by Albert Camus
The Fall Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph). We used Justin O'Brien's translation.
I loved them, according to the hallowed expression, which amounts to saying that I never loved any of them (3.20).
This is by no means a major idea in The Fall, but the inadequacy of language is an important argument for Camus. The idea is that language couldn’t possibly describe the complexities of human emotion. On top of that, we have to define words subjectively – words like "love," in this case – so how can we use those terms with another person? We don’t know if another defines a given term in the same way we do.
I can hear them now: "He killed himself because he couldn’t bear ..." Ah, cher ami, how poor in invention men are! They always think one commits suicide for a reason. But it’s quite possible to commit suicide for two reasons. No, that never occurs to them. So what’s the good of dying intentionally, of sacrificing yourself to the idea you want people to have of you? Once you are dead, they will take advantage of it to attribute idiotic or vulgar motives to your action. Martyrs, cher ami, must choose between being forgotten, mocked, or made use of. As for being understood – never! (4.4).
Again we confront the problem of objective truth, of constant misunderstanding between all men. Jean-Baptiste applies it in particular to death, or even more specifically, to martyrdom, but the problem is both universal and perpetual.
I have never been really able to believe that human affairs were serious matters. I had no idea where the serious might lie, except that it was not in all this I saw around me – which seemed to me merely an amusing game, or tiresome.
To be sure, I occasionally pretended to take life seriously. But very soon the frivolity of seriousness struck me and I merely went on playing my role as well as I could. I played at being efficient, intelligent, virtuous, civic-minded, shocked, indulgent, fellow-spirited, edifying ... In short, there’s no need of going on, you have already grasped that I was like my Dutchmen who are here without being here: I was absent at the moment when I took up the most space (4.17-8).
Jean-Baptiste is identifying a problem not only with his duplicity (i.e., constant, constant lying to himself and those around him), but also with his awareness. He was "absent" while present – like the Dutchmen in Chapter One – because he wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on. His head was in the clouds, or in this case, the fog.