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The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus

The Absurd Man: Drama

The Absurd Man: Don Juanism

The Absurd Man: Drama, page 2

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The actor is Camus's second example of a life consistent with his absurdist principles. Humans are drawn to the theatre because of the different possibilities achievable in fiction. The absurd man as actor is not content simply to observe and imagine lives different from his own; he insists on living them. The actor compresses the intensity and variety of a great many lives into the span of his career.

Both the life of the actor and the lives of the characters he plays are fleeting. Of all artists, an actor's fame has the shortest life span. Camus is discussing stage actors here, who are not immortalized on film like screen actors: certainly in Camus's day, and even today, it is difficult to record the past performances and successes of stage actors. As a result, their fame and glory is limited to the response of the audience. A novelist can hope to achieve fame after he dies, but an actor knows that his fame is limited to what he enjoys during his career. Similarly, the characters in a play have only three hours to experience the totality of their being.

A great writer's fame might live five hundred years after his death while a great actor's fame will die with him, but an absurd awareness of the immensity of time will negate the significance of posterity. Ten thousand years from now, Camus suggests, no one will know who Goethe (the author) was, and none of his works will survive. There may be some small comfort in the thought that one's name will survive, but in the grand scheme we cannot hope for any kind of immortality or transcendent meaning that will be given to our life posthumously.

Actors live free of the illusion that their achievements might be recognized in the future or after their death. They live with the absurd awareness that nothing they do has any significance beyond the act itself. More than other artists, then, they must live for the present.

Actors are also not overly caught up in a private, inner world. Their job is to make the inner states of the characters they portray understandable to others. There is no value in privacy or in self-restraint; actors are always trying to express themselves and to be understood. Actors have only the tools of their body and voice for elucidating inner states. This same body and voice will portray many characters over a career, so the same tools will be used to elucidate many different inner states. Because the actor leaves nothing unexpressed, and because inner states are elucidated by means of the body, the distinction between mind and body, the barrier between inner and outer, is broken down.

The church has naturally opposed acting, because actors place an emphasis on living many lives and living them in the present, whereas the church emphasizes the unity of a single life/soul and the importance of living for the future—for life after death. Actors are interested in the quantity of different experiences, not quality, and value a long life rather than an eternal life.

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