“I had only a little time left and I didn’t want to waste it on God.”
Title: The Outsider (The Stranger)
Author: Albert Camus
Language: English (Originally French)
Publication details: London: Penguin Books, 2006. (First published 1942)
“I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I’d been happy. Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness. ”
Existentialism is a rather dense philosophical idea that I won’t attempt to dissect at this moment, what I can do however, is point out some of the wisdom I do see in our protagonist, Meursault, his attitude and actions.
In a way, I understood him. Though I definitely feel emotions way stronger than he does, I have at times actually wished to replicate his sense of indifference. Well, I certainly don’t want to be so cold as to murder a man and then just accept the circumstances as they roll by; but there are some things in life that just happen and we have to move on from it. Meursault just takes this to a whole new level.
From his point of view, he has murdered a man, but that is done with. He only did it because of the sheer physical tension he was feeling, and now that the moment is over and the deed is done, he cannot feel remorse for it is already another time. It sounds so cold, so brutal, and of course we cannot live by these rules otherwise society would run amok with serial killers claiming to be “living in the moment”; but at the same time, doesn’t it sound a logical philosophy to follow? Just live in the moment and let it all be.
We can see how this might play out in the real world by observing Meursault’s character, as he treats everything in life with a calm indifference, be it his own mother’s passing, going for a swim with his girlfriend, agreeing to his friend’s case for domestic violence, and committing murder.
“I had been right, I was still right, I was always right. I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done this thing but I had done another. And so?”
A hypothetical situation: let’s say I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. I could apologize, or I could simply acknowledge that it’s happened and move on. If the other party was just focusing on the present as well, they wouldn’t long be offended and move on from the situation too. Thus, there is less grieve for all parties involved! Of course, hurting someone’s feelings and murdering someone is an escalation of rather tremendous proportions, but does that mean that when things escalate in severity, the attention we pay must escalate accordingly as well? It seems rather like adding fuel to the fire.
The main thing is though, that even if one wanted to live in the now when dealing with everyday life (like Meursault), the fact that the rest of society differs would inevitably pose problems.
“Mostly, I could tell, I made him feel uncomfortable. He didn’t understand me, and he was sort of holding it against me. I felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, just like everybody else. But really there wasn’t much point, and I gave up the idea out of laziness.”
“I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”
“I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”
Wow this review definitely got more philosophical than I expected it to be. What I can say is that this book definitely opened up my mind to the idea of existentialism, and what it would be like for someone to truly practice it in and out. Having said that, when I finished this book, I didn’t get moment of epiphany or even a feeling of deep wonder. I felt more like “Oh…that’s it?” I’m not sure if this is because I’m dumb, or because I’m too existentialist to like, think about the book after it’s done, y’know? .
Jokes aside, perhaps another reason this book didn’t really invoke any deep feelings within me is because the way that Meursault reacts to situations, all apathetic and such, is pretty much the default way I react to characters in a story unless I feel a connection to them. If a character is lovely and their family dies, I grieve with them; if a character is vindictive and they carry out vengeance, I celebrate. In a case where there’s no connection, I don’t really care whether something sad, happy or crazy happens, I’m just like “Ok, ok, but then what?”
As Meursault starts out the story as a very indifferent person, I already identify his character as such and thus everything that he carries out in indifference I accept naturally. Murder, domestic violence, whatever – nothing shocks and awes me. On the other hand, maybe that’s the point? To get the reader to see things from Meursault’s point of view? Whoa…I can’t believe I didn’t think about that until now. Meta.
Wait, it all makes sense now…to have the story told in a tone of indifference, so that the reader him/herself doesn’t feel much, and can consciously or sub-consciously emulate Meursault’s feelings! And so, at the end of the book I didn’t feel much because…that’s how Meursault has been telling the tale, and I’m left echoing his sentiments. Ok, I’m not sure if this was an intentional move on Camus’s part but if it is, that’s pretty brilliant. It’s also kinda sneaky because if you complain about the book he can always jump out and say “Aha, but that’s the point!”
It’s a shame he died so young in a car crash.
I feel quite odd now. I’m wondering if my speculations are true or whether they’re just speculations. Maybe when I’m older I’ll revisit this book and see what I think then.
Still, pretty trippy.