One characteristic of Absurdism is that it seeks to unveil the human desire to make meaning in a meaningless world. In Eugene Ionesco’s world, we often see characters having a conversation and acting as if what they are saying is completely normal. Yet the audience experiences the conversation as nonsensical– filled with non-sequiturs and stories that go nowhere– phrases you might hear when learning a new language: “The ceiling is above; the floor is below.”
During this shelter-in-place period of our lives, many of us are able to experience the absurdity of how some of our ordinary expressions sound just now. For example, we always say “how are you?” as a greeting. Now, we have to think about what we are saying. There’s a subtext there–we feel we have to add something, like “How are you…these days” or “…the way things are right now.”
Ionesco is pointing out that a lot of what we do by habit is nonsensical. We do things the way we do because that’s the way they’ve always been done. A quote making the rounds on social media that I enjoy is “Tradition is peer pressure by dead people.” Just why is it we keep on with the same tropes? Is it our “keep calm and carry on” attitudes? or our “Just keep swimming” ideals? It’s pretty amazing that in just a few short weeks, the whole world has agreed to take a pause…and here we are. Many of us are fortunate enough that we can just keep going on with our lives…there are some obstacles, to be sure… but we keep going. If we stop to think about what is going to happen after, I think we’d all roll up into fetal balls and be paralyzed. But that’s not what we do.
At the end of the play, the characters dissolve into complete nonsense that even they can’t make any sense of. But the lights go out. They come up again. And the play starts over, exactly as it did an hour earlier. We’ll always force ourselves back into a semblance of normalcy. People are having their Passover and Easter celebrations this week–getting together with family and churches on Zoom, even delighting in their discovery of new technology that makes it happen. Our elders are learning how to turn on their audio and video with the rest of us and seeming to enjoy it.
What a strange world we live in.