Tag Archives: Martin Esslin

Absurdism in post-modern creative arts and thinking

Lobster image

Figure 1: Taken from The Lobster, (2016) a film directed by Yorgis Lanthimos

As part of my research for assignment 3 I have been keeping a personal diary but after flicking back through some of the entries I have started to recognise where much of my daily thoughts and frustrations arise from and are channelled and as such I have found myself resurrecting my interest into what Martin Esslin termed in his classic book, The Theatre of the Absurd, originally written in 1961.

Recent political and social issues and events have included the UK EU referendum and resultant chaotic development within main political parties, continual shootings in the USA, the refugee and migration crisis in Europe, continued unrest in the Middle-East, global terrorism, increased racial tensions in Europe and strained relationships between the West and Russia.

Out of a growing frustration into what seems to be happening in the world I started to read about absurdism which originally grew out of the widespread disillusionment in the decline in humanity shown by mankind most infamously in events leading to two World Wars and which included the World’s first nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Holocaust.

The absurdists sought to “express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought…..The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being-that is, in concrete stage images.” (Esslin, 1974:6)

Absurdism rejects formal structures from which the spectator could make a rational interpretation of their work so as Esslin (1974) points out that while “ ‘In common usage, Absurd may mean simply ridiculous. But in the Theatre of the Absurd…Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose….Cut off from his religions, metaphysical, and transcendent roots, man is lost; All his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.” (Esslin, 1974:5)

Samuel Beckett was the most influential of the Absurdist writers and Waiting for Godot (1952), the classic absurdist play, which contains no formal linear development, features Estragon and Vladimir who quite literally wait for Mr Godot who never makes an appearance.

“Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation. On a country road, by a tree, two old tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting. That is the opening situation at the beginning of Act I. At the end of Act I they are informed that Mr Godot, whom they believe they have an appointment with, cannot come, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Act II repeats precisely the same pattern. The same boy arrives and delivers the same message, Act I ends:

Estragon: Well shall we go?

Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.

[They do not move]

Act II ends with the same lines of dialogue, but spoken by the same characters in reverse order. “ (Esslin, 1974:26)

“The subject of the play is not Godot but waiting, the act of waiting as an essential and characteristic of the human condition. Throughout our lives we always wait for something, and Godot simply represents the objective of our waiting – an event, a thing, a person, death.” (Esslin, 1974:29)

But as Esslin points out that we must not overlook the “essential features of the play-it’s constant stress on the uncertainty of the appointment of Godot, Godot’s unreliability and irrationality, and the repeated demonstration of the futility of the hopes pinned on him. The act of waiting for Godot is shown as essentially absurd.” (Esslin, 1974:35).

Somehow this is reminiscent of the Brexit campaign promises and so many other things that happen in life.

Absurdism has inspired other artists across a range of mediums such as film director Yorgis Lanthimos who in his film Lobster (2016) created a dystopian absurdist society where single people are kept in a hotel and must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into an animal of their choice.

Photographers have also taken inspiration from the absurdists to communicate their own lack of rationality. In Susan Bright’s book Autofocus we can see Lisa Ohlweiler in a series of self-portraits placing herself in awkward body poses in a stark domestic setting to illustrate the sense of anxiety and displacement that she felt when she was temporarily homeless and sleeping on the sofas of friends for weeks on end. (Bright, 2010:84)

Absurdism is a coping mechanism and filter that I have begun to use in my day to day navigation of life in a society where I seek evidence of fair-mindedness, rationality and objectivity but rarely find anything remotely close to this description.


Bright, S (2010) Auto-Focus the self-portrait in contemporary photography London: Thames and Hudson Limited


Collin, R (2015) ‘The Lobster review: Like nothing you’ve seen before’. The Telegraph (online)
AT: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/14/the-lobster-review-like-nothing-youve-seen-before/ (accessed 25 July 2016)

Esslin, M (1974) The Theatre of the Absurd London: Eyre Methuen Limited


Figure 1: still image taken from The Lobster, (2016) can be seen

AT: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/14/the-lobster-review-like-nothing-youve-seen-before/ (accessed 25 July 2016)