Monday, November 19, 2007

The Fall

There is an intensely depressing book by Albert Camus entitled The Fall. My friend gave it to me and warned me that I would feel empty inside after reading it. Ah, but I did not feel empty inside. I felt condemned and it was deserved condemnation, for the subject of the book described me; his every word described me. Of course the book was written for more than an audience of one; there must be others who thrill to the words written here. But I felt as though the book were written for me.

One has only to read these passages to see how suitable they are, and how sickening.
    On my own admission, I could live happily only on condition that all the individuals on earth, or the greatest possible number, were turned towards me, eternally unattached, deprived of any separate existence, and ready to answer my call at any moment, doomed in short to sterility until the day I should deign to favor them. In short, for me to live happily it was essential for the individuals I chose not to live at all. They must receive their life, sporadically, only at my bidding. (51)

    I wanted to upset the game and above all to destroy that flattering reputation, the thought of which threw me into a rage. "A man like you..." people would say sweetly, and I would blanch. I didn't want their esteem because it wasn't general, and how could it be general when I couldn't share in it? Hence it was better to cover everything, judgement and esteem, with a cloak of ridicule. I had to liberate at all costs the feeling that was stifling me. In order to reveal to all eyes what he was made of, I wanted to break open the handsome wax-figure I presented everywhere. (69)
But the sickest part, and oh how justly condemned:
    It consists to begin with, as you know from experience, in indulging in public confession as often as possible. I accuse myself up hill and down dale. It's not hard, for I have now acquired a memory. But let me point out that I don't accuse myself crudely, beating my breast. No, I navigate skilfully, multiplying distinctions and digressions too- in short I adapt my words to my listener and lead him to go me one better. I mingle what concerns me and what concerns others, I choose the features we have in common, the experiences we have endured together, the failings we share- good form, the man of the moment, in fact, such as reigns in me and in others. With all that I construct a portrait which is the image of all and of no one. A mask, in short, rather like those carnival masks which are both lifelike and stylized so that they make people say: "Why, surely I've met him!" When the portrait is finished, as it is this evening, I show it with great sorrow: "This, alas, is what I am!" The prosecutor's charge is finished. But at the same time the portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror.

    Covered with ashes, tearing my hair, my face scored by clawing, but with piercing eyes, I stand before all humanity recapitulating my shames without losing sight of the effect I am producing and saying: "I was the lowest of the low." Then imperceptibly I pass from the "I" to the "we." When I get to "This is what we are," the game is over and I can tell them off. I am like them, to be sure, we are in the soup together. However, I have a superiority in that I know it and this gives me the right to speak. You see the advantage, I am sure. The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you. Even better, I provoke you into judging yourself and this relieves me of that much of the burden. Ah, mon cher, we are odd, wretched creatures and, if we merely look back over our lives, there's no lack of occasions to amaze and scandalize ourselves. Just try. I shall listen, you may be sure, to your own confession with a great feeling of fraternity.

    Don't laugh! Yes, you are a difficult client; I saw that at once. But you'll come to it inevitably. Most of the others are more sentimental than intelligent; they are disconcerted at once. With the intelligent ones it takes time. It is enough to explain the method fully to them. They don't forget it; they reflect. Sooner or later, half as a game and half out of emotional upset, they give up and tell all. You are not only intelligent, you look polished by use. Admit, however, that today you feel less pleased with yourself than you felt five days ago? Now I shall wait for you to write to me or to come back. For you will come back, I am sure! You'll find me unchanged. And why should I change, since I have found the happiness that suits me? I have accepted duplicity instead of being upset about it. On the contrary, I have settled into it and found there the comfort I was looking for throughout life. I was wrong, after all, to tell you that the essential thing is to avoid judgement. The essential thing is to be able to permit oneself everything, even if, from time to time, one has to profess vociferously one's own infamy. I permit myself everything all over again, and without the laughter this time. I haven't changed my way of life; I continue to love myself and to make use of others. Only, the confession of my crimes allows me to begin again lighter in heart and to taste a double enjoyment, first of my nature and secondly of a charming repentance. (103-104)

And this is what I am. I am so sick of myself as seen through this book, this book which is a damnable mirror and won't let me alone. What can I do now but laugh? How can I fight this and how to overcome? There is so much to hate....but what one hates most of all is oneself! For if you love yourself, you must of necessity hate must hate yourself, all you desire and all that you do and you must doubt yourself always, even so far as doubting the sincerity of your repentance! Because you know you will do it again though you try not what is the good in trying?

Do you know what is sad? Even if one wishes to sabotage oneself in order to reveal the truth, they are still play-acting! They are still conscious of the effect they produce! So how to get beyond oneself? How to undo what one is? How to get to the point where it no longer matters? Tell me, tell me and let me be cured!

But how do I know I am not play-acting even now?


Mordy said...

Ironically, by reading and quoting, you are briefly able to escape yourself. Derek Attridge writes in The Singularity of Literature that in a text, you confront the Other. It's a space for you to change yourself, to flirt with an Other you. So the parts of your post that are simple quotes let you condemn yourself without compromising yourself. Imperfect, sure. But it's at least an out.

Anonymous said...

What value is your halakhic reality and commitments if it still lets you have such an existence?
If you are in such a halakhic world due to obedience, then fine.
But if you claim all the redemptive and moral qualities of the halakhic universe, then doesn't Camus call into question your religion as a form of "bad faith."

Mordy said...

Wow. No offense anonymous, but your comments are like reading crazy talk.

Ezzie said...

Sometimes you just need to be honest and fight it out. :)

fwiw, this thought process looks awfully familiar.