The A to Z of -isms… Absurdism… Most philosophical
-isms are attempts to make sense of the world. Who are we? Why are we? What’s the point?
And so on. But one -ism wastes no time on this topic at all. It’s called absurdism.
In answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” Absurdism says, there isn’t any.
No meaning. No point. No worries. Life is pointless. Existence is meaningless, and look
how many peas I have in this pan. Absurdism was pioneered by the Danish philosopher, Søren
Kierkegaard, who said that, “As the reality of God is beyond human comprehension, it is
absurd for humans to have faith in God.” In the 20th Century, absurdists removed the concept
of God entirely from the equation, choosing to make meaning and meaninglessness an entirely
human issue. Albert Camus believed that, as life is meaningless, we can have one of two
responses. We can end it all or we can find our own meaning. It doesn’t matter. You can,
as one of his characters does, spend your life transferring peas from one pan to another.
Or you can jump off a bridge. It’s all the same thing. Life is absurd, say the absurdists.
There is no God, so there is no point. But they go on to say, “that’s fine”. Absurdism
is an -ism whose influence has been strong in the arts. The idea that nothing has meaning
is a liberating one, particularly in areas like literature and drama which have traditionally
been all about the search for meaning. Most notably, absurdism spawned the Theatre of
the Absurd, probably the only theatrical movement inspired by philosophy. The Theatre of the
Absurd gave us the French writer, Eugène Ionesco, whose play Rhinoceros was about the
dangers of conformity and featured a lot of rhinoceroses. The Irish genius, Samuel Beckett,whose
work is less rhinoceros-based, and the British writer, NF Simpson,who wasn’t really an absurdist
at all but is very, very funny indeed, especially in his absurd masterpiece A Resounding Tinkle.
Beckett, by the way, could also be very serious and, as for Ionesco, the critic, Kenneth Tynan,
famously once said, “Once you have seen all of Ionesco’s plays, you have seen one of them.”
Which is absurd, but true. Just like absurdism. Absurdism suits comedy in fact because the
best comedy is essentially absurdist – and perhaps this is why absurdism will never really