After Awhile You Can Get Used to Anything!

In Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger, Meursault’s mother passes away before the book begins. A series of events occur, including Mersault shooting a man, which result in a prison sentence. To most, prison is probably not the most ideal place to live. With no freedom, Meursault has to give up his job, women and cigarettes. To Meursault, prison is not so horrible after awhile. Camus writes, “So, with all the sleep, my memories, reading my crime story, and the alteration of light and darkness, time passed” (80). Meursault realizes life is meaningless, and everything is up to the choices he makes. When he explains his time in prison, he does not complain about losing the freedom to visit his job, girlfriend, or friends. He decides to live life in prison by using what he has, and not missing what he used to have. Meursualt creates games, digs out old memories, and reads the same crime story over and over. He doesn’t believe being in prison is a bad thing, because he has no other hopes or dreams. He is where he is, because he has done what he’s done, and now he must pay the consequence for it.

Living life this way can seem depressing, but ultimately, it means Meursault is not unhappy. He does not wish for anything and in fact, even when Marie comes to visit him, he doesn’t display affection or happiness to finally see her. While many people pray they will never have to spend a day in jail, Meursault has a different approach. As Maman used to believe, “after awhile you could get used to anything” (77).

Sisyphus is not Happy

Camus’ argument that Sisyphus is the happiest person in the world is just a flat out lie. I would like to know how pushing a rock up a mountain for the rest of your life brings happiness. Just because Sisyphus was “the wisest and most prudent of mortals” doesn’t make him the happiest. I actually would like to argue that his realization is what makes him the most sad man in the universe. I’d like to connect Sisyphus and Camus’ theory to a show I watch called Rick and Morty. I’m going to focus on Rick who in the show is the smartest man in the galaxy and is basically a God because of this. But on the other side of his intelligence is that he is extremely depressed, because he is so smart that he realizes that he is in a TV show and knows that his life is “absurd”. This is almost directly tied to Sisyphus and maybe his wisdom has allowed him to realize that life is absurd while the rest of us live our life with the window dressing of meaning.

Nabokov and Good Reading

Nabokov’s perspective is very interesting and easy to digest. You can’t look at a book before you’ve read it the same way you can look at a painting. The art is only fully displayed for you when you re-read. This is similar to re-watching movies and getting different things from it each time. This is because you know the story and you now have that leverage to interpret the dialogue or imagery. I have shown friends shows with major plot changes that assume they can review the show after watching a couple episodes. This is very frustrating and annoying. It is a fair point to make that when you dip your toes into a story that you don’t always want to go all in from the get go. Not every piece of media has an attention grabbing opening that hooks you. Some times, you have to swim a little farther before your caught on the hook. There is no solid answer to solve this small conundrum. There is advice and second opinions but that’s it. An example for me would be when I began watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, I automatically interpreted the entire show to be about a depressed kid who gains confidence through fighting with giant machines. I’m so glad I came back and finished it because it is one of the best written shows ever made

Lost In Translation And Existentialism

The Discrepancies Between The Stranger And L’étranger And An Existentialist Conversation

I sat down to read L’étranger for the first time a few springs ago, and every so often I reread the first few pages or chapters aloud.

The flow of …

Aujourd’hui maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.

Camus, Albert. L’étranger. Éditions Gallimard, 1942, p.1.

… is something that has burned into my memory.

Reading both the English and French version of the novel evokes vivid images and a world I constructed and fabricated so clearly sophomore year. Rereading the first few pages of this book had become an almost obsessive behavior, but it was comforting because it transported me to a world that paralleled a time in my life that felt hopeful and purposeful (which was somewhat ironic). I associated the way Meursault would hold a cigarette, the vast expanses of Algerian beaches, the bright lights of the funeral home, and the red sores of Salamano’s dog with the end of my sophomore year in an inextricable way.

When I picked up this book in English for the first time, I was off put. The same images that came with the rhythm of the French version that I had read aloud repeatedly ceased to appear. It was strange, so I would blink, and attempt to read again and conjure up the world of Meursault. I think that as I continued to read, but there was always a certain uneasiness that followed. Which maybe was an appropriate accompaniment for the book.

This anxiety that I am missing something surfaces everytime I read a book that I know was originally in a different language. Anna Karenina should be in Russian, Norwegian Wood should be in Japanese – what is slipping through the cracks of the language barrier that I will never be able to grasp? I trust modern translators, and I know that popular translations are meticulously constructed to preserve the original meaning. But I also know that there will always be something missing – which makes me want to learn more languages. But then I wonder if learning these languages outside of a native context will skew my understanding.

Nevertheless, last school year I hadn’t thought of Meursault for a while until 2020 had upturned all of our worlds in March.

Similarly, I recall turning to Huis Clos (No Exit) by Jean Paul Sartre in order to explain the absurdity and relentlessness that this year. I prominently recall a list of existentialist vocabulary that prefaced the play in our thin paperback copies.

L’absurde – Reality is absurd because we recognize our inability to explain its existence. The outside world exists without apparent justification, foundation or purpose.

La nausée – Nausea is the feeling of repulsion that takes us when we become aware of the absurdity of reality.

L’angoisse – Anguish is the normal condition of those who have become aware of their total liberty, and the fact that there are no universal values that can justify the choices they have made.

L’authenticité – A man who has grasped and accepted the fact that he is free, who has realized what his situation is, and who has, within that situation, chosen to engage himself in the world around him so as to affirm his liberty, is an authentic person.

Le choix – Man is condemned, because he is free, to choose what he is going to be, by his daily actions. This choice also implies the attitude of the Others and hence is another source of anguish.

La liberté – To be free is to recognize one’s complete independence; to make one’s own life through one’s own initiative; to reject any idea of absolute Good or absolute Evil and to accept no judge or mentor to save one’s own conscience.

I remember writing that I was overcome with la nausée while driving in my car, listening to Dreams by Fleetwood Mac last spring. I had taken to driving long distances with my Dad as a form of escapism. I would drive along rural highways and never get out of the car, and that gave me a lot of time to be pensive. I felt as if I was hit by something so large and overwhelming that is was indescribable. It sunk in my stomach like lead. And everything around me seemed to take on a new lens as irrelevant and frivolous. As a went through the sequence of trying to justify the turbulence that had uprooted my junior year (before March, I had also had a difficult and unusual year), I realized that searching only made it worse.

It was cringely nerdy, but I had to take out my copy of Huis Clos in order to explain and document this feeling that had overwhelmed me on the drive. I realized that this was la nausée, but this brutal experience had taken me one step closer towards la liberté. It was something I had to grapple with in order to move away from the brink of hopelessness. Which I sometimes fear removes its authenticity. I can’t use it was a means to escape something, because that is just as harmful. I think I am grappling with my relationship with l’absurde everyday, but not in too conscious a way. It is a balance that I will be trying to find for the rest of my life.

Who Is the Real Robot?

While at Celeste’s, Meursault eats dinner with a small woman. She is very direct, precise, and quick. This intrigues Meursault enough to follow her after dinner to see what she does next. This woman is described as a “robotlike” (43) by Meursault. This woman seems like a foil to Meursault because she does everything with direction: “Ordered her whole meal all at once… While she was waiting for her first course, she opened her bag, took out a slip of paper and a pencil, added up the bill in advance, then took the exact amount, plus tip, out of a vest pocket and set it down on the table in front of her” (43). From the moment she sits down she does everything with purpose. This is clearly the opposite of Meursault, who through the story aimlessly lets life happen to him as he does things like turn down promotions and marry a woman he is not in love with.  

Calling her the robot woman seems odd as Meursault could be described as a robot himself. He seems to feel no emotion and just does exactly what he is told to do. I think this woman could be an example of why some critiques of existentialism and Meursault are hypocritical. As some say that it is dark and assumes life has no meaning. The character of the robot woman shows how a person that is the exact opposite of an existentialist, one that has great belief in the systems that humans have created, could be just as bad. As while Meursault seems not to decide anything for himself she does not either, as she is trapped in a routine determined by systems outside of her control. Meursault and the robot woman show how opposite extremes in world view could result in similar people.