Albert Camus was an extremely handsome,
mid 20th century French Algerian philosopher and writer
whose claim to our attention is based on three novels:
The Outsider, The Plage, The Fall
and two philosophical essays:
The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel.
Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957
and died at the age of 46,
inadvertently killed by his publisher Michelle Gallimard
when his Facel Vega sports car they were in crashed into a tree.
In his pocket was a train ticket he had decided not to use last-minute.
Camus’ fame began with and still largely rests upon his novel of 1942: The Outsider.
Set in Camus’ native Algiers,
it follows the story of a laconic detached ironic hero called Meursault.
A man who can’t see the point of love or work or friendship,
and who one day, somewhat by mistake, shoots dead an Arab man
without knowing his own motivations and ends up being put to death
partly because he doesn’t show any remorse
but not really caring for his fate one way or the other.
The novel captures the state of mind, defined by the sociologist Emile Durkheim,
a listless, affectless, alienated condition
一种冷淡 无动于衷 疏远的状态
where one feels entirely cut off from others
and can’t find a way to share their sympathies or values.
Reading The Outsider has long been a well-known
adolescent rite of passage among french and many other teenagers,
which isn’t a way of doing it down
for a lot of the greatest themes are first tackled at 17 or so.
The hero of The Outsider, Meursault,
cannot accept any of the standard answers for why things are the way they are.
He sees hypocrisy and sentimentality everywhere and can’t overlook it.
He’s a man who can’t accept the normal explanations
given to explain things like the education system, the workplace,
relationships or the mechanism of government.
He stands outside normal bourgeois life
highly critical of its pinched morality
and narrow concerns for money and family.
As Camus put it in an afterword he wrote for the American edition of the book:
“Meursault doesn’t play the game. He refuses to lie…”
“…he says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings…”
“…and so society immediately feels threatened.”
Much of the unusual mesmerizing quality of the book comes from the coolly
distant voice in which Meursault speaks to us, his readers.
The opening is one of the most legendary in twentieth-century literature,
and sets the tone.
“Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.
Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”
The ending is a stark and is defiant.
Meursault condemned to death for a murder committed almost off hand,
because it could be interesting to know what it’s like to press the trigger,
rejects all consolations and
heroically accepts the universe’s total indifference to human kind.
“My last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution…”
“…and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.”
Even if we’re not killers, and we’ll ourselves be really quite sad when our mother dies,
即使我们不是杀手 当母亲去世时 也会非常难过
the mood of The Outsider is one we’re all liable to have some experience of.
When we have enough freedom to realize we are in a cage but
not quite enough freedom to escape it.
When no one seems to understand and
everything appears a little hopeless,
perhaps in the summer before we go to college.
Aside from The Outsider,
Camus’ fame rests on an essay published the same year as the novel
called The Myth of Sisyphus.
This book, too, has a bold beginning:
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem…”
“…and that is suicide.”
“Judging whether life is or is not worth living,”
“…that is the fundamental question of philosophy.”
The reason for this stark choice is in Camus’ eyes because
as soon as we start to think seriously, as philosophers do,
we will see that life has no meaning and
therefore we will be compelled to wonder
whether or not we should just be done with it all.
To make sense of this rather extreme claim and thesis,
we have to situate Camus in the history of thought, his dramatic
announcement that we have to consider killing ourselves because
life might be meaningless, is premised on a previous notion
that life could actually be rich in god-given meaning.
The concept which will sound remote to many of us today
and yet we have to bear in mind that for the last two thousand years in the West
a sense that life was meaningful was a given,
accorded by one institution above any other – The Christian Church.
Camus stands in a long line of thinkers, from Kierkegaard
to Nietzsche, to Heidegger and Sartre
到尼采 海德格尔 萨特
who wrestle with a chilling realization
that there is in fact no preordained meaning in life.
We’re just biological matter spinning senselessly on a tiny rock
in a corner of an indifferent universe.
We were not put here by a benevolent deity
and asked to work toward salvation in the shape of the Ten Commandments,
there’s no roadmap and no bigger point and,
it’s this realization that lies at the heart of
so many of the crises reported by the thinkers
we now know as the existentialists.
A child of despairing modernity,
Albert Camus accepts that all our lives are absurd in the grander scheme
but, unlike some philosophers,
he ends up resisting utter hopelessness or Nihilism.
He argues that we have to live with the knowledge
that our efforts will be largely futile,
our lives soon forgotten,
and our species irredeemably corrupt and violent
and yet we should endure nevertheless.
We are like Sisyphus,
the Greek figure ordained by the Gods to roll a boulder up a mountain,
and to watch it fall back down again in perpetuity.
But ultimatelly, Camus suggests we should cope as well as we can
at whatever we have to do, we have to acknowledge the absurd background to existence,
and then triumph of the constant possibility of hopelessness.
In his famous formulation
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
This brings us to the most charming and seductive side of Camus,
the Camus wants to remind himself and us of
the reasons why life can be worth enduring,
and who in the process writes with exceptional intensity and wisdom
about relationships, nature, the summer, food, and friendship.
书写人际关系 自然 夏天 食物和友谊
As a guide to the reasons to live, Camus is delightful.
Many philosophers have been ugly and cut off from their bodies,
think of sickly Pascal,
sexually unsuccessful Schopenhauer or
poor peculiar Nietzsche.
Camus was by contrast very good-looking,
extremely successful with women for the last ten years of his life,
he never had fewer than three girlfriends on the go,
and wives as well
and had a great dress sense,
influenced by James Deen and Humphrey Board.
It isn’t surprising that he was asked to pose by American Vogue.
These weren’t all just sylistic quirks,
once you properly realize that life is absurd
you’re on the verge of despair perhaps,
but also compelled to live life more intensely.
Accordingly came grew committed to and deeply serious about the pleasures of ordinary life.
He said he saw his philosophy as
“A lucid invitation to live and to create in the very midst of the desert.”
He was a great champion of the ordinary
which generally has a hard time finding champions in philosophy
and after pages and pages of his dense philosophy, one turns with relief to
moments when Camus writes with simplicity in praise of sunshine, kissing or dancing.
He was an outstanding athlete as a young man,
once asked by his friend Charles Poncet which he preferred, football or the theater.
Camus is set to have replied: “Football, without hesitation.”
Camus played as goalkeeper for the junior local Algiers team
Racing Universitaire de Algier, which won both the North African Champions Cup
and the North African Cup in the 1930’s.
The sense of teamspirit fraternity and common purpose, appeal to Camus enormously.
When he was asked in the 1950s by a sportsmagazine
for a few words regarding his time with football, he said:
“After many years during which I saw many things…”
“what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man…”
“I owe to sport.”
Camus was also great advocate of the Sun,
his beautiful essay Summer in Algiers
celebrates the warmth of the water and the brown bodies of women.
He writes “For the first time in two thousand years
the body has appeared naked on beaches,
for twenty centuries
men have striven to give decency to Greek
insolence a naiveity to diminish the flesh and complicate dress
but today young men running on Mediterranean beaches
repeat the gestures of the athletes of Delos.”
He spoke up for a new paganism,
based on the immediate pleasures of the body.
This extract from Summer in Algiers:
“I recall a magnificent, tall girl who danced all afternoon.
She was wearing a jasmine garland on her tight blue dress
wet with perspiration from the small of her back to her legs
she was laughing as she danced and throwing back her head
as she passed the tables
she left behind her a mingle scent of flowers and flesh.”
Camus railed against those who would dismiss such things as trivial
and longed for something higher, better, purer.
“If there is a sin against this life…” he wrote,
“it consists perhaps not so much into sparing of life,”
“as in hoping for another life and eluding the quiet grandeur of this one.”
In a letter he remarked:
“People attract me insofar as
they are impassioned about life and avid for happiness…”
“There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.”
Camus achieved huge acclaim in his lifetime,
but the Parisian intellectual community was deeply suspicious of him.
He never was a Parisian sophisticate, he was a working-class Pied-Noir,
that is someone born in Algeria but of European origin,
whose father had died of war-wounds when he was an infant,
and whose mother was a cleaning lady.
It isn’t a coincidence that Camus’ favorite philosopher was Montaigne,
another very down to earth frenchmen,
and someone one can love as much for what he wrote, as for what he was like.
Someone one would have wanted as a wise and a life-enhancing friend.
This, too, is what philosophy is about.