Wonder Of A Creation

I regard Camus’ The Fall as the first by far among top three wonders of modern classics. Yet there are reasons, unfathomable for the most part, why it is exceedingly difficult to talk about. For one, it isn’t just that the work can be read at several levels, while interpreting the narrative; there are levels within levels too closely enmeshed to disentangle and reduce it to one or other simple version. Secondly, it is hardly composed to even seem to be a novel, as works of fiction go. The story at the fore has pronounced enough features of Holland and its canals, a former laywer and now a judge-penitent for its loquacious protagonist, in a rather fast-paced conversation with a chance visitor over a few vividly described evenings, largely about his present and past life, highlighting the high and low experiences, judgements of people and sundry events it includes, ending in a climactic anti-climax, followed by adieu.

But there, you might have already guessed : these form just the background over which the most intended aspects behind the creation are pasted on the run, going round and round about the same and similar setting, both in the immediate environment and the point recalled in the autobiographical storyline, leaping across continents in the same paragraph and bounding over epochs in collective history in the next sentence, now sizing up an individual and then summing up entire humanity in the next breath. What do we speak of : the prominent but inconsequential story or the elusive but most important intent the artist has woven in it ?

What moves the author to exercise his craft is man, his destiny and his failures, despite the declared futility of such passion. He creates the frames and their ambience to succintly lay down the fall or failure parallels in individual and collective experience, without losing hope or the sight of stalled but grand journey of man, specifically of Europe. That brings the review part of this essay to end : there’s nothing more to be said, which has not been better narrated in the work itself. Let us turn its leafs…

* * *

“Oh, not the Dutch; they are much less modern… Well, these gentlemen over here live off the labors of those ladies over there. All of them, moreover, both male and female, are very middle-class creatures who have come here, as usual, out of mythomania or stupidity. Through too much or too little imagination, in short. From time to time, these gentlemen indulge in a little knife or revolver play, but don’t get the idea that they’re keen on it. Their role calls for it, that’s all, and they are dying of fright as they shoot it out. Nevertheless, I find them more moral than the others, those who kill in the bosom of the family by attrition. 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 swift 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 ?” You say yes, of course. How can one say no ? “O.K. You’ll be cleaned up. Here’s a job, a family, and organized leisure activities.” And the little teeth attack the flesh, right down to the bone.

“But I am unjust. I shouldn’t say their organization. It is ours, after all: it’s a question of which will clean up the other.”

“… allow me to introduce myself: Jean-Baptiste Clamence, at your service. Pleased to know you. You are in business, no doubt? In a way ? Excellent reply ! Judicious too : in all things we are merely “in a way…: But no matter. Professions interest me less than sects. Allow me to ask you two questions and don’t answer if you consider them indiscreet. Do you have any possessions ? Some ? Good. Have you shared them with the poor ? No ? Then you are what I call a Sadducee. If you are not familiar with the Scriptures, I admit that this won’t help you. But it does help you? So you know the Scriptures ? Decidedly, you interest me.

“As for me … My profession is double, that’s all, like the human being. I have already told you, I am a judge-penitent. Only one thing is simple in my case : I possess nothing. Yes, I was rich. No, I shared nothing with the poor. What does that prove ? That I, too, was a Sadducee …”

“No excuses ever, for anyone; that’s my principle at the outset. I deny the good intention, the respectable mistake… In philosophy as in politics, I am for any theory that [132] refuses to grant man innocence and for any practice that treats him as guilty. You see in me, très cher, an enlightened advocate of slavery. Without slavery, as a matter of fact, there is no definitive solution. I very soon realized that. Once upon a time, I was always talking of freedom. At breakfast I used to spread it on my toast, I used to chew it all day long, and in company my breath was delightfully redolent of freedom. With that key word I would bludgeon whoever contradicted me; I made it serve my desires and my power… I did on occasion make a more disinterested use of freedom and even—just imagine my naïveté—defended it two or three times without of course going so far as to die for it, but nevertheless taking a few risks. I must be forgiven such rash acts; I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know that freedom is not a reward or a decoration that is celebrated with champagne. Nor yet a gift, a box of dainties designed to make you lick your chops. Oh, no ! It’s a chore, on the contrary, and a long-distance race, quite solitary and very exhausting…

“Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style. Besides, that word has lost its meaning; it’s not worth the risk of shocking anyone. Take our moral philosophers, for instance, so serious, loving their neighbor and all the rest—nothing distinguishes them from Christians, except that they don’t preach in churches. What, in your opinion, keeps them from becoming converted ? Respect perhaps, respect for men; yes, human respect. They don’t want to start a scandal, so they keep their feelings to themselves. For example, I knew an atheistic novelist who used to pray every night. That didn’t stop anything : how he gave it to God in his books…

“Ah, the little sneaks, play actors, hypocrites—and yet so touching! Believe me, they all are, even when they set fire to heaven. Whether they are atheists or churchgoers, Muscovites or Bostonians, all Christians from father to son. But it so happens that there is no more father, no more rule ! They are free and hence have to shift for themselves; and since they don’t want freedom or its judgments, they ask to be rapped on the knuckles, they invent dreadful rules, they rush out to build piles of faggots to replace churches. Savonarolas, I tell you. But they believe solely in sin, never in grace. They think of it, to be sure. Grace is what they want — acceptance, surrender, happiness, and maybe, for they are sentimental too, betrothal, the virginal bride, the upright man, the organ music. Take me, for example, and I am not sentimental — do you know what I used to dream of ? A total love of the whole heart and body, day and night, in an uninterrupted embrace, sensual enjoyment and mental excitement — all lasting five years and ending in death. Alas !”