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Patently absurd




This title will be prone to change as will the contents.

Litlove’s 2006 post What is existentialism? with particular reference to Sartre made me try to remember what it was that I read and what took my fancy all those decades ago. I remember being not dissimilar to Tony Hancock in the show where he is ostentatiously (though alone) reading Russell’s History of Western Philosophy when attempting Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, eventually giving up the ghost. Remember how Hancock reads from the beginning, facial expression at first calm, positive, optimistic, but in stages shows the full gamut until utter incomprehension. Having got through half of the first page (artistic license here as I can’t remember the details) he turns to the beginning, defaulting to the initial calm expectancy and then getting confused once more. Does he then throw the book aside?

Nausea was o.k. because Sartre in fiction writes simply, even if you don’t at the end grasp the philosophy. The wiki: Nausea is pretty comprehensive, with substantial quotes which might help in deciding whether to tackle it. I’ve decided to have another go. Notice how Sartre is fond of the colon: I wrote a post on his autobiography, Words, in Moleskine Modality a while back, remarking on the use of the colon there: I still really haven’t a clue how to use it but keep on using it just the same.

I may or may not have made a stab at Sartre’s The Roads to Freedom Trilogy, but cannot find any of them on my bookshelves. I remember watching the BBC adaptation, based on all three books, starring Michael Bryant looking exceeding puzzled and irritated throughout. According to a brief wiki:The Roads to Freedom, Sartre planned a fourth volume, of which only two chapters remain. In the IMDb entry on the Roads to Freedom a comment suggests the BBC wiped some of the original tapes: but that maybe an individual recorded them. If so please make yourself known to us because we desperately need something decent to watch on British TV, and what better than such a great series?

There is a 48 minute Google video of a BBC programme Human all too Human – Sartre: The Road to Freedom. For those of you like me who are not prepared to go over the old ground in a substantial way, here is a painless and short-cut way to re-immerse oneself.

It was to Camus I turned after Sartre and found the absurd in the long essay The Myth of Sysiphus. And the novels.

It is so easy now to find interesting online materials on Camus and existentialism in general. For example the wiki: absurdism has a simplified chart showing the relationship between Existentialism, Absurdism, and Nihilism. I am reminded by re-reading about Camus that he did not consider himself an existentialist, but there are those who do, such as this person who has written The Existential Primer.

I’ll put here some of the articles and sites that might help someone starting from scratch:

The Myth of Sisyphus from SparkNotes (a clear one page summary)

Suicide and Atheism: Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus By Richard Barnett

The wiki:Albert Camus points out that some distinguish Camus’ idea of the absurd from others by terming it the Paradox of the Absurd

Paul M Willenburg has a compilation of essays and other things.

Dance of the Mind blog in a 2008 post explains his reading of The Myth of Sisyphus. Lots of interesting points can be picked out of the the comments stream, including the larger one that is not that easy to grasp what Camus was on about.

Book Crazy blog : several posts

Albert Camus – the Absurd Hero

Caligula by Camus: Absurdity’s illogical end.

In 2006 Marcel Berlins wrote an article in the Guardian, What is it about Albert Camus’ The Outsider that makes it such an enduring favourite with men?

….my brief Outsider-inspired vow always to tell the truth and not care about the consequences spoiled my love life for a while. (“What do you think of my new dress?” “Awful. You’ve got terrible taste.”)

The Outsider study guide from BookRags.

::

I personally found Mersault bloody irritating because it seemed no man would act or think like that. The initial attraction for me was a recognition of the milieu. I had been a teenager on another North African beach.

One might tend to say now Mersault had a personality disorder. Perhaps it might be said that Camus had no other way to examine such an extreme existential position other than to create a fictional character representing it, in order that the philosophical implications could be worked through. To imagine such a person, is an act of creative fiction at its best.

::

The general way of dealing with The Outsider is to do the teenage angst bit, as in this BBC News magazine article by Sean Coughlan, The Cult of the Outsider.

BBC 2 ran the Virginia Tech Massacre docudrama 8 April 2008 which seemed to me to be visiting the same territory as Camus with Mersault. There was mention of the need to play with identity. Having re-visited existentialism and the absurd the day before, when an expert (a paraphrase here) summarised gun-boy Cho as preferring the persecution of injustice to the reality of failure, my ears pricked up: this seemed to be the nub. It also seems to feed into the notion of America being the epitome of narcissism. This wiki:narcissistic rage, completes the story.

Cho changed courses from Business IT to English. He started a novel. His family encouraged him, but professionals politely told him it was crap. He wasn’t going to be a writer; he hadn’t got the talent. But this is the way he eventually chose to express himself: he had backed himself into what he saw was a corner he couldn’t get out of. He saw no way out for his desire for admiration and fame than to kill randomly and then kill himself, hence going down in history. Being ultimately disillusioned by the recognition that you haven’t got what it takes to live the life you imaged may be behind many teenage suicides (which just happen to be predominantly male).

Although he did not commit suicide, what is this if not the life of Lee Harvey Oswald?

MARINA OSWALD : “Lee had no moral sense at all…only egotism, anger at others on account of his failures.”

Lionel Shriver in a April 2007 Guardian piece, These are all Copycat Crimes, expresses it better than I have.

Campus shootings are now a genre, much as, in literature, campus-shooting novels are a genre, one of whose entries I am guilty of writing myself. They are part of the cultural vocabulary, and any disgruntled, despairing or vengeful character – of any age of late, since grown-ups now want in on the act – now has the idea of shooting up a campus firmly lodged in his brain.

I do not believe that the choice of schools or colleges for the pursuit of grievance or, often, for the staging of what I call “extroverted suicide”, is arbitrary. For most of us, school and university are the seats of profound and formative emotional experiences, and the psychological power of these locales does not necessarily abate with age. Only last month I had reason to walk down the hallway of an elementary school in the US, and the lockers, lino and acrid chalk-dust smell sent my head spinning with memories, not all of which were pleasant. I felt claustrophobic, smothered, actively grateful to be spared the tyrannies of Mrs Townsend’s home room, and relieved to get out. In fact, I couldn’t believe I was allowed out of the door without a pass.

For a lucky few, school and college are where we first distinguish ourselves. But for the majority, they are the site of first humiliation, subjugation and injury. They are almost always our first introduction to brutal social hierarchies, as they may also sponsor our first romantic devastation. What better stage on which to act out primitive retribution?

Here’s a couple of chunks from The Outsider.

::

And finally, Colin Wilson’s The Outsider. For those who who know nothing of it, Lynn Barber wrote a profile of Wilson in 2004, titled Now they Will realise That I Am a Genius, which covers pretty much everything, and can have you in stitches at times if your humour is that way inclined, including having written over a 100 books after The Outsider, which no one really wanted to publish. The best being that the blurb in edition after edition continued (or continues) to have praise from Edith Sitwell and Cyril Connolly (who later admitted he hadn’t read it).

I read it in the 1960s having read the story of who he was and how he came to write the book. It was first published in the 50s. The general idea amongst the intelligentsia being he was some uneducated upstart who couldn’t possibly be writing this book, as this page puts it, because of his ‘outsiderish autdidactism’. My view is that he is fine where he is telling us about the books and lives he examines but less good when he tries to develop a theory to encompass a positive gloss on the outsider.

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April 7, 2008 - Posted by | Absurdism, Albert Camus, Existentialism, Sartre | , , , , ,

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