Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Albert Camus, "The Stranger"

More than anyone, I think it’s Camus who inspires me to bring philosophy into my writing. One of my favorite works of his is the short novel, The Stranger. The Stuart Gilbert translation that many of us read in high school was good. I think the more recent Matthew Ward translation is much better.

Matthew Ward's translation provides a richer reading experience than Stuart Gilbert's; nuances, subtleties and other details of character and dialogue are mixed and seasoned better into the broth of the story, a story about Meursault, a man alone but not lonely, who views with dispassion the alternating streams of tenderness and brutality that form human experience. His earthly incarnation seems only a vehicle through which to observe, to keenly catch fine points of gesture and expression in a context of non-judgment. And so he can view with equal dissociation the brutal mistreatment of an intimate partner and the play of the setting sunlight on street scenes below his apartment window. For Meursault, each is a series of fascinating images created by the impersonal, moving physicality of the universe.

I enjoyed the novel and have enormous respect for Camus' talent in translating sharp observations into stimulating prose. But in my own writing I chose an abrupt departure from one aspect of Camus' character: likeability. Meursault, though fascinating, interesting, and intellectually engaging, doesn't feel, doesn't empathize, doesn't cry, and so I'm challenged to truly like him. Despite this, Camus has given us a readable, instructive, engaging and provocative novel that forms a literary nexus between fiction and philosophy. I read it twice.

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