Existential Absurdity In Front of the Camera

Do we need to experience a threat of imminent death come face to face with an existential crisis? To feel, in the words of Camus, “absurd”?

Imagine yourself involved in any one of those petty mechanical tasks which fill so much of our waking hours – washing the car, boiling an egg, changing a typewriter ribbon – when a friend appears with a new movie camera. No warning: “Do something!” he commands, and the camera is already whirring. A frozen shock of self-consciousness, embarrassment, and confusion. “Do something!” Well of course one was doing something, but that is now seen as insignificant. And one is doing something just standing there, or perhaps indignantly protesting like a housewife caught in curlers. At such moments one appreciates the immobilization of John Barth’s Jacob Horner, that paralyzing self-consciousness in which no action seems meaningful. In desperation one falls back into his everyday task, or he leaps into an absurd posture directed only toward the camera. In either case, one feels absurd. One remains as aware of the camera as of his actions, and then of his actions viewed by the camera. It is the Kantian transcendental deduction with a 16mm lens: there is the inseparable polarity between self and object; but in this instance the self is out there, in the camera, but it is also in the object. A sum (not a cogito) accompanies my every presentation. “How do I look?” No one knows existential attitude better than a ham actor.

-Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism


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