How we cite our quotes:
If I had been able to commit suicide and then see their reaction, why, then the game would have been worth the candle. But the earth is dark, cher ami, the coffin thick, and the shroud opaque. […] Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. […] So if there were the least certainty that one could enjoy the show, it would be worth proving to them what they are unwilling to believe and thus amazing them. But you kill yourself and what does it matter whether or not they believe you? You are not there to see their amazement and their contrition (fleeting at best), to witness, according to every man’s dream, your own funeral. In order to cease being a doubtful case, one has to cease being, that’s all (4.3).
We have to talk about Camus’s prior novel, The Plague, for just a moment. In The Plague there’s this character named Father Paneloux, a devoutly religious man who, towards the end of his life, starts to doubt. The priest finds himself in the a predicament: should he receive medical help from a doctor, or trust in God? The doctors are all trying to figure out if Paneloux has the plague, but they can’t decide, so their diagnosis is uncertain. When Paneloux finally dies, his diagnostic index card reads, "Doubtful Case." This, of course brings us back to Paneloux’s religious doubts. The point is, we can use The Plague to contradict Jean-Baptiste’s point here: if one ceases to be, we can argue, one can still be a doubtful case. Actually, Jean-Baptiste himself contradicts this point when he later discusses martyrdom: martyrs, he says, will never be understood after their death. Their reasons will be manipulated and misinterpreted. Plus there was that whole Jesus thing – his death was bastardized to no end, according to Jean-Baptiste.
Then it was that the thought of death burst into my daily life. I would measure the years separating me from my end I would look for examples of men of my age who were already dead. And I was tormented by the thought that I might not have time to accomplish my task. What task? I had no idea. Frankly, was what I was doing worth continuing? But that was not quite it (4.21).
Jean-Baptiste will later explain his reason for not wanting to die: he loves himself too much. So it’s not that he’s doing anything extremely valuable, it’s just that he’s a giant egotist.
Despairing of love and of chastity, I at last bethought myself of debauchery, a substitute for love, which quiets the laughter, restores silence, and above all, confers immortality. At a certain degree of lucid intoxication, lying late at night between two prostitutes and drained of all desire, hope ceases to be a torture, you see; the mind dominates the whole past, and the pain of living is over forever. In a sense, I had always lived in debauchery, never having ceased wanting to be immortal (5.7).
This is a lousy solution to Jean-Baptiste’s "awareness" problem. Debauchery bestows immortality because it is essentially a distraction – no one is going to ponder the hypocrisy of man’s fundamental duplicity during a debaucherous act.