Very Well Read

Quotations from, and the occasional reflection on, things that I have read.

Archive for the category “philosophy”

The Stranger

I quite enjoyed this book. It’s the first Camus I’ve read (I’ve read about Camus, but never read any of his actual writing before). There is not much in the way of quotations that I can really extract from this book, because of the style in which it is written (of course, it is a translation from the original French, but apparently the translator took pains to maintain the orginal style as much as possible). You really just need to read the whole book to appreciate it and so I can’t just extract a bunch of quotations the way I usually do (there were a few, just not any many as say, all the Douglas Adams books I’ve been reading of late… Adams and Camus both do wonderful things with language, just in totally different ways)..

There was a lengthy introduction to the book explaining what you are supposed to be getting out of it. I’m always hesitant about whether to read these before or after I read a book – should I just read the book itself and appreciate it on its own merits before I read what others think of it? Or should I read the introduction first so that I am thinking about things that it might be good for me to be aware of while I read it (rather than reading the book, reading the intro and then needing to read the book all over again to pick up on all the stuff I missed the first time through). In this case, I chose to read the introduction first and there were a few interesting points in there that I felt were worth recording:

  • Camus once suggested that ‘if you want to be a philosopher, write novels’” (Introduction, p. xix)

  • “… the Absurdist philosophical approach for which rational and mythical explanations are merely grand narratives invented to enrobe – and thus disguise – the disjointed, contigent reality of lived experiences” (Introduction, p. xxiii)

  • … Mersault [the accused] becomes highly aware that he is ‘superfluous,’ ‘useless,’ that everything is unfolding without him, that he is alienated from his own experiences.” (Introduction, p. xxv)

  • The legal system… a self-sufficient machine which, ‘in the name of the French people,’ dehumanizes, marginalizes or destroys the individual and, in doing so, reinforces the Absurd.” (Introduction, p. xxv)

And now a few quotations from the novel itself:

  • As always, whenever I want to get rid of someone I’m not really listening to, I made it appear as if I agreed.” (p. 67) – I totally do this. Not the best tactic, I agree, but sometimes I just want to avoid conflict and not have to talk about it anymore.

  • So it seemed to me that you could come up with a mixture of chemicals that if ingested by the patient (that’s the word I’d use: ‘patient’) would kill him nine times out of ten.” (p. 106) – a few things struck me about this passed… first, and most prosaic, is how the hell could you come up with. a chemical like that? Secondly, the idea of how differently charged words are (e.g., “patient” vs. “criminal” or “murderer” in this case… or “terrorist” vs. “freedom fighter”) and how one’s perspective on a situation can drastically alter how you feel about it)

  • You always get exaggerated notions of things you don’t know anything about.” (p. 107)

  • If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.” (p. 107) – this line struck me because it is all about living in the moment… so many people are going through the motions of life, but not really being there. I try to enjoy every simple thing… the beauty of a cool crisp day, the exhiliration of a good laugh, the pleasure of a simple touch, the hilarity of things absurd.

According to Wikipedia, that vast repository of all the knowledge in the world, The Stranger is a book that George W. Bush was yammering on about having read and then having discussed the origins of existentialism. And Jon Stewart deftly pointed out the humour of Bush “reading a book about a westerner killing an Arab and feeling no remorse.” You go Jon!

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. New York, A. A. Knopf, 1946.

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