Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday commute lxxxvi: the smell test of daydreams

Circumstances confer upon us all,
if we care to notice, a recurring
exposure to youth under varying
degrees of intellectual trial and
release, and I find it fascinat-
ing to witness how the habits of
one of these modes influence the
conduct of the other. Not, I sup-
pose, that the comparison would
be much different among their el-
ders, except for their mastering
of escape from both estates.

A persistent threat of humour is
a great hazard to the occupation
of observing the young in compul-
sory study of philosophy and psy-
chology, but this has been so
since The Symposium and it would
only be vulgar to deny it. For a
Saturday commute, I thought some
compassion for that captivation
might be more seemly for the day,
and I beg not to be taken unser-
iously. Even you and I return to
Albert Camus.

That this writer was a specialist in the unthinkable has had a way of sustaining his vogue, regard-less probably of compulsion; but to win credits for the pursuit of temptation is not the least of the great lessons of the academy, per se. He remains as much at home on the escapist mountain peak as in the great fluorescent baths of academic sweatshops. Back in the day of reading in coffee houses, he was as ubiquitous as cinnamon, tincture of not a little allure of raciness, and succulent as a stick. What is the aromatic imprint of the Macbook Air?

The first thing to be noticed in the experience of reading Camus, not that anyone is willing to give the secret away, is the impression of being cast under observation, ourself, without apparent mercy or compassion, by invitation to examine morbidities which depend precisely on their suspension. In this frame of reference it would be indelicate to imply a bilateral seduction, with its telltale aromatic of appealing to the susceptible; but that Camus is a pleasure for the young while Nietzsche is not, I can neither deny nor fathom. He is, however, a poet, to Nietzsche's raconteur.

What I know, what is certain, 
what I cannot deny, what I cannot 
reject - that is what counts. 
I can negate everything of that part 
of me that lives on vague nostalgias, except this desire for unity, 
this longing to solve, 
this need for clarity and cohesion. 
I can refute everything in this world surrounding me that offends 
or enraptures me, 
except this chaos, 
this sovereign chance 
and this divine equivalence 
which springs from anarchy.

Consciousness and revolt, these re-jections are the contrary of renun-ciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one's own free will.. 
The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance.

I can understand 
only in human terms. 
What I touch, what resists me -
that is what I understand.

 As I suppose is well known,
 or ought to be, Gallimard
 published this essay in 1942,
 under a heinous occupation of
 France, made even more exquis-
 itely cruel by its permission
 to the arts to flourish, and
 contribute to illusions Camus
 took pains to refute elsewhere.
 But the open agitations in this
 work powerfully trigger a smell
 test of temptations it so forth-
 rightly addresses. It is stren-
 uous and arduously aloof, a tex-
 tual embodiment of the bread of
 indifference on which man feeds
 his greatness. I could trust a
 youth to get it.

Albert Camus
Le Mythe de Sisyphe
Éditions Gallimard, 1942©
Justin O'Brien, translation
Knopf, 1955©
Penguin, 1975©

Frederic Spotts
The Shameful Peace
  How French Artists and
  Intellectuals Survived the
  Nazi Occupation
Yale University Press, 2008©

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