“Absurd: wildly unreasonable, illogical or inappropriate.”dictionary.com
It’s time to talk about absurdity. And by talk, I mean talk. Let’s disagree with each other, build on each other’s ideas. I don’t think I understand our modern relationship with absurdity, and I want to. So let’s talk about it.
I found a new favourite joke the other day. It may have been much funnier due to being extremely jet-lagged, but to me it is still wonderful. You, the reader, may not agree. But we’ll discuss that later.
Why did the man fall down the well?
Because he couldn’t see that well.
This joke is absurd. That’s why I like it. I love the ridiculous absurd nature of the so-called anti-joke.
What I’m realising though, is that people, including me, often leave the absurd behind when they take on creativity seriously. I find it easier to write a serious story than an absurd one, although to be perfectly honest I know which I would prefer to read the majority of the time. Absurdity over seriousness every day of the week.
This will not be true for everyone, but it sparked a thought for me. Why, in order to be taken seriously by others, or to be taken seriously by ourselves, do we have to write about topics of a serious nature? Why do our stories need to have a hidden message, or make a cultural or political point?
I’m not saying that these types of stories are bad – what I’m asking is why they are valued over the absurd ones, when, as shown by wonderful picture books such as ‘I want my hat back’ by Jon Klassen, readers love the absurd and ridiculous.
When I think about modern day absurdity, I think about memes, or our obsession with pet videos… but not professional creatives, apart from comedians of course.
A truly absurd writer who everyone has heard of is Shakespeare. I’m not denying his genius or saying that his stories don’t carry meaning, but… really. Some of his stories are just absurd. If you want proof, stop and think about how many double cross-dressing roles he has managed to put in his plays. Man playing a woman who then pretends to be a man. If that is not absurd, I don’t know what is. But we love it! It’s a treasured part of the English language literary tradition, as it should be.
But take modern musical theatre, for example. Browse through the current catalogue of new popular musicals. Despite the fact that many of them are wonderful and I love them, they are growing ever more serious. These serious stories have their place and their purpose, and I in no way want to say that they are unimportant.
It’s just that I miss the absurd.
So now we come to the point. I want to know why creating ridiculous, funny, perhaps slightly pointless and absurd stories, songs, poems, art or anything else, is hard. Or, if it comes easily to you, why does it come easily?
Have a ponder and let me know what you think, if you in fact find you have an opinion.
Jena Ren (Jenny Guilford) – 2019
This post was originally published November 11, 2019.