The Outsider by Albert Camus

There is no “sane person” in that sanity’s reason for being is as ambiguous and misunderstood as an insane person’s success. So if you think someone is insane because they don’t believe in God, to that fool you’re insane because you do. The protagonist, Meursault, is distanced from the events that take place. He’s there but Camus doesn’t grant his oneness with what is. Every conflict and resolution holds a detached and existential purpose because of the way Meursault perceives it. And you wonder why that is.

The Outsider combines the absurd with the unknowable. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you read the following words, “Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.” Such is the intelligent and honest truth. It’s direct, emphatic, and unbelievably calm. The book pleads you to not take life too seriously. As Emil Cioran quotes, “I’m simply an accident. Why take it all so seriously?”

To Camus, no object or person and the causal relationship between the two have meaning. And in that, existence is more truthful and unpredictably absurd. The question that surfaces then is in the realm of resilience and malleability. What is human? What proof is there of God? And to that, is there an afterlife that our lives in this reality are leading up to?

The temptation to re-enact and reprieve what Meursault does throughout the story is unshakable. You want to absolve his crime inferring that he is an innocent and good man. But innocence and morality are two peas in a pond. They don’t define a person. It’s a pardon, a sort of ambiguity without which human enterprise is doomed to fail. You’re the stranger to the strange capacity of your own self-ness. Your selfishness and reserve are what dissociates you from others. So every object you touch, every person you meet, every morsel of food you digest is an ambiguity. Hence, you’re supposed to die as unwillingly as you were born.

Isn’t it better to buy a vase that you’ll know is going to break? Or would you still deny its mortality? Camus explains the physiognomy of such a misunderstood vase and how it’s made of the same fabric as human life; absurd, random, unknown to its own existence

The Plague by Albert Camus

Begetting such symbolic human helplessness against the unbendable forces of nature… perhaps seen through an evolutionary standpoint makes The Plague an unfortunately arresting book. It’s symbolic in that it’s about the bubonic plague taking place in the 1940s, spread across the city of Oran. The plague could be Albert Camus’s allegorical interpretation of war and/or his absurd and atheistic interpretation of good and evil. One can view this book through many lenses.

The story is grotesque and uncompromising. It doesn’t dramatize death. The protagonist carries out his role as a doctor in the midst of this epidemic as an abstraction. An abstraction that trumps happiness and heroism. For pity, grief, and anger do not offer any strength against such a hardening blow. What’s left is cultivating logical habits that do not leave a person cold and empty.

This abstraction applies to most everyday things of life. We yearn to succeed at something not because it’s the ideal way to live. But in order to avoid failing at it. We’re constantly in fear of not knowing that it forcibly and impulsively compels us to know. Transitioning this thought to the question of good and evil where life is not evil nor is it good. Rather it’s the living of it that affects our judgment on the stand.

The book raises many such questions. Why human behavior is “more or less ignorant” rather than a “vice or virtue?” How appalling it is to understand love not by attaining it but withholding from it. And finally, a question that makes one aware of the enormity of our infinitesimal existence, “But what does it mean, the plague? It’s life, after all.”

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