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Asstieg Links: Behind Closed Doors

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Asstieg Links: Behind Closed Doors

Andrew Ryan

God is dead. Life is absurd. Man is alone.

There is a philosophical concept which describes that a person by themselves, a person alone, could not conceive of themselves. The theory posits that in order to conceive of one’s self, one must notice that another person is looking at them, that one must be aware of the other person’s presence… the idea that one becomes an object only in the eyes of another human; in the eyes of another being of consciousness.

This theory is put in to a narrative context in a play I saw enacted tonight, written by Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). The title of the play (written in 1944), translated to English is “No Exit”, but in Sartre’s native French, “Huis Clos” is more colloquially translated to “Closed Session”, most often used in a judicial sense. It speaks of a closed door, an internal situation, something that happens behind those doors that could not happen (nor, in my mind, be accurately described) outside of them. This is the play that coined the term “Hell is other people”.

So, this version of the play I saw tonight.

One of the dudes I’ve lived with for the last year or so was playing the leading male character. The play deals with three people who have died, sitting in a room together, coming to terms with the fact that they are condemned- CONDEMNED- to be with each other, only with each other, for the rest of whatever eternity means. I’m not sure how much of the philosophical content was explored amongst the crew, at least outside of the theatre/character/direction dimension, but I do know from living with the boy who played the character “Garcin” for the duration of his time working on the play that he was fucking burdened by the character. Burdened. It was a heavy lot.

He’d come home tired. So tired. Not only was he finishing his education degree fulltime, which included prac. work with primary school aged kids with different levels of grasp on English, but he was also maintaining his musical creative fulfilment and a romantic relationship with an endlessly fascinating and inspiring woman (I am a fan of both of these humans, can you tell?). I don’t know many people that have taken on this kind of workload, let alone be seemingly pretty fucking good at everything they do.

It’s interesting to think about the workload of an actor. They have to be so changeable- to become a different character for each project, each play, each film… must be pretty damn draining- depending on the role, of course. To be an actor is to change constantly at the whim of someone else, at the behest of whoever writes the thing you’re reading, and then- in turn- the vision of whoever directs the thing you’re playing. Many levels of perception: according to writer and director and self-as-creator and also audience. But mainly audience: because all of the former are also the latter, as well as themselves.

And that is the crux of the meaning of this play/philosophical theory. One cannot/does not exist without an audience. Hell is only other people because they- only- are the way that you perceive yourself. Through their eyes. You need them to see yourself. If you can’t see yourself, you don’t exist. One has to exist in order to live; one has to be seen in order to exist. This is the theory. This is the existential crisis. Some people wanna be seen, others don’t wanna be seen, but you’re always seen because nature always has reflective surfaces, whether it be the surface of a stream that we can see our own eyes in, or in the reflection of ourselves in the pupils of the person we are speaking to.

I was tempted to do whatever it was I thought was a conventional theatre review before I saw and only read this play (before I saw and only read this play), but now that I’ve seen this play performed by extremely fucking competent actors, in a set design that absolutely befit the nature of the play’s philosophy (a room built within the room of someone’s house in the middle of Northcote, a lounge turned in to a waiting area, lined with a muted silver lining roof insulation thing), it came to this. Not really a review. Just an explore.

Because to explore is to think more- and that, I feel, without ever having studied this stuff in any sort of institution, is what philosophy means. Explorative thought, asking questions you don’t have to answer, positing situations you don’t necessarily have to define … you just have to explore the possibilities if you’re interested in what it COULD mean. If you’re after meaning. But then, meaning is different to everybody. So meaning is inherently meaningless.

I would say “The End”, but after all that, really, there is no end, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.