August 12, 2006

"Freedom is a long-distance race."

Said George Bush, quoting Albert Camus. Our president just read "The Stranger."


Freedom will be defended.

UPDATE: After writing this post at 10:41, I decided to read "The Stranger," which I have to admit, I'd never read. I have read some Camus. I've even read "The Plague" twice, once in French. And I've read enough books in French that I have to wonder why "The Stranger" wasn't one of them, since the writing is especially simple. Water, red, stones, sky, eyes, light, sweat, knife, gun, belly, blinded, dog, white, sun, glare, trees, tears, God, happy, hope. You could get used to the vocabulary quickly and enjoy the repetitions. But I read it in English today. It's 4:35. It was interesting to read a copy of it that had been in the house for a long time, that my son had read once and filled with marginalia. I couldn't tell whether his notes were influenced by a teacher's lecture or if they were purely his. I had meant to try to think about how the book would have been perceived by President Bush, but that didn't last too long. Fortunately. It would idiotically taint the book to waste any time thinking about President Bush in connection with -- for example -- the group of threatening Arabs:
They were staring at us in silence, but in that way of theirs, as if we were nothing but stones or dead trees.
Sorry not to have some ripe political analysis for you. I suppose I could say President Bush seems to have a complex relationship to his mother, and maybe he thought about that when he read this book, which has a theme of the character's relationship to his mother -- mainly, his seeming inability to feel anything at her death. His reaction is to drink coffee, smoke, sleep, start a new love affair, go to a comedy movie, and go swimming -- something people really take the wrong way. Did you know that Barbara Bush was criticized for not attending her own mother's funeral?

Here are three things The Stranger learned from his mother:
1. "[I]t was one of Maman's ideas, and she often repeated it, that after a while you could get used to anything." (p. 77, Vintage paperback)

2. "Maman used to say that you could always find something to be happy about." (p. 133)

3. (Realizing why Maman had taken a "fiancé" when she was close to death) "Maman must have felt free then and ready to live it all again." (p. 122)
ANOTHER UPDATE: Some more sentences, written on a few hours' reflection.... An ordinary man receives the jolt: his mother has died. His response is ordinary but also extraordinary. He smokes, drinks coffee, and seeks new love, real sensation in his ordinary world. He seems numb and inexpressive, and he follows various characters who lead him into their more fully formed lives. Marie offers love and marriage. He follows without seeing the importance of it. Raymond draws him into jealousy and revenge, and he goes there too, and doesn't see a reason not to. Killing a man or not killing a man seem like equal chances on a coin flip, and, seeing life that way, he kills a man. On trial, his emptiness and his search for sensation, for some feeling of living, become the argument for the prosecution, the reason why he is guilty. Condemned, he thinks it through. He sees the significance of life, even a short life, even a hated life, and finally recognizes that he exists, which is enough, which is everything.

32 comments:

Palladian said...

Uh oh...

That book has some troubling subtext that will no doubt provide a lot of gleeful fodder for our friends on the left.

At least he didn't read "No Exit".

PatCA said...

Yes, Palladian, uh oh.

We do not need an ennui-soaked, french existentialist president these days. We need someone willing, for instance, to kick Iran out of southern Iraq and Lebanon. Action is required.

Ann Althouse said...

Hmm... yeah, let's all read/reread "The Stranger" today and try to relate it to George Bush.

Palladian said...

According to the Guardian newspaper, "The Stranger" (which, silly contrarians that they are, call "The Outsider") is the favorite book of their male readers. The favorite book of their female readers? "Jane Eyre". Haha.

Palladian said...

PLOT SPOILER ALERT!

Remember, of course, that the central act in "The Stranger" involves shooting an Arab on a beach for basically no reason. In the end, Mersault refuses to repent and accept Christ, his only chance of avoiding execution, because he won't lie about his athiesm (or anything). Despite the fact that he murders someone, he's an interesting sort of moral character, in that his belief in truth is absolute, and he will not lie even to save his own life. He won't even lie about why he shot the Arab; he tells the truth: he doesn't really know why he pulled the trigger other than that it was hot and the sun was blindingly bright. I'm intrigued by this, since it's much closer to the truth of why we do a lot of things than most people would ever admit.

Camus is the only one of the "existentialists" whose writing interests me (indeed some of the only fiction that interests me) and also admirable for his opposition to totalitarianism; he was not only active within the French Resistance to the Nazi occupation, but disavowed the loathesome Sartre because of the latter's embrace of radical Marxism and the Soviets.

Dave said...

"We do not need an ennui-soaked, french existentialist president these days. "

Uhh, the idea of ennui as applied to modern man comes from Thoreau, not French existentialists.

Meade said...

Palladian said...
... At least he didn't read "No Exit".

Ah but perhaps he did and he's one giant existential step ahead of the rest of us -- "Sure, hell is other people - other islamofacist people - so let's get on with it..."

charlotte said...

W reading Camus... Next we'll hear that the Mullahs are taking in a little Grey Zane, such as Riders of the Purple Sage (1912):

"Portraying the conflict between Mormon and non-Mormon settlers over the possession of land in the 1870s, the novel questions the right of a religion to tyrannize its followers and deprive them of freedom in the name of good..

PatCA said...

Uhh, I didn't say where the notion of ennui came from. But I'm happy you know its origin.

Palladian said...

Don't you hate blog comments that beging with "Uhh..."? Translation: what follows is a sarcastic bit of smarty-pants schadenfreude.

Maxine Weiss said...

Maybe he should have read Camu's "The Plague" instead.

.....All those dead rats coming out of the woodwork.

Loved, "The Plague"....just read it last year.

Who wrote "It Can't Happen Here" ???

That'd be a good one for the Althouse Reading Group.

Peace, Maxine

Bissage said...

For those with neither the time nor the inclination to read/reread "The Stranger," you might try the "Cliff Notes on Tape."

Elizabeth said...

If ennui has struck, can malaise be far behind?

Palladian said...

Elizabeth, never mind the malaise, fear the weltschmerz.

Be said...

Yes, a frustrated Garcin claims that "hell is other people." However, the broader premise is more that Hell is not other people, but our reactions to them. We keep getting the reactions wrong, so we all have to cycle through another round of BS.

Keeping that in mind, I believe that "No Exit" would be excellent political reading nowadays. Heck, it's easier to get through than "Being and Nothingness" or "Existentialism is Humanism," anyway.

SippicanCottage said...

weltschmerz? ennui? malaise? What's wrong with you people? Didn't you have to read the House of the Seven Gables when you were young?

Here, let me give you Sippican Cottage's Condensed Books version:

Blah blah melancholy. Melancholy blah blah. Yeah, verily - melancholy. Blah blah blah melancholy blah blah. Blah blah choleric melancholy blah blah.

The gables need reshingling, there, Hepzibah; don't it make your brown eyes blue...er.. melancholy?

George said...

I also understand that Pres. Bush's father liked pork rinds and that Soviet Premier Andropov dug jazz.

Dave said...

"Don't you hate blog comments that beging with "Uhh..."? Translation: what follows is a sarcastic bit of smarty-pants schadenfreude."

You got me Palladian.

PatCA said...

But I love mayonnaise!

Oh, never mind.

ignacio said...

I've never forgotten how well-read Laura is; her favorite authors are W.G. Sebald and Ian MacEwan. Great choices, by the way.

It's pretty likely she's discussed these with her husband at some point.

Ann Althouse said...

Okay, so I went and read "The Stranger" today. (See the update.) Did anyone else? Come on. Get the Althouse reading group in gear.

Jeff said...

Forget Clff's Notes, the best abridgement of "The Stranger" is by, you guessed it, the Cure!

somefeller said...

Of course Bush likes "The Stranger". The main character kills an Arab, for Pete's sake.

Sophomoric and obvious jokes aside, "The Stranger" is one of my favorite books. It's hard saying that among many people because saying you love "The Stranger" has become a bit of a cliche in some circles (the linkage of the book to the smoking of clove cigarettes hasn't helped), but it really is a great book. I read somewhere that Camus wrote "The Stranger" in an attempt to create a hard-boiled novel, along the lines of 40s and 50s American noir pulp fiction. When you think of the novel as something Jim Thompson might have written if he was French, it reads even better.

knoxgirl said...

In senior english (high school not college) we had the choice at one point to read either "The Stranger" or "I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings" ... let's just say I chose the wrong one. I don't know what my teacher was thinking.

reader_iam said...

Hmm. It'd be even more interesting if President Bush were also reading Camus' "Exile and the Kingdom," particularly the story "The Growing Stone" and its main character, D'Arrast, as against Mersault.

And let's not forget the notions of alienation and absurdity (initial caps versions, as well as personal).

Also, for those perhaps not familiar with Camus' body of works, Arab characters are not unusual.

Camus himself is quite interesting: Upon reading of Bush's reading material, I immediately thought about the fact that Camus himself was not just French, but French Algerians, and deeply affected by the Algerian situation of his time. For anyone interested in this sideline, I found this link, which seems to delve into this a bit, and specifically with regard to "Exile and the Kingdom."

Troy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
reader_iam said...

Sorry, screwed up the link.

Fixed.

reader_iam said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maxine Weiss said...

Ann, you finished Camu in one day?

Books like that, you are NOT supposed to devour in one sitting.

Books like that are to be savored.

You linger.

You tarry.

Ann, you don't know how to 'tarry'.

Peace, Maxine

Ann Althouse said...

It's only 120 pages! And the writing is exceedingly easy to read.

Doug said...

The Stranger was one of the few books I read all the way through in high school. I was and still am, a bit of a lazy ass. My french teacher wanted me to reread it in french for extra credit, but I sucked at that class,and like I mentioned earlier, am a lazy ass. It also got me interested in the Cure, however, I really don't like that song too much, especially in comparison to much of their superior work.

I was pretty shocked when I heard Bush was reading it, for many reasons, foremost of which is that it was written by a French leftist. I picture Bush as more a reader of non fiction works that tend to reinforce his world view of things.

Llounaz said...

I love Camus and all of his writings(he ranks as 2nd in my list of my favorite authers; just behind Kafka), enough to watch The Battle of Algiers just for knowing that Camus has such ties to Algeria. Though 'The Stranger' was also my first meeting with Camus, I'd like to happily share that 'Exile and The Kingdom' is in my not-always-so-humble-opinion a better work.