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Book: The Fall

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I had a combined edition of Camus' The Stranger and The Fall that I just finished reading. I found the amorality of Meursault in The Stranger a bit too frustrating to warrant a second read, but the histrionic tale of immorality that Clamence weaves in The Fall was engrossing and tightly woven enough for me that I will have to read it again when I find the time. Clamence reminds me a bit of ginfiend for some reason. Perhaps it's because he proclaims, "Fortunately there is gin, the sole glimmer of light in the this darkness." (p. 12)

p. 7

Haven't you noticed that our society is organized for this kind of liquidation? You have heard, of course, of those tiny fish in the rivers of Brazil that attack the unwary swimmer by thousands and with switch little nibbles clean him up in a few minutes, leaving only an immaculate skeleton? Well, that's what their organization is. "Do you want a good clean life? Like everybody else?"

p. 8

Hence a bourgeois, in a way! But a cultured bourgeois! Smiling at the use of the subjunctive, in fact, proves your culture twice over because you recognize it to begin with and then because you feel superior to it.

p. 13

They walk along with us, to be sure, and yet see where their heads are: in that fog compounded of neon, gin, and mint emanating from the shop signs above them. Holland is a dream, monsieur, a dream of gold and smoke -- smokier by day, more gilded by night. And night and day that dream is peopled with Lohengrins like these, dreamily riding their black bicycles with high handle-bars, funereal swans constantly drifting throughout the whole land, around the seas, along the canals. Their heads in their copper-colored clouds, they dream; they cycle in circles; they pray, somnambulists in the fog's gilded incense; they have ceased to be here.

p. 13

Have you noticed that Amsterdam's concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life -- and hence its crimes -- becomes denser, darker.

p. 18

The feeling of the law, the satisfaction of being right, the joy of self-esteem, cher monsieur, are powerful incentives for keeping us upright or keeping us moving forward. On the other hand, if you deprive men of them, you transform them into dogs frothing with rage.

p. 25

My profession satisfied most happily that vocation for summits. It cleansed me of all bitterness toward my neighbor, whom I always obligated without ever owing him anything. It set me above the judge whom I judged in turn, above the defendant whom I forced to gratitude. Just weigh this, cher monsieur, I lived with impunity. I was concerned in no judgment; I was no on the floor of the courtroom, but somewhere in the flies like those gods that are brought down by machinery from time to time to transfigure the action and give it its meaning. After all, living aloft is still the only way of being seen and hailed by the largest number.

p. 63

Some cry: "Love me!" Others: "Don't love me!" But a certain genus, the worst and most unhappy, cries: "Don't love me and be faithful to me!"

p. 75

They always think one commits suicide for a reason. But it's quite possible to commit suicide for two reasons. No, that never occurs to them. So what's the good of dying intentionally, of sacrificing yourself to the idea you want people to have of you? Once you are dead, they will take advantage of it to attribute idiotic or vulgar motives to your action. Martyrs, cher ami, must choose between being forgotten, mocked, or made use of. As for being understood -- never!

p. 81

We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself. You won't delight a man by complimenting him on the efforts by which he has become intelligent or generous. On the other hand, he will be beam if you admire his natural generosity. Inversely, if you tell a criminal that his crime is not due to his nature or his character but to unfortunate circumstances, he will be extravagantly grateful to you. During the counsel's speech, this is the moment he will choose to weep. Yet there is no credit in being honest or intelligent by birth. Just as one is surely no more responsible for being a criminal by nature than for being a criminal by circumstance. But those rascals want grace, that is irresponsibility, and they shamelessly allege the justifications of nature of the excuses of circumstances, even if they are contradictory. The essential thing is that they should be innocent, that their virtues, by grace of birth, should not be questioned and that their misdeeds, born of a momentary misfortune, should never be more than provisional.

p. 82

...wealth shields from immediate judgment, takes you out of the subway crowd to enclose you in a chromium-plated automobile, isolates you in huge protected lawns, Pullmans, first-class cabins. Wealth, cher ami, is not quite acquittal, but reprieve, and that's always worth taking.

p. 90

...it was a matter of confessing to men, to a friend, to a beloved woman, for example. Otherwise, were there but one lie hidden in a life, death made it definitive. No one, ever again, would know the truth on this point, since the only one to know it was precisely the dead man sleeping on his secret. That absolute murder of a truth use to make me dizzy. Today, let me interject, it would cause me, instead, subtle joys. The idea, for instance, that I was the only one to know what everyone is looking for and that I have at home and object which kept the police of three countries on the run is a sheer delight.

p. 93

Above all, I used to force myself to visit regularly the special cafes where our professional humanitarian free thinkers gathered... There, without seeming to, I would left fly a forbidden expression: "Thank God..." I would say, or more simply: "My God..." You know what shy little children our cafe atheists are.

p. 95

You see, it is not enough to accuse yourself in order to clear yourself; otherwise, I'd be as innocent as a lamb. One must accuse yourself in a certain way, which it took me a considerable time to perfect.

p. 98

... I made up my mind to leave the society of men. No, no, I didn't look for a desert island; there are no more. I simply took refuge among women.

p. 100

At least until she became my mistress and I realized that the "true love" stories, though they taught how to talk of love, did not teach how to make love. After having loved a parrot, I had to go to bed with a serpent.

p. 102

Despairing of love and of chastity, I at last bethought myself of debauchery, a substitute for love, which quiets the laughter, restores silence, and above all, confers immortality. At a certain degree of lucid intoxication, lying late at night between two prostitutes and drained of all desire, hope ceases to be a torture, you see; the mind dominates the whole past, and the pain of living is over forever. In a sense, I had always lived in debauchery, never having ceased wanting to be immortal. I was too much in love with myself not to want the precious object of my love never to disappear.

p. 103

Then you'll see that true debauchery is liberating because it creates no obligations. In it you possess only ourself; hence it remains the favorite pastime of the great lovers of their own person.

p. 105

There is nothing frenzied about debauchery, contrary to what is thought. It is but a long sleep.

p. 120

At one time, my house was full of half-read books. That's just as disgusting as those people who cut a piece off a foie gras and have the rest thrown out. Anyway, I have ceased to like anything but confessions, and authors of confessions write especially to avoid confessing, to tell nothing of what they know. When they claim to get to the painful admissions, you have to watch out, for they are about to dress the corpse.

p. 121

I was tempted by the Resistance, about which people were beginning to talk just about the time I discovered I was patriotic... I made my discovery on a subway platform, at the Chatelet station. A dog has strayed into the labyrinth of passageways. Big, wiry-haired, one ear cocked, eyes laughing, he was cavorting and sniffing the passing legs. I have a very old and very faithful attachment for dogs. I like they because they always forgive. I called this one, who hesitated, obviously won over, wagging his tail enthusiastically a few yards ahead of me. Just then, a young German soldier, who was walking briskly, passed me. Having reached the dog, he caressed the shaggy head. Without hesitating the animal fell in step with the same enthusiasm and disappeared with him. From the resentment and the sort of rage I felt against the German soldier, it was clear to me that my reaction was patriotic. If the dog had followed a French citizen, I'd not even have thought of it. But, on the contrary, I imagined that friendly dog as the mascot of a German regiment and that made me fly into a rage. Hence the test was convincing.

p. 128

I didn't lock up my money; I didn't cling to what I owned. To tell the truth I was a little ashamed to own anything. Didn't I occasionally in my social remarks, exclaim with conviction: "Property, gentlemen, is murder!" Not being sufficiently big-hearted to share my wealth with a deserving poor man, I left it at the disposal of possible thieves, hoping thus to correct injustice by chance.

p. 136

In short, you see, the essential is to cease being free and to obey, in repentance, a greater rogue than oneself. When we are all guilty, that will be democracy. Without countering, cher ami, that we must take revenge for having to die alone. Death is solitary, whereas slavery is collective.

p. 138

Inasmuch one couldn't condemn others without immediately judging oneself, one had to overwhelm oneself to have the right to judge others. Inasmuch as every judge some day ends up a penitent, one had to travel the road in the opposite direction and practice the profession of penitent to be able to end up as a judge.

Comments (4)

Alex:

I recall it was the apathy more than the amorality that frustrated me in The Stranger. Much of the book had me wanting to smack the protagonist and say, "Do something decisive!"

It also led me to the following comment I made in my high school English class: "So existentialists are basically nihilists who don't want to admit they're nihilists."

Didn't hate the book, but can't say I cared about it at all, either.

kwc:

Nice comment.

I couldn't include any passages here for quotation as they are all frustrating in one way or another, whether it be the apathy in not doing anything, or the amorality when he was doing something.

meta:

lol. poor ginfiend.

Camus ultimately turned out not to be nihilist at all (though Meursault sure seems to be). It comes out more in the Plague or the Myth of Sisyphus... he basically tells you that sure, the world is absurd and messed up, but that doesn't let you off the hook. You still have to try. And your effort is even nobler since you'll never succeed. It sounds a lot like that "glorious in defeat" complex that I thought the Scots had a monopoly on. ^_^

Anyway, you're *supposed* to hate Meursault. You're supposed to condemn his apathy and amorality. You're supposed to judge him before he kills the guy. Then the murder trial is a sorta stinging parody of what you were thinking about the guy as you were reading about him up to that point. Or maybe I'm full of it because it's been many years. I do remember reading it as the very first thing in my french class, and despite the utter simplicity of the first sentence, I *still* went to the dictionary to see if I was missing any secondary meanings to "mere" or "morte" because it was just so *weird*.

kwc:

To me I felt that Camus was poking me with a stick repeatedly and going, "See, doesn't this Mersault guy really annoy you?" i.e. Camus' accomplishment is my frustration.

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