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The maxim captures experience in an artificial manner: it strives to create witty antitheses and, in an effort to be stimulating, clever effects of language. The maxim achieves its purpose, however, only by forcing experience into general notions which betray its complexities. Nos plus grands moralistes ne sont pas des faiseurs de maximes, ce sont des romanciers.

This preoccupation with the concrete does not imply that the meaning of a particular work is limited to such details. On the contrary, Camus was very interested by myth and saw the essence of modern myth as the simultaneous narration of the everyday and the eternal. The concrete situation with its emphasis on the naturalistic and familiar reality of everyday life should be endowed with a symbolic and mythical function that makes its presence felt discreetly Introduction 11 at certain moments in the text. Art is born in uncertainty and ambiguity.

His conception of the novel as one facet of a diamond; his quest for a minimal expression, for the implicit and the sous-entendu; his preoccupation with the concrete and the particular to activate ideas; his love of symbol and myth; all these notions originate in his attempts to capture in formal terms this uncertainty and ambiguity; to produce a work which would have all the tensions and diversity of existence, beneath its simplicity of design. However, it is the brilliance and subtlety of the narrative organization which guarantees that we read the work with maximum attention and find its intellectual implications absorbing.

Camus, like Kafka, makes us reread and re-examine the beginning as a function of the end. The work and its central character retain a dimension of mystery and irreducibility, resisting our attempts to impose a final and secure meaning. How does Camus achieve such effects? So L'etranger 12 much has been written about the possible time, or times, at which Meursault narrates what we are reading that it is tempting to conclude that Camus adopted a narrative strategy that would ensure that every detail of his novel was subject to scrutiny. To understand the effects of ambiguity that Camus is able to achieve in this way, it is necessary to look at the manner in which the problem arises in the text.

Ignoring for the moment the likelihood or otherwise of Meursault keeping such a diary, we see that the chapter divisions, which seem like entries in a diary, involve different moments of narration. For example, the details of Chapter One, recording the events of Thursday and Friday, appear to stem from two different narrational moments: Thursday towards midday, for the first two paragraphs and, for the rest of the chapter, Friday evening. The second chapter records the events of the weekend and again has two narrational points, the Saturday itself until p.

Chapter Three, describing the events of the Monday, appears to be recorded on the evening of the same day. He has shifted his perspective at an unknown moment. Chapter Five describes the events of a single, unspecified day before the Sunday of the murder and involves one, unspecified, narrative moment. In the last chapter of Part One, the events of the Sunday of the murder are described, with a brief reference to the visit to the police station the day before.

The serious point to draw from such an analysis is surely that the search for a conventional, realistic coherence in the narrational and temporal framework leads us to the point where we accept that we are dealing with a work of art, functioning in terms which cannot be reduced to linear chronology or logic and that Camus has designed the work to bring us to this perception. Such correspondences operate in a basic, but not unsophisticated way by the L'etranger 14 repetition of certain words or phrases, and also in terms of the general structure of the book itself, for the second part is a kind of re-examination of the first.

Such correspondences constitute eventually a set of resonances within the text, contributing to a sense of its aesthetic unity and its intelligibility entirely within its own terms, if we probe far enough.

Libre et assoupi

All the details of Part One, including incidentally some which do not figure in the cases for the prosecution and the defence,71 are relevant to the trial; the second part of the book becomes a meditation on, and an interpretation of, the first part. The effect of this is to throw the reader into a position where he must compare and contrast his own impressions of the details of Part One with the views put forward by the court and the various witnesses called.

This parallelism is detectable in all sorts of other areas of the novel.

Je suis slipiste

Camus has brought Meursault to the point of execution to deliver an attack on a set of social and religious values which can be seen as life-denying. The early Meursault, according to such interpretations, is a kind of instinctive individual, living from day to day, in a fairly unreflected and quasimechanical way, preoccupied with the routine business of life—his meals, his mundane job, sleeping, and his weekend pleasures on the beach. This, in turn, initiates a process of reflection which brings Meursault to a concious position of revolt; an instinctive pagan suddenly realizes the value of the life he loves, consciously assumes his attitude, and defiantly defends it against those Christian, middle-class forces which ask him to deny it.

This interpretation posed in turn the problem of whether such a change was psychologically convincing or had Camus simply produced a character who failed to pass the test of verisimilitude, for mediocre office clerks are not likely to acquire the oratorical skills of heroic selfaffirmation. Camus, faithful to his conviction that the true artist says the least, deliberately understated the position of Meursault in Part One in order to give it maximum effect some would say overstate it in Part Two.

Despite impressions, generated in large measure by a narrative style which reflects the discontinuous and fragmented nature of his experience see below , Meursault is no automaton nor unreflecting mediocrity. His rejection of love and of the importance of marriage, when questioned by Marie, pp. He has a job, works tolerably hard at it, and seems to get on well with the people he meets.

However, despite these elements of unease, Meursault is no social rebel; if he does consciously hold a set of views governing his behaviour throughout as argued above , he does not hold these views in a spirit of social defiance. In Part One, Meursault is a private individual, rooted in the concrete and everyday experiences of existence. The murder brings him into the public domain and puts his attitude on trial; condemned and asked to repent, Meursault revolts. The difference between the Meursault of Parts One and Two is not one of substance and certainly not one expressible in terms of awareness.

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He may be said to move from a privately held, to a publicly, and finally, defiantly proclaimed attitude. If Meursault himself does not feel an outsider in the social order, the reader certainly does have this impression to a degree from the beginning, without being able to identify Introduction 17 precisely its causes. For example, it is difficult to make full sense of his behaviour during the vigil and at the funeral.

Meursault is conventional enough to wear a mourning-band but is no conventional participant in the events: he appears remote, physically inconvenienced both by fatigue and his extraordinary sensitivity to light, and overjoyed when he returns to Algiers. Although he tells us that he sees things with extraordinary clarity during the vigil, he also has a sense of complete unreality, and the episode is expressed in hallucinatory and nightmarish terms.

This truce suggests the possibility of a reconcilitation or accord between man and his existence, based on lucid awareness and acceptance of death. Death is to be faced without myths and without the social conventions of grief, for death is natural to life.

Champigny has shown that recourse to the text by itself, especially to the closing pages, suffices to make it clear that at Marengo, Meursault, the pagan, is an outsider in the Christian theatre of death. His life is not oriented to any goal but is a structuring of time before death. On the contrary, Meursault loves life and refers to his contentment on several occasions. It is true that he does not pursue contentment and is certainly not an escapist through hedonism: he enjoys life in silence and a kind of tranquillity, strikingly captured in the early beach scenes with their emphasis on innocence and laughter and animal coincidence with the elements.

Indifference, engendered by awareness of death, paradoxically frees Meursault to enjoy the world and the natural order without guilt. He has no interest in material possessions or career, or a more comfortable lifestyle or the myths of absolute love and marriage.

In one way, this detachment leads to a kind of tolerance: his belief that all lives are of equal worth. In another sense, however, the detachment leads to the rejection of the idea that there are any absolute values of good or evil, to the refusal of sin and of expressions of regret. In order to appreciate Introduction 19 how Camus is able to articulate through Meursault, the quiet office clerk, a complex range of views about society and morality, some comments on the murder and the trial are necessary. When he agrees to write the letter, Meursault appears to show little interest in whether Raymond is telling him the truth or not.

He then asks if he agrees that the mistress should be punished and what Meursault would do in his place. This in itself does not convey approval or disapproval: Meursault is detached from the ethical and practical implications of the plan and writes the letter with no thought for its possible consequences in the future. The execution of the plan, which puts Marie off her food p. The scenes are described with tremendous skill by Camus: we experience events as Meursault does,97 but the all-important question of what actually happens remains difficult to answer, although an Arab is killed.

When L'etranger 20 he gets there, the pulsating sensations in his head begin to cause him pain, as the sun pours down upon him.

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However, the physiological explanation, as Fitch himself accepts, then encounters the difficulty of the pause and the four further shots. It is true that he realizes after the first shot that he has destroyed his happiness and the balance of the day. He has also been involved earlier in two disturbing encounters with the Arab, one involving a knife wound, the other a possible shooting. Together, such events could induce a state of inner panic and collapse, leading to the other shots but they could not then be ascribed to physiology.

One shot, in any case, might be an accident, but a further four certainly cannot be. Conversely, the psychological explanation Meursault, disturbed by the previous encounters with the Arabs, and feeling under threat, fires in self-defence and fires again when he realizes he has lost his happiness would appear too clear cut.

It certainly is not emphasized explicitly in the text and is not advanced as an explanation at the trial, a point to be discussed later. The reader remains perplexed. The complexity of human nature is such that one can never really know the causes of Introduction 21 a murder, nor can one know if one is a potential murderer oneself. Meursault can kill the Arab, whilst in a sense remaining innocent and thus maintaining the sympathy of the reader because Meursault is also a victim. The philosophical problem of whether a man with a belief in the equivalence of all things is likely to murder can be posed, without its being resolved by a clear answer.

Meursault can be simultaneously victim and agent, innocent and guilty, and his act would express the irreducible paradoxes involved in any human action a point possibly made by Meursault himself in relation to Salamano and his dog.

The marginalization of the Arab victim, whilst consistent with colonial reality, is an extension of the same strategy to present Meursault in a favourable light. However, these critics, even if they are right, must accept that the murder scene is convincing, as we read it.

Aesthetic enjoyment and fascination dominate as we read this extraordinary description. Again, fundamental charges of lack of verisimilitude have been levelled against the text Meursault, if he really does love life, would have defended himself better; his lawyer, with only minimal competence, would have pleaded self-defence; the condemnation is itself unconvincing, for no French citizen would have been condemned to death for killing an Arab who had first injured another Frenchman and who had drawn a knife.


Camus has contrived the trial and the verdict to bring Meursault to the guillotine, for that is where he wants him to be. And the sense of irreducibility emanating from the Absurd is fundamental to both acts.

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Throughout the novel the question of judgement is present, but the work is so orchestrated as to make us suspend such judgement. The court verdict and sentence break this ambiguity with a definitive judgement. Realism, for him, was an outmoded literary Introduction 23 convention: the question of what reality was really like interested him more. It is the aesthetic question of using techniques successfully to convince the reader that matters most to Camus, not conformity to preconceived notions and conventions about the real. It rejects the epicene uncertainties of what is for Meursault a religious mythology which robs man of a truth that holds him as much as he holds it.

Camus is clearly visible behind the Meursault of the closing pages which are written with such force. However, this alternative Christ-figure and hero has killed another man.

Libre, seul et assoupi (LITT GENERALE) (French Edition)

Could a philosophy like the one espoused by Meursault with its proclivities for detachment from moral concerns and social values produce and legitimize a murder? Meursault shows no regret, partly because he does not feel that he has killed or is a criminal, but also because regret has no place in his attitude.

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The novel ends on a very high note of individualist self-affirmation, but the sense that such an attitude is bound to lead to conflict, and probably to tragic conflict, remains. The dramatic and fatal resolution of this struggle is perhaps an indication that Camus was increasingly aware, when he wrote this novel, that the philosophy of his early works was in some senses inadequate: Sisyphus was not quite as happy as Camus imagined, nor quite as free.

In , Camus left Algeria for Paris. The man who believed that life is all the better lived the more meaningless it is, by a curious irony found himself living in the historical chaos of war, as though his philosophy of the Absurd had decided to incarnate itself in events in a very precise way.

The beaches of North Africa were filled with soldiers and weapons and many more real bodies than the fictitious one left by Meursault. Practical freedoms were soon restricted and civilized values were overturned: nobody had a guaranteed future as the social order collapsed.