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IDSEMUG 2068 - The Absurd

In The Myth of Sisyphus , Albert Camus writes, “A world that can be explained by reasoning, however faulty, is a familiar world. But in a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusions and of light, [a person] feels a stranger.” This severing between human and life, between “the actor and the setting,” is, for Camus, what constitutes the absurd. This seminar will explore absurdism as both philosophy and literary movement. In so doing, we will examine the use of absurdism as aresponse to various material and psychological phenomena: crises of faith, loss of a loved one, war, alienation, boredom, trauma, and fascism. Instead of reading forward (or backwards) in time, the course will perform an absurdist act by reading around chronology. We start with the Pulitzer-prize winning American dramatist, Suzan Lori-Parks’ The America Play (1995), which we follow with Soren Kierkegaard’s crisis of faith in Fear and Trembling (1843). Zhuangzi’s writing on the slippery concept of the Dao (4thncentury B.C.) will then be juxtaposed against critiques of fascism in Sony Labou Tansi’s Parentheses of Blood (1981) and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896). We then jump back to Aristophanes’ The Birds (414 B.C.) and then forward to Camus’ seminal text, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and Ama Ata Aidoo’s critique of race and gender in Our Sister Killjoy (1977). Samuel Beckett’s post-war Waiting for Godot (1953) will be followed by the Nobel Prizewinner, Gao Xingjian’s The Bus Stop (1983), Zakes Mda’s Dead End (1990) on apartheid’sracial madness, and finally, Raymond Queneau’s perspective-bending Exercises in Style (1947). Through these readings, the course will ask: Can an absurdist believe in God? What is the difference between existentialism and absurdism? Why is drama so important to the absurd? Is the absurd (a)political? Is it (a)historical? How does language relate to the absurd? How does race? And finally, why is the absurd seemingly critical to the so-called “modern” condition?. Class Notes: FULFILLS GALLATIN DEGREE REQUIREMENT: HUMANITIES.
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