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Sens de l'absurde chez Boris Vian. Maclaren, Elisabeth Owen

Abstract

One of the key expressions in 20th century literature and philosophy is "the absurd", a term much employed by modern man to communicate his sense of a universe where human life appears to lack transcendant significance. The French existentialists, in particular Jean-Paul Sartre, deal extensively with this problem and how to confront it without falling victim to the despair, nausea, emptiness and anguish that inevitably follow. Unlike Sartre and Camus whose treatment of the absurd is essentially grave in tone, Boris Vian injects humour and fantasy into a work that remains nonetheless profoundly significant and moving. The laughter he provokes is tinged with echoes of despair; his very humour intensifies our sense of the absurdity implicit in the human condition. Vian's five principal novels, Vercoquin et le Plancton, L'Ecume des Jours, L'Automne à Pékin, L 'Herbe Rouge, and L'Arrache-Coeur reflect a marked preoccupation with man's quest for happiness, in his opinion the only valid raison d'être. The question remains nevertheless, how to attain this happiness in a universe fraught with obstacles which seem expressly destined to deny it. This thesis examens Boris Vian's enquiry into the nature of these obstacles to happiness, into the sources of man's sense of the absurd: firstly with regard to modern society and its judicial, educational, political, and religious institutions; secondly as regards the private life of the individual, in particular his experience with love in its diverse forms; thirdly in view of man's metaphysical situation, his place in the universe, his relationship to objects, to others and to himself. The study of the absurd in each of these three categories occupies the first three chapters of this thesis. The fourth and final chapter deals with the author's reactions to his overwhelming impression of life's absurdity. The impossibility of reconciling his own fundamental individualism with the total political commitment advocated by Sartre leads Vian to adopt an attitude resembling a type of contemporary epicurism. Fleeting moments of sheer joie de vivre in the work of Vian in some measure lighten the shadow of pessimism planing over his vision of life. His best defense against the absurd however, is his ability to translate it, to communicate it, and to attack it through parody, caricature, burlesque, and satire, in a literature not completely unlike that of Ionesco and Beckett, where one is at last permitted to laugh.

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