The Cinema of Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre was a profound French philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist, biographer, and literary critic born in Paris in 1905. He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism. Now he’s widely considered by many to be the most popular philosopher of the twentieth century. In this paper, I will be mainly focusing on Sartre’s view on theatre and acting mainly. I will also explain the concepts of bad faith and free will and give examples of both. In addition to free will and bad faith, I will also describe Sartre’s views during his life on acting and playing roles that are not our own natural ones.
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Sartre is known by many as the father of existentialism. Before we get into his point of views we must know the true definition of existentialism. Based on the Oxford English Dictionary, existentialism is ?”a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” This is basically a focused study on our consciousness as human beings and our views on free will. Sartre is quoted as saying, “?Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.” This relates to free will because it provides “man” the freedom to choose what he is or “makes of himself”.
Not only was Sartre a successful philosopher, he was a successful playwright as well. His most popular playwrights are? The Respectful Prostitute, ?No Exit, ?Dirty Hands, and ?The Flies. His plays were only produced in higher class parts of the city because he wanted to induce a sense of traitor-like thinking towards the audience’s own class. Sartre only started writing plays, however, after his time as a prisoner of war. His time in jail helped him to develop and connect his existentialism with politics.
Based off Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Sartre is often considered to be biased towards the Cartesian and Neo-Kantian ways of thinking. This means that there is a special emphasis put on the relationship between mind and body when it comes to Cartesianism. There is also a third part that emphasizes God’s necessary existence. Neo-Kantian beliefs are those that are adapted from Immanuel Kant’s teachings. It’s also commonly misperceived that Sartre is a dualist, which in fact is incorrect. Dualism is defined as ?any system that explains phenomena by two opposing principles. He also favored the study of existence and being over metaphysics which explores fundamental questions of the human body.
Sartre’s thoughts on acting and different roles connect deeply with those of bad faith and free will. I think Sartre’s ideas about the origin of bad faith are fascinating too. The reason I say that is because he argues that “bad faith does not come from outside to hu?man reality. One does not undergo his bad faith; one is not infected with it; it is not a state. To start off explaining his views we must first explain what he means when talking about the two topics. A good way of explaining and understanding bad faith, is by looking at Being and Nothingness which is a well-known piece of Sartre’s work. To summarize, a woman is on a date with a man. He keeps making advances all night, but she is taking them for everything they explicitly mean and nothing more. If he calls her attractive, she takes it at that. She doesn’t assume anything sexual about it so to speak. He makes these advances all night long, but the woman doesn’t assume anything. At the end of the night, the man holds her hand as an inquisitive sign of something to come. The woman doesn’t think about it much. I would say that this woman is in bad faith because she has been lying to herself all night about the man’s intentions. She knows deep down that he wants something from her and it’s not just her attention… but she refuses to acknowledge that fact and instead, tries to convince herself of the opposite. She is not lying in general, but she is lying inwardly to herself.
The general definition Sartre gives for the ideal description of a liar is “?cynical consciousness, affirming truth within himself, denying it in his words, and denying that negation as such.” Basically, a lie within instead of out in general. Sartre describes bad faith lying as “intermediaries between falsehood and bad faith. The lie is a behavior of transcendence.” This means that you are not consciously lying to yourself. People do not lie if they are mistaken and they do not spread false information if they are the victim of the deception.
When I was doing research on Sartre’s view of bad faith I found out it is mainly focused on consciousness. For example, when he said, ”But consciousness affects itself with bad faith.” Consciousness is roughly the knowledge of being and existing. This means that Sartre is saying we know we are in bad faith when we participate in it. It is almost like playing our roles a little too seriously. It is not a virus that comes in the night to harm us when we wake in the morning, but something we are knowledgeable about but aren’t aware of it before we evaluate the situation. The main conflict I seen with this is that if the consciousness, the part of the brain that determines when to be aware to facticity, isn’t itself made up of facticity. Apparently, existence comes first, based on existentialism, but how can a consciousness exist produced from no source with a facticity? Also, based off neuroscience the consciousness is produced by the brain which is a physical implement. So, technically there couldn’t be any determinism or prediction of a persons’ brain based on general principles.
Now on to free will. ?Being and Nothingness explores this topic very thoroughly. In fact, his famous quote “I am condemned to be free” comes from the book. It is understood that you have free will once you have the capacity to choose. When you gain consciousness of your existence and can make decisions for yourself you basically have your freedom. I do not mean to say, however, that we are always aware of our current or soon to come freedom. What Sartre’s is saying that we are free whether we realize it or not. Sartre also explores the idea of different roles, both futile and genuine. Some examples he uses in ?Being and Nothingness are those of attentive students trying to be so attentive that they end up retaining nothing and a speaker that is only good and excels because he ?plays at speaking and is not actually speaking normally. These both make perfect sense because we as human beings force ourselves to try to be the best at so many things that we must put on masks to pretend to be these “perfect” beings. We do this, and we end up not advancing in what we’re trying to do because we’ve put so much focus and energy into imagining.
I chose this topic because I’m kind of into the acting business. I thought it would be interesting to see the theatre business from a different point of view, in an addition with a philosophical one. To truly have in mind people’s thoughts about why we play different roles and why we act. But When it comes to free will, I ?personally would argue that we are not totally free because whether we have the right to refuse and choose what we do, we still feel a moral and ethical obligation to do most things. We crave or are a part of social circles, families, and groups with responsibilities such as employees or parents. We know what we should do and whether we choose to do it, we will always feel obligated to do our “jobs” or “the right thing” at least. For example, my mother might ask me to take the groceries out of the trunk of the car. I personally don’t want to do it, but I feel like I must because she always does it, and after all, she is my mother. So, I take the groceries out of the trunk of the car. On the other hand, I know I could choose to not get the groceries out of the trunk and act like your busy doing homework to get out of it. We are literally just as equally free to choose either option, but morally, we feel like we must go through with the first option to help.
I agree with Sartre’s concept of bad faith as it means lying within yourself. Lying to yourself is almost worse than lying in general or to other people. This is because you as a person
are supposed to be aware of what is going on inside and outside of yourself. When you lie to yourself, if you are successful, you end up confusing yourself which makes you unaware of your true feelings and surrounding.
Being able to switch roles and play different ones is a very good thing. It can help us to discover who we truly are. Things we like and things we don’t. For example, though the years of playing football I played offense and defense and I realized that I liked defense more than offense because I liked tackling people as hard as I can. When you get that big tackle in front of a huge crowd and its loud everyone just goes crazy. As a wide receiver on offense you really don’t get that feeling if anything your worried about just getting a touchdown or just the first down. However, playing wide receiver too seriously and trying to fully adopt it can be dangerous because you are risking making yourself unaware of what is going on around you and essentially, you will be in bad faith as Sartre’s would say.