Albert Camus: 1913-1960
q He sees little hope that man will ever resolve the chaos which surrounds him
q He argues that active struggle is the only justifiable course open ot the man tormented by destiny
q He believes the sum of mankind is greater than the sum of individual men (somewhat Marxist idea that the group will help the individual)
q Father died 1914
q Mother, older brother, grandmother and paralyzed uncle shared two-room apt.
q Enjoyed swimming, which has almost a sacramental significance in his work
q 1934-35or37 Communist Party propaganda agent among the Arabs (not that effective)
q Worked as a salesman and in clerical jobs
q Moved to Paris in conflict with censors
q Algeria was in theory an integral part of the French Republic, ie. Overseas department, but functioned like a colony: minority European origin believed they could be part of France, majority of Arab and Berber origin spoke Arabic and were Muslim—may have aspired to France, but it was not a reality
q Camus was a Stranger
q French by education
q Surrounded by people who are strangers in “France”
q Mersault was a pen name Camus used in journalism
The Stranger 1942
q Mersault becomes an embodiment of Camus’ theme: he finally seems to be presented as an emblem of the human condition—he will not renounce this life by accepting something he does not believe in; he passionately affirms what now seems to have motivated his actions all along: his belief in an indifferent, “absurd,” universe. This life he has been given is the only one he wants.
q M. is alienated, or estranged, from society because he refuses to allow conventions to influence him
q He s a stranger because he can’t find meaning in society
q He is a stranger to fixed values; love, truth, God, etc.
q He is a stranger because he refuses outside help
q He is a stranger because he cannot lie
o “It is not an absurd universe that destroys Mersault; it is a moral legalism which has injected fixed values into a sphere which has no fixed moral values: human life”
o Mortality and senseless suffering enhance the value of life in that they invite men to live more fully and intensely.
o That something is important as a death sentence is “given by men who change their underclothes.” (137)
o “Mersault is the man who answers but never asks questions, and all his answers alarm society which cannot bear to look at the truth” (Germain Bree)
o Mersault is “the only Christ whom we deserve.”
o “…every man on earth was under sentence of death.” (146)
o The chances of survival for an individual who refuses to conform to societal expectations are next to nil.
q Mersault is faced with a justice system that is clearly out of step with the concepts of truth and justice prevalent in a democratic society
q The law emerges as corrupt, duplicitous, and concerned with form rather than substance
q Mersault seems to be excluded from the proceedings’ conclusions that are drawn and decisions made that seem to have little to do with Mersault
q No attempts are made by the justice system to elicit the truth as Mersault perceives it
q Law has become an abstraction that is incapable of being applied to individual realities
Nobel Acceptance Speech exerpts:
Because his task is to unite the greatest possible number of people, his art must not compromise with lies and servitude which, wherever they rule, breed solitude. Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.
For more than twenty years of an insane history, hopelessly lost like all the men of my generation in the convulsions of time, I have been supported by one thing: by the hidden feeling that to write today was an honour because this activity was a commitment - and a commitment not only to write. Specifically, in view of my powers and my state of being, it was a commitment to bear, together with all those who were living through the same history, the misery and the hope we shared. These men, who were born at the beginning of the First World War, who were twenty when Hitler came to power and the first revolutionary trials were beginning, who were then confronted as a completion of their education with the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the world of concentration camps, a Europe of torture and prisons - these men must today rear their sons and create their works in a world threatened by nuclear destruction. Nobody, I think, can ask them to be optimists. And I even think that we should understand - without ceasing to fight it - the error of those who in an excess of despair have asserted their right to dishonour and have rushed into the nihilism of the era. But the fact remains that most of us, in my country and in Europe, have refused this nihilism and have engaged upon a quest for legitimacy. They have had to forge for themselves an art of living in times of catastrophe in order to be born a second time and to fight openly against the instinct of death at work in our history.
Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death. In a world threatened by disintegration, in which our grand inquisitors run the risk of establishing forever the kingdom of death, it knows that it should, in an insane race against the clock, restore among the nations a peace that is not servitude, reconcile anew labour and culture, and remake with all men the Ark of the Covenant. It is not certain that this generation will ever be able to accomplish this immense task, but already it is rising everywhere in the world to the double challenge of truth and liberty and, if necessary, knows how to die for it without hate.
The Theatre of the absurd:
q All of human kind is in a world that revolves around the rules, morals, and decisions of other people
q This world chases the bait society gives it
q Humanity hungers for success “levels” that strangers have set
q Existentialist sits back and laughs at the absurdity that occurs—all choices are made for the achievement of nothing
q Absurd: out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical
q Ionesco: absurd is that which is devoid of purpose, “cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless”
o Action tends to be circular, focusing on texture of a condition rather than telling a connected story
o Characters tend to be archetypal, can exchange roles or metamorphose into other characters
o Time and place are generalized, flexible like in dreams
o Language is downgraded, ridiculed
o Spectacle is symbolic or metaphoric to compensate for demotion of language
o Dramatic forms disappear
o Plays are conceptual