Actor on Stage 1923 Eric Gill 1882-1940 Transferred from the Library 1979

Camus uses the concept of a stage actor to more concretely demonstrate what it means to live in a similar fashion to the ‘absurd man,’ as actors take on a multitude of characters for a mere three hours at a time, portraying an entire life in such a short time span. (1/9)

This temporality makes the actors acutely aware of the immensity of time in comparison to the brevity of life and thrusts them into the absurd constantly, as they traverse “the whole course of the dead-end path that the man in the audience takes a lifetime to cover (80).” (2/9)

The artifice of meaning for the actor’s character is acute and direct—it is always invented by humans (the writer/director/etc.) and so there is never any pretension of a greater meaning in the vast majority of the lives the actor lives, which makes the absurd clearer. (3/9)

However, I think Camus underestimates the extent to which we are all actors, acting out the scripts set before us by the societies we inhabit. The assumption of a genuineness or authenticity in our actions is an optimism that I don’t necessarily share with him. (4/9)

We learn how to be students, friends, partners, etc. from the depictions of those roles we see in our personal lives and, potentially more importantly, in mass media, and we too act out our over-exaggerated caricatures with our bodies in a way not that different from the actor. (5/9)

I don’t know that Camus would disagree with that analysis, though he seems to argue that non-actors have a greater sense of private/public distinction in regard to their feelings and body/mind division and the way they are portrayed for the broader audience. (6/9)

Actors also carry a greater sense of awareness towards the present moment, for two reasons. One is that when they are on stage, they must be conscious in order to authentically portray their role—to slip out of the present is to slip out of character, whose life is 3 hours long. (7/9)

The second is that their fame is inherently temporary. Camus refers to stage actors, which in his time especially were limited to only being seen in performance by their audience each night, unlike film actors or authors (Camus’ contrasting example), whose fame endures longer. (8/9)

Because their fame is so brief, actors must inhabit the present and do so consciously because they can entertain no delusion that they have any hope for fame in futurity. Therefore, like the absurd human, actors prefer a quantity of experience to a quality of them. (9/9)

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