Camus’ next example of a life lived with the absurd, rather than in effort to reject it, is the actor. The actor wants to enter into the “diversity” of different lives, and embraces the “realm” of the “ephemeral.” His fame is one of the most short-lived of all artists’ (Camus is thinking of stage actors here). Camus casts doubt on the idea of posterity anyway, saying that a writer of even Goethe’s stature will be forgotten in “ten thousand years” (except for perhaps by archaeologists interested in the time period).
Here, Camus returns to the idea that life is meaningless because any meaning it contains is doomed to fade away in time. Paradoxically, Camus praises the actor-figure because their way of living makes a virtue out of the shortness of life. This doesn’t take into account acting in films; cinema lends a kind of posterity that is in parallel with that of a writer.
The stage actor, says Camus, has only “three hours” and a relatively small amount of space to live out other lives. The actor, like a traveler, is always on the move, experiencing a “quantity” of different lives. And in his work, the actor shows to what extent “appearing creates being”; he loses himself to find himself.
An interesting counterpoint to Camus’ idea of acting here would be to look at the different methods actors have at their disposal for rendering certain emotions. Some actors, for example, use a tragic personal memory to help them portray sadness in their character—this could arguably be said to represent a commitment not so much to different lives but to a greater “depth” of their own (the individual life behind the character).
Actors, says Camus, use their body like a sculptor’s tool. He is speaking especially of “great drama” like Shakespeare, in which the actor is given the “opportunity to fulfil his wholly physical fate.”
Shakespeare is an especially relevant writer because his works try to delve deep into the meaning of life.
Camus examines how the Church has, over the years, opposed the practice of acting. The Christian Church insists on the unity of the soul—one single identity—and the promise of a deferred eternal life. In contrast, Actors insists on multiple identities and living in the moment.
Religion represents hope for an afterlife, and to Camus this prevents an individual from living in the present with the absurd in full view.