“Six Characters”, Absurdism and Madness

There’s a scene in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand which has Ellsworth Toohey forming a new organization called the “Council of American Writers” – a group of bad writers, some who refuse to use punctuation and others who use literature as a vehicle for obscenity or pornography and any other riffraff he could find except that one anathema character excluded apriori from the rabble – the man with true talent.

Absurdism – those who would destroy civilization know to attack our art. Take the term, empty it of meaning, fill it with bits and odds and ends and thoughts piled up randomly in people’s minds, then sell it as art. Destroy beauty, and you can own the world; destroy talent and you can stand together; destroy reason – and you can rule.

I just finished “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Nobel prize winning Luigi Pirandello. I mention the prize to highlight what Rand was trying to highlight with her representation of Toohey. “The world of the future. That’s what I want. A world of obedience of and unity. A world where the thought of each man will not be his own, but an attempt to guess the thought of the brain of his neighbor who’ll have no thought of his own…”

The fear that, because Pirandello’s “magnum opus” is incoherent, I must refrain from calling it so in the fear that I be singled out as having “missed something”, that I in fact am dense and thick – too great a risk to take, instead we should lean on the minds of others – the Nobel community maybe, or the other absurdists (like Toohey) who revel in their private joke while they ply us with garbage. I read through the reviews of this on Goodreads, and on Amazon. Five stars, four stars – “magnificent” or “deep” when it is clearly none of them. I believe in good writing – like I believe in good painting that represents talent and skill and discipline and practice – like I believe in good sports that pit hard work against natural ability.

I do not really believe fashion is a “thing” – but if it were, “Six Characters” is to writing what to fashion would be a Paris show with models wearing nothing at all. A show which would probably be called daring and innovative just like “Six Characters” is called genius. Sigh – I’ll go back now to Ayn Rand and C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Byron, licking our collective wounds as we are while history charges mightily forward into great madness – led by Pirandello.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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2 Responses to “Six Characters”, Absurdism and Madness

  1. J Balconi says:

    I have little patience with “important” new works, having slogged through characters’ ennui and apathy in what should have been fun popular novels, particularly when their journey ends up being a circle around a sewer drain. Is this what Pirandello did? It’s difficult to tell from this review how he failed.


    • It wasn’t so much offensive or overly combative culturally or politically – it was simply dull. From all I can gather he was attempting to show the futility of theater by replacing a real story by six people of little significance in search of an author to tell their story. It was less a grand but fraught work than just boring and tired. Absurdism does not give us anything grand – just mean little tales nobody really wants to read.

      Liked by 1 person

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