The Stranger is a slim read, but I found it confusing. Supposedly, Sartre thought it a profoundly silly book, the equivalent of reporting on a soccer match with the words “I saw adults in shorts fighting and throwing themselves on the ground in order to send a leather ball between two wooden posts.” I feel similarly, and I would go a step further: I’m not certain that the verdict is wrong. Meursault does come off as a bit of a sociopath, not because he doesn’t cry for his mother, but because he doesn’t cry, and seems incapable of crying, for anything. He does not care about anything or anyone. The crime committed seems to have no purpose, but it occurs anyway, because Meursault doesn’t care enough to understand how to avert it. Which doesn’t mean I can’t see the absurdity of the “evidence” thrown against him, but I cannot escape the impression that I have wandered, not inside the head of a fellow human, but in some other kind of being who knew how to ape some human behaviors. Crimes of passion committed this dispassionately beggar verisimilitude.
A Continuing series in which I post my notes of reading this engaging book.
In The Rebel, Camus frames Metaphysical Rebellion in the words of Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov (among other ways). God is to be not denied, but refuted and condemned. The Problem of Evil on steroids, as it were.
From pgs. 56-57:
Ivan rejects the basic interdependence, introduced by Christianity, between suffering and truth. Ivan’s most profound utterance, the one which opens the deepest chasms beneath the rebel’s feet, is his even if: “I would persist in my indignation even if I were wrong.” Which means that even if God existed, even if the mystery cloaked a truth, even if the starets Zosime were right, Ivan would not admit that truth should be paid for by evil, suffering, and the death of innocents. Ivan incarnates the refusal of salvation.
In addition, Ivan is the incarnation of the refusal to be the only one saved. He throws in his lot with the damned and, for their sake, rejects eternity. If he had faith, he could, in fact, be saved, but others would be damned and suffering would continue. There is no possible salvation for the man who feels real compassion. Ivan will continue to put God in the wrong by doubly rejecting faith as he would reject injustice and privelege.
My Response: This comes to me as nothing more than a metaphysical temper tantrum: “If I cannot have existence my way, I will not have it at all.” Or more properly, “an existence that requires suffering is not ‘worth it’.”
This is empty vanity. Suffering will continue regardless of how sullenly you refuse to countenance it. What child does Ivan save from suffering? If none, then we must conclude the the intellectual solidarity with the suffering is a sham, or at any rate, a means to an end. And the end is power, moral power as a precursor to political power, the power over life and death.
The desire to be Better Than God rests on the mistaken notion that God’s mystery is a false veil, a smokescreen hiding a lie, rather than a necessary consequence of our nature. If we had infinite minds, we could be God’s equal. We do not and never will. We continually frame Him in our own tiny conceptions, and are indignant when those conceptions will not hold Him.
Existence is not yours to justify. Deal with it.
In my pre-Christmas book splurge, I picked up Kafka’s The Trial, which has so far reminded me why I wait 1.5 decades between reading Kafka books, and Camus’ The Rebel, which has delicious bits of tasty absurdity.
And deliberately so. One cannot be a rebel without a set of values to hold higher than the powers-that-be, but one cannot — pace Nietzche — create one’s own value system without arriving at absurdity and nihilism.
So Camus fails here:
The final conclusion of absurdist reasoning is, in fact, the repudiation of suicide and the acceptance of the desperate encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe.
It cannot wash. Absurdism with values is a contradiction. The “encounter” with the silent universe has no purpose. It is to encounter nothing. One can just as easily do that dead.
This sickness will run its course. Either the fever will break and sanity will return to civilization, or it will kill the host and give rise to a new age of innocent barbarism.
But from where will the barbarians come? We have made them scarce of late.
Revisionism in the name of the oppressor? The worm be turning.