Shyaonti Talwar


"Another world is not only possible. She is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
- Arundhati Roy

Overview of Doctoral Thesis

Title of the Thesis


Objectives of Research

The research attempts a gendering of the Absurd and tries to initiate a Feminist Poetics of the Absurd. The Absurd that manifested in the fiction and drama of the period following the Second World War was regarded as a circumstantial phenomenon. Incidentally, all works in philosophy and literature identified as works of the Absurd or believed to have traces of the Absurd have been produced by men. The Absurd canon thus seems to be an exceptionally and exclusively male space.

This thesis explores the experience of the Absurd and its expression in works of women authors tracing it as something that transcends temporal and geographical boundaries and cuts across culture, race and community. Through the analysis of the works of six women authors of three nationalities, writing in different ages and contexts and primarily concerned with different issues, the thesis traces the unmistakable preoccupation of women authors with the Absurd and its expression in these works at thematic, structural and linguistic levels. The thesis postulates that for women, as cultural constructs, the experience of the Absurd is not circumstantial but organic to their consciousness and its manifestation therefore, inevitable in their works, though it desists from essentialising either the experience or the expression of the Absurd.

Hypothesis of the Research

The thesis recalibrates the connotations of the terms: ‘Absurdity of Being’ to describe the woman’s disharmony with her ‘self’ when she primes patriarchy over herself and her interests, and the ‘Absurdity of Existence’ when she is in tune with herself and subverts or resists patriarchy privileging herself over patriarchy and taking recourse to an alternate universe where she is central and all else peripheral. With the purpose of creating a space for other kinds of experiences and voices, the thesis formulates an alternate working definition of the Absurd which evolves as part of the hypothesis and forms the basis of the analysis of the primary sources based on a working definition of the Absurd:

Absurd is the inevitable and inescapable situation unique to woman which she finds herself in at one point in time or another, resulting from her fractured consciousness of ‘I’ and ‘I as a woman’ surfacing invariably and manifesting itself explicitly in the form of terror, fear, obsession, self-evasion, self-deception, dreams, fantasy, drudgery, abnormality, even success. It is the cumulative, conscious though involuntary manifestation of the subconscious nothingness through an awareness of lack after entering the ‘Symbolic Order’, which the woman has internalised in her formative years.

Research Methadology

The methodology adopted for this thesis included the following:

  1. Survey of literature (through Library Research) related to the Philosophy of Existentialism and its literary manifestation - the Absurd in fiction and drama.
  2. A close study of Feminist Critical Theories, Feminist Thought and Various Schools of Feminism.
  3. Developing a hypothesis based on the survey and study.
  4. Close textual reading and analyses of novels that include the following:
    1. Intertextual approach to identify underlying similarities in the concerned works at the thematic level to establish the preoccupation with the Absurd.
    2. Intertextual approach to draw from, incorporate or refer to multiple critical theories in the concerned works to trace the Absurd at the level of the structure and the language of the texts.

Major Findings

• Proving the Hypothesis: Redefining the Absurd from a Feminist Perspective.
• Establishing the presence of the Absurd by gendering the experience and the resulting expression and tracing it in ‘Fiction by Women’ that conventionally does not belong to the genre of the Absurd.
• Contesting the general presumption that women authors do not experiment with form.
• Tracing the alternate language use attempted by women writers to subvert hegemonic patriarchal linguistics and resist literary paternity.


The conclusion highlights the prospects and the future scope and relevance of this research and the possibility and rationale of extending and building on the study carried out in the thesis. It dwells on the possibility of using the study as a premise to build a feminist poetics of the Absurd exploring the structural and linguistic expressions and features that might enable a gendering or even a transgendering of the Absurd.

The research could also be used to explore the polyphonic feature of female narratives that negates a central subject position and a single authorial voice and looks at a distinct style of female writing as different from women’s writing and even feminist writing – one embodying the stereotypes attached to women’s fiction and the other essaying empowered or rebellious writing and thus follow the trend of locating aesthetic fulfilment and pleasure in female and even queer writing.

The idea of gendering the Absurd can be extended to the gendering of any experience or philosophy or tradition by changing the perspective. This idea of gendering can be applied to cultural artefacts beyond texts that are produced, circulated and consumed. Since the thesis draws from contemporary theories and feminist thought, it could be used as a reference to map a certain kind of experience within a larger framework influenced by socio-cultural, political, historical, religious, ethnic factors as well as collective memory and myth.

Contact Me : | | LinkedIn |