Saturday, February 11, 2006

Existential thoughts on Camus

I’m rereading Camus – currently on "The Stranger." As I was out for a walk tonight in what is really “normal” temperature but felt briskly chilly compared to what we’ve been having this year, I remembered, nearly verbatim, his lines in Mersault’s mouth on the last pages:

“For the first time, in that night alive with signs and starts, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” The world cares not whether I am alive or dead and has no world-soul to care, anyway. That thought can be either depressing or gladdening, I realized, depending one what mindset I bring to that thought in advance, what feelings and beliefs I am seeking to be confirmed or denied, and so forth. I felt vaguely but reassuringly comforted by that fact.

And how had Camus reached this point?

“As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope,” he says just before the words above. Raw emotion, when undenied, can get us to bedrock within ourselves. I take Camus as saying he has been rid of the hope of false delusions, such as the delusion that the world really gives a damn about Mersault.
And so we go on.

“Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and was happy again.” Mersault is one with himself after getting stripped of his self-delusions. And so, in a nonmetaphysical way, he can experience a certain degree of oneness with the world at large, as a relative of some sort.

And that leads us to Mersault’s final lines, where Camus lets us know that the homo existentialis always remains in at least partial control of his own emotional fate, if not his physical fate.

“For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I only had to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.”

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