The Many Guises of the Absurd – Jayne Cunnick Week 1

The Many Guises of the Absurd was my first choice for constellation mainly because it was interesting and I found Jayne Cunnick to be a strong speaker.

Week 1

Firstly we looked at the definition of absurdity, (Illogical, unreasonable, ridiculous and silly). Next we looked at a few images of absurd art. The first was ‘A Girl’ by Ron Mueck 2010. I had never seen his work before so I found it to be an unusual site. The baby is quite obviously physically large but I am not quite sure what the message is so I could see this as absurd. The next image was another by Ron Mueck and again this was a large sculpted woman carrying sticks, we can see now that the artist likes messing around with scale and its not what we expect.

We then watched a video of the miracle of flight by Terry Gilliam, 1971. I really enjoyed this because of how silly it was, the story unfolds and we see bizarre attempts of trying to fly some of then we recognize and seem familiar to us, but at the end there is a plot twist which causes humor.

We looked at Walter Van Beirendonck’s summer spring fashion shoot, and we see how preposterous these outfits are, we would never wear them out, but they are to be noticed for its outrageous style and to be remembered.

Next we look at the artist Rene Magritte and we talked about how he puts two well known elements, both we understand and are familiar with and he combines them, in a way which we would have never recognize as a familiar site and we find this absurd, could such a thing exist?

We view a few more images and realize that by putting these familiar items/body parts together what do you accomplish? An absurd piece of art. There is no link between them, so we find them ridiculous.

What is Absurd? Conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent meaning and the inability to find any within the universe.

So the idea of absurdity, is the fact that humans think, and constantly question the world and when we can’t find any meaning or we don’t understand we call this absurd.

What is absurd? The chaotic and purposeless nature of the universe, and the futility of human attempts to make sense of it.


Then we moved on to the Existentialists, these were a group of philosophers who considered the nature of the human condition as a key philosophical problem. The notion of the absurd is a common theme among existentialists.

What is existentialism?

  • Movement in philosophy and literature
  • Believes that individuals have free will and must take responsibility
  • Begin’s mid to late 19th century, peaks mid 20th century France
  • Repudiates any body of beliefs
  • Focuses on the lack of meaning in the universe
  • Solves the lack of meaning by concentrating on embracing existence.

It is difficult to define existentialism and what it is, most hold with the idea that existentialism relates to the ideas and opinions of those philosophers concerned with a set of ideals.

Tenets of existentialism

  • Axiomatic or unquestionable free will
  • how a life is lived
  • everyone must deal with questions around death, God, existence, relationships etc
  • Doing not thinking is key
  • No universally known value to life
  • Literary characterization used to elucidate life struggles.

‘discourse on the method of rightly conducting one’s reason and of seeking truth in sciences’ 1637 Descartes.

‘I think therefore I am’ Does it exist? conscience enough to question it then it must exist.

We looked at Edvard Munch ‘The Scream’ and his reason behind this, internal turmoil, anxiety. We then looked at Foucault’s’ Pendulum, this is where they are trying to prove the world is spinning, answering the question, do we really even exist.

Concepts of Existentialism

  • Existence precedes Essence
  • Facticity and transcendence
  • Alienation
  • Authenticity
  • Freedom and value
  • Anxiety, nothingness and the Absurd

Who are the Existentialists?

  • Soren Kierkegaard
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Fyodor Dostoevski
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Jean Paul Sartre
  • Albert Camus
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty
  • Simone De Beauvoir
  • Franz Kafka
  • Karl Jasper

We then went away in groups to research one of these existentialists. We were given Franz Kafka, here are my notes on him.

Franz Kafka 3/7/1883-3/6/1924, he was a german language writer of novels, short stories and was an intellectual author of middle class. He was tortured by his sexual desire, but he feared people would find him mentally and physically repulsive. His works were often called kafkaesque as they was used to describe concepts and situations, Particularly ‘The Trial’ and ‘Die vernadung’ examples in which bureaucracies would over power the people in a surreal nightmarish situation which evokes feelings of senseless disorientation and helplessness. Characters would often lack a clear course of action to escape a labyrinth situation. ‘A first sign of beginning to understanding is the wish to die’.

I really enjoyed the first lesson I found it interesting to see how artwork can be seen as absurd through to videos and then down to the details and information on the existentialists.


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