Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Slight Comparison Between Camus's The Stranger and The Brothers Karamazov

I must be getting older. For whatever I thought of The Stranger about 45 years ago, I've just reread it to speak with some people about it and think its theme is absurd (no pun intended) and incoherent, though the story is interesting and well written.

For example, Camus in his afterward makes a big deal about Mersault's unflinching honesty and committment to his own truths, even at the possible cost of his life--he's an atheist; nothing really matters; he has no real feelings of remorse; we all die, so what's the point. But if it doesn't matter, as the world is absurd since we all die, then what matters this unflinching integrity that has Camus likening Mersault to a kind of Algerian Christ? What is the ground for virtue; why even privilege integrity? Isn't this the very fundamental and obvious contradiction in asburdism or nihilism? It's an intellectual abstraction entirely belied by our, all people's, experience and necessarily leads to its own reductio ad absurdum.

This absurd theme of absurdity contrasts with the dashing of it--if God does not exist, all is permitted--in the climactic scene between Ivan and Smerdyakov that I've touched on before, arguing that The Brothers Karamazov has it that this evisceration of it does not need faith to anchor it, our common humanity and innate though imperfect impulses toward human sympathy will do fine.

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