Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French philosopher, author, and journalist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44. His works include well known books such as The Plague, The Fall, The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel.
Camus was described as a moralist and leaned towards anarcho-syndicalism. He was on the political left who opposed the Soviet Union due to its totalitarianism.
His fierce criticism of the USSR led to a clash with many left-leaning intellectuals, most notably with his friend, Jean-Paul Sartre who was a soft apologist for the horrific acts of the communist regimes.
As Quillette writes: “When the war ended, Camus gazed at the devastation of Europe and reflected. Over the subsequent years, his writing would change significantly as humanism and anti-totalitarianism became increasingly central to his thinking”.
Aside from his politically active life, Camus has established himself as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.
“There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide” – that’s how The Myth of Sisyphus opens, abruptly pulling the reader into the world of one of Camus’s main philosophical themes: the absurd.
The beauty and significance of Camus’s work lies perhaps in his style of taking big ideas head on, wrestling with the absurdity of life, guiding his audience through the shifting corridors of human existence, just so we end up on the other side a bit more humane.
Camus died in 1960 in a car accident.
about the book
On the back of its Penguin cover it reads: “The Fall is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has lost his innocence and glimpsed the emptiness of his life, yet is happy to die”.
In other words, the book is a journey of psychological transformation which explores themes of innocence, imprisonment, non-existence and truth, among others.
Some may say it is a metamorphosis into decay. Others might interpret it as an account of a person without scruples, the journal of an immoral creature that walks the streets of Amsterdam, from bar to bar, in the night, through the fog, confessing his sins to the reader.
The Fall is a monologue given by Jean-Baptise Clamence, a formerly successful defence lawyer who appears in turmoil and goes through a battle with himself to accept the essence of the life he lived.
Jean-Paul Sartre referred to The Fall as “perhaps the finest and least understood” of Camus’s books. My intention is to highlight ten passages from this book and provide some thoughts on their pertinence to the [modern] human condition.
“I knew one pure heart that refused mistrust. He was a pacifist, a libertarian, who loved all mankind and all animals equally. Yes, an exceptional soul, there’s no doubt of it. Well, during the last religious wars in Europe he retired to the country. There he wrote over the door of his house: ‘Wherever you come from welcome and enter’. And who do you suppose answered his invitation? Why, militiamen, who marched in, made themselves at home and disembowelled him”.
There are two types of goodhearted people: those who are good because are not disillusioned with our nature and, despite this, choose to be good, and those who are good because they are disillusioned with our nature and act good out of naivety. There is a very high price to be paid for naïve empathy.
“I specialized, in good causes. Widows and orphans, as they say; though I am not sure why, because there are abusive widows and vicious orphans”.
Does innocence exist in our world? Not as it relates to some regulation under which guilt and punishment are distributed. But as it pertains to our nature. Does innocence exist in our moral compass, in the laws that exist within us regardless of the legal institutions around us? In other words, are we born innocent? If yes, then the source of corruption must be the world in which we are born.
“I have always mocked the greed which, in our society, takes the place of ambition”.
With the spread of the internet and of social media platforms, the unhealthy culture of grinding has also become popularised. I wonder how much we are programmed to ambitiously exhaust ourselves in order to “get ahead”, “to make it”, to gain titles and recognition, or worse, to gather fiat money. In the end, no matter how competitive and ambitious one is, we all end up in the same place: in the grave. Why hurry to get there?
“Have you observed that only death awakens our feelings?”
Perhaps that’s why we hurry to get to the grave. It does make sense that we crave the end, even though we might not like to admit it. After all, death is the only certainty, and we spend our lives trying to build and maintain some certainty, some kind of order.
“That’s what men are like, sir: two-faced: they cannot love unless they love themselves”.
This is the difference between “I love you” because I want to and “I love you” because I need to. The former is the love of a person who accepts themselves and is content with being who they are. This love comes naturally and enriches the other person who receives it. The latter is the love of a person who runs from themselves. It is forced and needy. It takes from the person who receives it.
“Every excess decreases vitality, and thus suffering”.
The real killer is Life.
“After a struggle, after exhausting all my life, insolent manners, and discouraged by the futility of my efforts, I decided to leave the society of men”.
Civilisation is not a myth, but then again it is. It is not a myth because spiritual and technological progress is visible through time, in the art we create, in the architecture that radiates beauty, in the community ties we build and in the spaceships that will soon carry us to Mars. But it is also a myth. Behind all this progress, beastly qualities – greed, violence, apathy, narcissism and stupidity – still dwell in us all, waiting to be summoned and show us who we really are.
“Since […] there seems to be no good reason why immortality should be conferred on a salacious monkey, it is necessary to obtain substitutes for immortality”.
Indeed, there is no good reason for why immortality should be conferred to us – in fact, there is no reason and there can’t be one, because reason has nothing to do with such concepts as immortality which veer into the realm of theology that go beyond the applications of reason and require other cognitive tools, like imagination, intuition and faith. The latter is nothing else but the trust in the Unknown.
“With justice definitively separated from innocence, the latter on the cross, the former on the cupboard, I have a free hand to work according to my convictions”.
Justice delivered by the laws of man is forever handicapped. It suffers from a lack of potential, namely it does not have the capacity to deal with non-quantitative matters. How does one measure and in what does one measure the loss of a limb, an eye, half of a brain, a life? Numerical approximations, no matter how generous will always fall short for how does one account for the lost potential, that is for the lost individual expression of the victim? Some form of cosmic justice, religious as it may be, must exist or Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other mass murderers have gotten away with everything they did.
“At the end of every freedom there is a sentence, which is why freedom is too heavy to bear…”
Freedom and personal responsibility are indispensable. The greater the freedom, the greater the burden of responsibility. It is then perhaps not surprising that so many choose to be enchained rather than free, eagerly opting to limit their freedom by accepting the authority and thus the constraints of various societal and cultural constructions – because by doing so they are not as burdened by the consequences of their actions for they outsource part or the entirety of their personal responsibility.
A video review of the book
If you want to watch a longer discussion about the book, its plot and some of its philosophical themes, you can watch the video below – it’s from a YouTube channel dedicated to book reviews.
Categories: Art Reviews and Commentary