Saturday, February 03, 2007

Obit Imitating Art?

When Albert Camus died, the literary journal X (I, 2, March 1960) ran an obituatry by Michel St. Denis. He writes:

The theatre was not for him a distraction: he used to say, in his warm and cheerful way (I knew him as a theatre man), that he loved sharing in group work, simply as a member of the team; his solitude as a writer, concerned with the plight of man, was fed and helped by his daily contact with the difficulties, failures and achievements, passions, generosity and pettiness of a company of actors. What to others is trouble and unbearable agitation was food and excitement to him. He wrote that the stadium and the auditorium of a theatre were the only places in the world where he did not feel guilty. (113)

In his 1956 novel The Fall, Camus did in fact write what St. Denis says he wrote. Here is the relevant paragraph:

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. I have never been really sincere and enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports, and in the army, when I used to act in plays we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was a rule of the game, which was not serious but which we enjoyed taking as if it were. Even now, the Sunday matches in an overflowing stadium, and the theatre, which I loved with the greatest passion, are the only places in the world where I feel innocent. (87-8)

Now, those words may of course have been as true of Camus as they were of Clamence. But it seems to me that this is an unhappy coincidence in an obituary on the life of the author of The Myth of Sisyphus (an essay on the absurd). It would be a bit like using words originally (or even just also) "written" by Charles Kinbote or Humbert Humbert in an obituary for Nabokov. Wouldn't it?

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