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Outsider (Everyman's Library Classics) Hardcover – International Edition, May, 1998
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About the Author
Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913. He studied philosophy in Algiers and then worked in Paris as a journalist. He was one of the intellectual leaders of the Resistance movement and, after the War, established his international reputation as a writer. His books include The Plague, The Just and The Fall, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Camus was killed in a road accident in 1960. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
But Stuart Gilbert's masterful translation of "L'etranger" from 1946 is for me perfect and, heck, still easily available. There was nothing that needed to be reworked about that: pace Laredo and Ward, it's still fresh and relevant.
Further, Gilbert's rendering has the kind of spare grace that conveys the flavor of the original much better than Joseph Laredo's, arguably conveying, by means of its overall icy tone, Mersault's remote demeanor much more convincingly. The final phrase, "greet me with howls of execration" is much more chillingly rendered there than here, in Laredo's pedestrian and forgettable "greet me with cries of hatred."
The book received many interpretations, including it being (1) a psychological exploration of Meursault's mind, a mind developed during an unfavorable upbringing, (2) a thriller portraying an existential philosophy, and (3) as Camus himself claims, Meursault is a man who is "condemned because he doesn't play the game. In this sense, he is an outsider to the society in which he lives, wandering on the fringe, on the outskirt of life, solitary and sensual." By "playing the game," Camus means inventing reasons for one's thoughts and behaviors, even life itself, which are untrue, because people really don't know why they act as they do and what is the meaning of life; so they invent conventions and values that are not related to reality or how they really feel. But Meursault insists upon being honest, doing and saying only what he knows to be true, not what people want or need to hear. Thus, despite the conventional requirement to cry at his mother's funeral or show regret for killing a man, he doesn't display these emotions because he doesn't feel them.
Thus, Camus is dramatizing the idea of the "absurdity of life," that life has no known meaning; people are unable to discover the true purpose and design of anything, and the explanations they give may make them feel good, but are not true. People insist on living a life ruled by the laws of morality, of "right" and "wrong." But Meursault rejects morality and lives a life based on "truth."
Camus, of course, was not the first to notice that people are unable to know life's purpose. Many others said this long before him. The ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, for example, tells of the futility of life: a man is punished by the gods by needing to push a huge bolder up a steep hill daily, but after the bolder reaches the top, it rolls back down. The fourth century BCE Greek philosopher Plato told about human ignorance in his parable of people living in dark caves, unable to see the light of the sun. The author of the biblical book Ecclesiastes mentions all of the activities that people think are meaningful and calls them "vanity," using a Hebrew word havel, which literally means a puff of air. The book ends with advice to stop searching and just do what God orders to be done. Similarly, the author of the biblical book Job describes Job and his friends trying unsuccessfully to explain why bad things happen to good people and concludes with God's voice appearing to Job within a stormy whirlwind and telling him that his concept that the world functions according to the rules of morality is a fiction; the world functions with violence according to God's unknown plans where animals tear one another to eat, where innocent children die, where good men and women suffer.
In his The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus offers four solutions for people who recognize the absurdity of life. The first takes Don Juan as an example: reject the notions of sin, damnation, and salvation, and seek the enjoyment of sex and other sensations. The second uses the actor as a paradigm: seek to enjoy every role you play with intensity as you encounter new people and experiences. The third looks at the conqueror: know that conquests are impermanent, but enjoy the pleasure of the quests. The last is the creative artist who knows that he can't change the world, but enjoy what he can do. In short, an intelligent person who sees the absurdity of life seeks what pleasures he can obtain while he is alive, without feeling guilt.
Victor Frankl describes it best in his Search for Meaning, his description of horrendous and purposeless life in a Nazi concentration camp. He discovered that people can keep themselves alive if they have a sense of meaning. His hope to reunite with his wife kept him alive during his incarceration even though he didn't know that she was already dead. Thus, although life is absurd, each person should find their own meaning, purpose, and enjoyment in life, even if it is unrelated to reality and untrue.
As the story opens, Meursault is told of his mother's death and, although he grudgingly attends her funeral, he does not weep nor does he display any of the typical reactions or emotions that are expected of a person in his situation. In fact, instead of mourning, he engages in a casual sexual relationship with a former acquaintance that he enountered that day. A few days after the funeral, as a result of an almost absurd string of events and circumstances, Meursault shoots and kills a man. But rather than displaying any remorse or concern, we witness Meursault casually sit through his own trial and judgment with virtually complete detachment and indifference. Before his execution, a chaplain attempts to discuss matters of faith with him and turn him to God but, as with other events in his life, Meursault is disinterested and reconciled to the world's lack of interest in him and his fate as well.
In trying to make some sense of what I had read, I wanted to at least learn a little bit about existentialism. As I now undertand it, a central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his or her "essence" instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human. Thus, the human being creates his own values and determines a meaning to his life. Ergo, I am concluding this means that Meursault is the quintessential existentialist in that he had determined the steps of his own life, made his own choices and lived with them. Having done so, he was indifferent to others and their reactions to what he perceived as his own self-worth.
I can say that The Outsider was ... well, interesting. For my tastes, unfortunately, I'd also have to categorize it as very bleak and joyless and certainly far from compelling. Perhaps, as a reader, I'm a bit thick when it comes to thinking of matters philosophical. But it is what it is and perhaps that's why I don't jump up and down suggesting that this is a must read classic. Recommended for those that want to challenge themselves with what one might call a thinking man's classic.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have problems with the unwarranted philosophic status of Camus and his Pied...Read more