Camus and the Japanese Novel
I recently posted on a short story by Albert Camus, "The Guest". I am slightly embarrassed to admit that this story was my first Camus. I knew Camus was a super influential figure and after reading "The Guest" I decided to read both of his two most famous novels, The Stranger and The Plague.
Albert Camus (1913 to 1960-Algiers) is French as a result of colonial conquest. He won the Nobel Prize in 1957 and died three years later in a car accident. Much of his work and life was fighting what he saw as the wretched rule of the French in Algeria. He is considered a core Existential novelist but he totally repudiated this label. You can learn more about him here.
The plot of The Stranger is pretty simple and easy to follow. It is set in Algeria in the 1940s. A young French-Algerian man is drifting through life. He seems to have no strong values, no real roots in society or among people, no goals and strong loves or hates. He has a mother who dies. He goes to her funeral (he supported her the best he could on his wage-he works as an office clerk) but he shows no outward remorse or sadness at her death. He does not cry or to seem to feel much of anything. He has a girl friend that he likes having sex with but does not care much about. it is not that he is uncaring to her, he just does not have it within him to care.
One day he gets into a petty dispute with a local pimp and for the pettiest of reasons shots and kills a man, described as "An Arab". (I guess the idea is that that is different legally from killing a French person.)
He is placed in prison and after a few months his trial begins. He does not seem to find prison all that bad perhaps as he did not find life all that good anyway. The trial is a crazy farce with most of the time being spent talking about the fact he did not show remorse at all when his mother died. There is a great deal made over the fact that right after the funeral he went to a comedy movie. (This does sound like the fuss made world wide in the media over the reaction of a woman accused of murdering her child after the funeral of the child.) His attorney is a complete idiot.
Why is The Stranger an enduring classic still on college reading lists world wide? Partially it may be it echos the emotional attitudes often found in intellectual/bookish people in their late teens and twenties when they sense there are no fixed values and react against their old belief structures by saying then all life must be absurd and meaningless. In part, The Stranger is about finding a way to live in a world where you must decide for yourself what is right or wrong-when the old Gods have been destroyed.
The Stranger is a very influential book in Japanese literature. It is not hard to see why. One of the dominant themes of Post WWII Japanese literature is finding a way to live ethically while achieving maximum self-actualization in a world in which all of the creeds that held sway in your culture for 1000+ years have been shattered and exposed as baseless lies. This is not ultimately a negative theme at all-it is about freedom.
I was also pleased to note that The Stranger is part of Clifton Fadiman's Life Time Reading Plan, along with The Plague, which I plan to read very soon.
I was given three Camus titles recently by a patron of my blog from New Delhi to whom I am very grateful.
What is your experience with Camus?
I've read most of his works, when I was a lot younger & have always been a fan, I can also see how his absurdists view rings true with postwar Japanese literature, as both were dealing with similar experiences in a world turned over by the war.
I really appreciated this book. I totally got what they described as absurdism.
I didn't know that it influence Japanese literature. Learned something today. Thanks.
I enjoyed reading during my school years (in France). I would also encourage you to read Le Malentendu, very powerful play. Here is a wikipedia link, with a spoiler: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Misunderstanding
Emma @ Words And Peace
I read L'etranger in French so my experience of it as a native English speaker may be a bit skewed. I didn't relate the main character's lack of moral attachment to a state of youthful disillusionment with moral boundaries, but rather using a broader scope the main character fictionally elucidates the Jean Paul Sartre brand of existentialism in philosophy. Sartre was both a friend and fellow writer of Camus and though both were existentialist philsophers, Sartre is most commonly sited for it.
How funny - this was in the pile of books I just returned to the library, also my first Camus. A friend kept quoting him and I liked those bits but didn't care much for The Stranger, I think because life is meaningless for him, he doesn't change; life around him does. It made it seem pointless. Which I suppose is partly the point!
I'm still going to read more of him, because I'm wondering if I'll develop more of an appreciation.
Isn't it amazing what countries, based on culture, consider a classic book.
My experience with Camus is good and I went on to read his autobiography in Camus, a Romance written by Elizabeth Hawkes. I want to read more of his books and he is amazing. Glad you like the book.
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