You and Jean-Baptiste are on the boat together and zipping along the Zuider Zee (the inlet of water at the edge of Amsterdam). He remarks that you can’t tell how fast you guys are going because it’s foggy and there are no landmarks.
He had the opposite feeling, he said, in Greece among the islands; the scenery was so crisp and clear there was never any doubt. (This is the second time he’s mentioned islands.)
Jean-Baptiste stops, notes that he is digressing, and begs you to stop him.
Apparently you don’t do a very good job, because he continues to talk about Greece, where male friends are allowed to walk around holding hands while their wives sit at home, and it’s perfectly acceptable.
He suggests that you both sit down on some deck chairs, and then continues his story.
So, after he ridiculed life for a while, Jean-Baptiste decided to leave the society of men and seek refuge in the company of women. They at least don’t condemn our weaknesses; they are all that remain of "earthly paradise."
He found that he desperately needed to be loved. (He now finds it foolish that he ever thought he was in love. Love just didn’t measure up the grand, idealistic idea of romance that pervades literature.)
Part of the problem is that he had no practice at loving someone else, since he had spent most of his life in love with himself.
In short, he was a train wreck when it came to love. He had multiple women at the same time, jerked them around and made them all miserable – one of them even wanted to die when he didn’t love her back. He helped her out, though, by setting her up with another man while he made his stealthy escape.
So instead of escaping from his guilt – which is what he went to women for in the first place – he actually ended up adding to his list of crimes.
After he gave up on love, Jean-Baptiste soon found he was bored. Without women, he couldn’t gamble, and while he was ridiculing life, he wasn’t playacting his part. He was in the realm of truth, he says, but truth is "a colossal bore."
So he did the only thing he could do: engage in debauchery, which was his substitute for love. In debauchery, he found immortality.
He explains this further. He was lying in bed, he says, between two prostitutes and thoroughly drained of energy. He no longer had the torture of hope. His pain would be gone forever. He could feel immortal.
It wasn’t real immortality. Rather, his sexual escapades were a substitute for immortality. While he was, say, having sex with two prostitutes, he felt momentarily immortal. Of course, the next morning it was mortality all over again, but at least he was happy for the evening.
True debauchery, Jean-Baptiste argues, is freeing because you don’t have the obligations of love. (Remember what he said before about not liking the commitment that came with love?) That’s why people who are in love with themselves are always happy with debauchery.
To enter a world of such acts, he says, you leave behind both fear and.
Next came alcohol, which he abused until his liver got in the way. This he finds ironic, since he was trying to be immortal and nearly killed himself in the process.
Thus ended Jean-Baptiste Clamence’s debauchery stage. The good that came of it, he explains, is that afterwards life was less painful.
He compares debauchery to a long sleep; it weakens the imagination, and it weakens the tendency to judge oneself. As long as you’re indulging in debauchery, you’re not judging yourself, so you’re not suffering.
And so, in those months of debauchery, he lived in a fog – a fog that muffled the laughter coming from the darkness. The indifference he felt earlier now took over completely. He had no more emotions, and so he was effectively "dying" of his own cure.
He kept working as a lawyer, though his reputation got a bit tarnished – more so from his verbal flights of ridiculousness than from his nocturnal exploits.
For example, he kept mentioning God in his speeches to the court, which his clients found to be suspicious. (They thought if he kept referencing God, it was a cover for the fact that he didn’t really understand the law). So he took fewer and fewer cases.
He stopped listening to other people talking, and stayed at home a lot. He started thinking that, maybe, his crisis was over, and he could just wait to grow old.
Hardly. One day he was a on a cruise, looked out over the water, and saw a black speck floating in the waves. He started freaking out and contemplated calling for help but, when he saw the speck again, he realized it was only jetsam.
Of course, Jean-Baptiste could think of nothing but the woman dressed in black who drowned herself in the Seine years before. It was then that he realized that the cry he heard from the water had never ceased – it had traveled for eternity and would continue to travel, along all the waters of the world, wherever "lies the "bitter water of [his] baptism" (5.12).
This is heavy stuff.
Jean-Baptiste points out to you that, here on the Zuider Zee, you are similarly surrounded by water. In the fog, you can’t even tell where the water ends and land begins. He asks if you hear the gulls, and in what direction they are calling.
These gulls, he says, are the same that were overhead that day on the cruise ship. It was that day he realized that he was not cured.
The good news is that his frenzied attempt to escape his guilt ended. He decided to accept guilt, and live in the "little-ease."
What’s a little-ease? Good question. Jean-Baptiste explains.
The little-ease was a type of prison cell used in the Middle Ages. One was thrown in and essentially forgotten. It was made of what Jean-Baptiste calls "ingenious dimensions," neither high enough to stand in nor wide enough to lie down. You had to live diagonally, in a squat, an awkward bending.
It was through the stiffening of his own body that a man would learn he was guilty; it would quickly become clear that innocence lay in stretching. It would be impossible to live in one of those cells, says Jean-Baptiste, and not be guilty.
Besides, he says, proving innocence is impossible; on the other hand, we can most certainly state that everyone is guilty. Every man can testify to every other man’s guilt, or at least that is Jean-Baptiste’s belief and his hope.
This is why, Jean-Baptiste explains, religions are on the wrong track. You don’t need God or commandments to dictate guilt.
And the Last Judgment? Pah, says Jean-Baptiste – the judgment of men is far worse. Just consider the recently invented "spitting cell" in prisons (where the prisoner gets spit on repeatedly). Man didn’t need God to invent that, did he?
The conclusion, says Jean-Baptiste, is that God isn’t useful for judgment – he’s only useful if he can guarantee innocence.
During this lofty speech, Jean-Baptiste is shivering from the humidity on the Zuider Zee. Your boat gets to shore, you disembark, and he asks that you walk home with him so he can finish what he has to say.
He digresses a bit on the subject of Jesus Christ, asking if you know why Jesus was crucified. "There are always reasons for murdering a man," he explains. "On the contrary, it is impossible to justify his living" (5.16).
The reason, he says, is that Christ knew he was not innocent. Even if he wasn’t guilty of the crime he was killed for, he was certainly guilty of other crimes. He knew as much, even if he didn’t know what those specific other crimes were.
Now he starts talking about the "Slaughter of the Innocents," a biblical episode in which Herod orders all the male children of Bethlehem to be killed, in order to avoid a prophecy about the "King of the Jews" who was going to take his throne. This slaughter, says Jean-Baptiste, was basically Jesus’ fault for being born.
He claims that the "melancholy" we can sense in all of Jesus’ acts was really his guilt.
When you look at it this way, crime isn’t so much about making others die, it’s about living yourself, since by living you are inevitably going to commit crimes.
(Jean-Baptiste’s argument sounds a whole ton like the argument put forth by the character Jean Tarrou in Camus’s previous novel, The Plague. Tarrou said that we are all accidental murderers, and the best we can do in life is to not murder others on purpose. Basically, what we’re saying is…you should go read the Shmoop module on The Plague.)
He continues: Jesus couldn’t deal with his guilt, so he figured it was better to die. Essentially, he got a bad deal; not only was he not supported during his life, but he was censored after his death.
OK, so Jean-Baptiste makes a strange reference here to "the Third Evangelist" and a pair of scissors. The four evangelists are the four men who wrote the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Luke is number three. Luke did not include Jesus’ famous pre-death line, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In Jean-Baptiste’s interpretation, Luke censored out what he must have thought of as "seditious" words on Jesus’ part. To Jean-Baptiste, this is really the last straw, leading him to conclude that Jesus really did get a bad deal. But what’s really fascinating, he remarks, is that if Luke hadn’t omitted this line, no one would have noticed it. The fact that he cut it out drew attention to it – and this is how the world works.)
Well, either way, argues Jean-Baptiste, it’s clear that Jesus, for one reason or another, was simply unable to carry on. Sometimes, he adds, merely carrying on is the most difficult task assigned to man.
According to Jean-Baptiste, what’s particularly unfortunate is that Jesus left us alone, to carry on by ourselves. Stuck in our own little-eases, we know everything Jesus knew, but we can’t bring ourselves to die the way he did.
Those who do climb on to the cross, he says, do it to be seen from a greater distance.
Jean-Baptiste laments that a similar injustice was done to Jesus.
Then he stops; it seems he’s been seized by his old habit of speaking of justice. He is simply acting out his lawyer part with you as though he’s making a speech to the court.
He turns your attention to a nearby museum called "Our Lord in the Attic." (This may seem like a ridiculous name, but he’s actually not kidding; there really is a museum in Amsterdam called "Our Lord in the Attic." It started off as a house, then some guy built a church in his attic, and then it was finally respected turned into a museum. It’s rather impressive-looking, as you can see here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/netherlands/amsterdam-amstelkring-museum-pictures/slides/eos_am_2_208.jpg)
Jean-Baptiste uses this museum to make his point that, these days, God is no longer in the attic – or anywhere else for that matter. No wait, God is on a judge's bench. Jean-Baptiste explains that people judge in the Lord’s name, even though, as Jean-Baptiste quotes from the bible, the Lord was fond of saying things like, "Neither do I condemn thee." (In other words, the Lord was all about forgiveness and compassion, but somehow that message got lost and now we judge and condemn and pretend that’s what God wants us to do.)
God, says Jean-Baptiste, wanted nothing more than to be loved. He finds particular irony in the fact that Peter denied Jesus after Jesus called him the Rock on which he would build his church.
We still have pity, argues Jean-Baptiste, but no one is ever acquitted anymore.
Not that we can blame this exclusively on the Christians, he says, it’s everyone else’s fault, too. Since we are all judges, he says, we are all deemed guilty in one another’s eyes – and we are all likewise crucified, though we aren’t always aware of our own crucifixion.
Fortunately, he himself, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, has found the solution – he’s found the way out. He’s found truth, at last. li>
Oh, you’re arrived at his door! He apologizes for that little outburst, and explains that when a man is tired he often thinks of himself as a prophet.
Really, he explains, that’s all he is – "an empty prophet for shabby times." (You should read this interesting passage.
As an empty prophet, he judges lawless men, men who can’t stand to be judged. If you cling to the law, he explains, you don’t fear judgment according to that law. But you fear the prospect being judged without a law.
And yet, Jean-Baptiste explains, that’s exactly what’s going on here; judges are judging without a rubric, and the world is a madhouse.
(A brief explanatory note: This is important, but it might seem a bit confusing at first. Basically, Camus believes that the universe is indifferent and absurd; there was no order to things, and no reason behind suffering – awful stuff just happened, randomly. That’s pretty much what Jean-Baptiste is arguing here. It would be fine if we were all judged according to a set standard: you kill someone, you get twenty years. You let a body drown, you’re deemed "heartless." But it doesn’t work like that. There is no rubric. It’s as though your teacher were grading your tests by throwing darts at the wall or rolling dice to see who got an "A." How can anyone live like that? It’s torture, says Jean-Baptiste. Also, for a counter-argument, check out passage 2.25 where Jean-Baptiste argues against fixed sentencing.)
But, like he said before, he has the solution – he has the way out. Jean-Baptiste is the answer himself. He is the rubric. He is the law. He is a judge-penitent.
But what’s a judge-penitent?
He’ll tell you tomorrow. Just stop by his place before you head to back to Paris.