it is trying to convey, there is a problem. We are not at home in this play. There is nothing human about the characters, even before they become ungulates. No one really takes the time to ask why things are happening. They just conform to the shape-shifter trend, leaving one character alone untouched by the fad.
Both sets of characters are faced with a fate they cannot escape from, which is bigger than them and incomprehensible. Yet, the prisoners of No Exit, when faced with their fate, decide to retain their humanity and simply “get on with it.” The characters in Rhinoceros simply give up, even after the last man alive swears he will not. Secretly, even he wants to be transformed, and the only reason why he holds out is because he is not able to.
Because of this, I believe that absurdism should not be reflected upon at length because it is not only a waste of time but is far too focused on man’s failures. While existentialism is similar (and I will confess that I am not a fan of either movement), it still illustrates man’s ability to fight his fate, even if he fails in the end.