From Absurd to AI: Drama for the Age of Uncertainty

Samuel Beckett’s genre-defining absurdist drama Waiting for Godot opened in 1953 Paris, where Eugène Ionesco’s play The Chairs had opened a year earlier for an audience of three: Ionesco, his wife, and their seven-year-old daughter. By 1969, when Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Theatre of the Absurd had become a worldwide phenomenon offering a new way of writing and staging plays that resonated way beyond Parisian avant-garde venues and mainstream European and American theaters.Theatre of the Absurd was exceptional in its ability to capture deep changes in the post-World War II human condition. It was a post-Holocaust, post-colonial drama of the nuclear age, offering a range of theatrical responses to the new era of man-made systems that overwhelm our capacities of action and comprehension. We will explore authors ranging from Beckett and Ionesco to Americans Edward Albee and Ed Bullins, South African political playwright Athol Fugard, and Czech dissident-turned-president Václav Havel, to find unique dramatic strategies for humankind at the brink of self-annihilation. Resilience of the spirit is certainly one, exemplified in humor and laughter. Theatre of the Absurd, whose popularity sharply declined following the Cold War, has new relevance today. More than many other forms of theater, it can offer important lessons for this age of anxiety, climate change, pandemics, and the threat of AI-induced apocalypse.

Branislav Jakovljevic
Sara Hart Kimball Professor of the Humanities, Stanford

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Online, instructor-led
Feb 1 - Mar 21, 2024
Stanford Continuing Studies