Monday, February 07, 2011

The Stranger

I think Camus' novel The Stranger is about a man who discovers that it matters less what he does than what he is. What he has done is bad enough. But that's not what his trial turns out to be about.

I think this discovery, that it is not enough to do the right things, you must feel the right emotions while doing them (or after doing them), is the root of great deal of "existential angst". It is there even when people do good work, when they are clearly doing the right things. All the time, there is that uncertainty about whether it was done sincerely enough. Or too sincerely.

My favorite sentence in Beckett's Watt is, "Watt had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done." A similar idea is expressed in Wyndham Lewis's Tarr: "[Tarr] had no social machinery [but] the cumbrous one of the intellect. . . . When he tried to be amiable he usually only succeeded in being portentous." (p. 9.)

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