Ontological empowerment: embodiment and essence in the theatre of the absurd

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University of Alabama Libraries

Many of the plays of modern drama offer characters who struggle in uncertain and bizarre worlds to create meaning or some sense of identity for themselves. The uncertainty caused by constantly shifting values and traditions forces characters to metamorphose at each instant into entirely new beings who in turn struggle to create meaning through language, games, and remembering, which are all types of ontological embodiment. Ontological embodiment is that process by which each character shapes the raw material of existence into successive representations of the self via action which allow for the creation of an identity. Each embodiment can be evaluated in relation to other embodiments for its authenticity. The greater the extent to which an embodiment is concerned with the character himself rather than others, the greater the authenticity of that embodiment. The more authentic a particular character's embodiments are, the greater his ontological self-knowledge, that knowledge of the self which allows for independent thinking. This ontological self-knowledge enables characters to live without the burden of pre-established mores or values. These mores or values are often unquestioned by individual characters who live by their edicts without examining them for their beneficial or detrimental aspects. Among the characters in the plays of Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Eugene Ionesco, only a few embody themselves with any real authenticity. The others, because they focus their ontological embodiments on others by attempting to change those others to suit their own needs or by trying to curry their favor, embody themselves inauthentically and as a result fail to achieve the requisite ontological self-knowledge to think for themselves. Only Clov, of Beckett's Endgame, Kean and Anna of Sartre's Kean, and Berenger of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, embody themselves in an authentic manner with any consistency. Clov is recalcitrant to his master Hamm, while Kean and Anna renounce the social hierarchy of England to start a new life in America and Berenger resists the temptation to become a rhinoceros. These actions prove that each of these characters focuses his embodiments on himself and his own ontological self-knowledge rather than on that of another.

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Literature, Philosophy