By Patrick Hayden (auth.)
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Additional resources for Camus and the Challenge of Political Thought: Between Despair and Hope
In the positive space, the details of Marie’s breasts, hair, lips, taste and scent are pronounced, while in the negative space such details are blurred or indescribable and the Arab remains a spectral, anonymous figure – an unspoken trace of the strangely speechless and nameless condition of a colonized people. Such anonymity, Camus seems to suggest, is like a hole, a void in Meursault’s conscience that replicates the colonial erasure of identity. The familiarity of Meursault’s daily rituals with Marie, which take place without any reflective questioning, as something appropriated as a matter of course by Meursault, contrasts sharply with the appearance of an Other that resists assimilation into the comfortable reality that Meursault takes for granted.
Introducing the absurd Commenting on the motivations of writers, the literary critic Roland Barthes once remarked: ‘The world exists and the writer speaks’ (1972: 258). For Barthes, the writer is compelled by an inner force to create meaning in the world, to give coherence to what is intrinsically incoherent. This passionate relationship between philosophy and literature, meaning and the world is, I believe, a useful way to characterize Camus’s writing on the absurd. The concept of the absurd is of the utmost importance for Camus, because it affords us a direct view not only of the equivocal desire for union between individual and world, but also of the dizzying fracture between human consciousness and the universe.
Nor is he just a target of the power to marginalize and exclude wielded by a legal and political system that sustains itself as guardian against unsettling otherness. Camus’s consideration of the experience of strangeness embodied in Meursault, in contrast, seeks to hold these two aspects together in a state of constant tension. On the one hand, Meursault ‘refuses to lie’ or ‘hide his feelings’, he abstains from the bread of convention upon which daily life customarily feeds. On the other hand, therefore, Meursault’s inability to compromise means that ‘immediately society feels threatened’ (Camus 1970: 336), and his desire to live simply and freely – always consistent with himself – makes him dangerously incomprehensible to the authorities entrusted with ensuring the intelligibility of social order.