Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
But let me first point out that my concierge’s wife, who had gone to such an out lay for the crucifix, heavy oak, and silver handles in order to get the most out of her emotion, had shacked up a month later with an overdressed yokel […] But nothing proves that they were not in love. And nothing proves either that she did not love her husband (2.22).
Jean-Baptiste’s classic "no one knows what goes on behind closed doors" argument is a smaller piece of the claim that no one know. Existentialism was all about the fact that there is no objective truth, and Camus agreed with at least this much.
At that very moment, a laugh burst out behind me. Taken by surprise, I suddenly wheeled around; there was no one there. I stepped to the railing; no barge or boat. I turned back toward the island and, again, heard the laughter behind me, a little farther off as if it were going downstream. […] I went into the bathroom to drink a glass of water. My reflection was smiling in the mirror, but it seemed to me that my smile was double... (2.24).
It is fitting that Jean-Baptiste’s downfall takes the form of laughter – what he really hears is a judgment of how ridiculous, how absurd his life is. What makes it so absurd – the duplicity of his character – is right here in this important passage as well, since his smile looks double to him. Smile = absurdity, double = duplicity.
Until then I had always been aided by an extraordinary ability to forget. I used to forget everything, beginning with my resolutions. Fundamentally, nothing mattered. War, suicide, love, poverty got my attention, of course, when circumstances forced me, but a courteous, superficial attention. At times, I would pretend to get excited about some cause foreign to my daily life. But basically I didn’t really take part in it except, of course, when my freedom was thwarted. How can I express it? Everything slid off – yes, just rolled off me (3.11).
Those of you who have read The Stranger are familiar with Mersault, its title character and narrator. If you’re not, you can take our word for it that this passage describes Mersault perfectly. Indifference is a tricky business when it comes to Camus; in one sense, you’re supposed to accept that the world is indifferent and operate in it anyway. But this has to do with acceptance, not with indifference on your own part. You accept that there are bad things going on in the world, but you don’t let it "roll off" you the way Jean-Baptiste does here. So, in this way, Jean-Baptiste is a negative example before his "fall," at least according to Camus. Now look at how his behavior changes now that he’s chilling out with you in Amsterdam; is he still indifferent? Or has he become a positive Camus hero?