Sunday, February 21, 2010

sixteen

The Stranger

What, you were expecting me to read Camus' The Stranger and attempt to give an intelligent literary or philosophical review that says something profound and new? Not even going to try. I will, however, posit that Meursault, the main character, is actually a self-absorbed, psychopathic Ford Prefect that went to Algeria after he realized that he was stuck on Earth while writing the Earth entry to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Meursault (Ford's pseudonym, obviously) is a dispassionate observer of reality and Earth culture, and barely reacts to what people normally assume humans would react to, and pays deep attention to the mundane. Ford to a T. He's often not engaged, stares off at nothing (probably looking toward his home planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse), and the traditional moral code of Earth culture has little bearing on him. He doesn't understand when people are aghast at his aloofness after his mother's death, because his mother is actually in another solar system.

He's also a little depressed and psychopathic due to his realization that he can't leave the planet and falls in with bad company. He doesn't care. He's also still getting used to English. He therefore speaks in short sentences. Camus was wise to notice this.

Okay, short of that breakthrough, I've got little else to say about The Stranger. It didn't really teach me anything about French culture (other than the caricature of existentialist French philosophers smoking cigarettes in cafes saying "├ža ne fait rien"). I got the cursory philosophical understanding my mind is capable of in the exploration of existentialism and lack of meaning. It wasn't a very enjoyable read, and I'd only recommend it to people who want a quick exploration of these themes. Meursault's a jerk who couldn't care less about anything, but instead of just sitting there, his only actions are to make other people's lives worse (except maybe Maria's). I don't have time for people like this, not even imaginary antagonists. He disqualifies himself as the protagonist, in my view.

One more note - I wonder what atheist thinkers say about this book. Granted, the chaplain and the magistrate he deals with are more representations of overt dogma, forced meaning, and outmoded ideas about the reason for guilt. Yet Meursault catapults himself so far away from decency, while also attacking religion, that things get tricky if people assume all atheists are like this. I'd be curious to hear how folks of secular inclinations have dealt with books like this.

I guess I was just expecting a little more from a book that's so critically acclaimed. But I could absolutely change my mind - I did love Fight Club, which is a modern existentialist story. But it doesn't really matter in the end, after all. Right?

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