There is nothing like a little 20th-Century French thought to help process just how long this quarantine will go on:
Man is nothing else but what he purposes, he exists only in so far as he realizes himself, he is therefore nothing else but the sum of his actions, nothing else but what his life is. (Jean-Paul Sartre)
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day of his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. (Albert Camus)
But again and again there comes a time in history when the man dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is that of knowing whether two and two do make four. The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to unending separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical.*
Each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know too that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in someone’s face and fasten the infection on him. What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will power, a never-ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses.
Albert Camus reflects on the nature of persecution in The Stranger:
“You won’t do your case any good by talking,” my lawyer had warned me. In fact, there seemed to be a conspiracy to exclude me from the proceedings; I wasn’t to have any say and my fate was to be decided out of hand.It was quite an effort at times for me to refrain from cutting them all short, and saying: “But, damn it all, who’s on trial in this court, I’d like to know? It’s a serious matter for a man, being accused of murder. And I’ve something really important to tell you.” However, on second thought, I found I had nothing to say. In any case, I must admit that hearing oneself talked about loses its interest very soon.
“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” So begins Albert Camus’ first-person account of a man who murders without reason in his existentialist work, The Stranger. The novel is peppered with absurd moments documenting a man, Meursault, doomed to die. “On my way out I was even going to shake the magistrate’s hand, but just in time, I remembered that I had killed a man.” (64)
Meursault describes “the odd impression of being watched by myself.” (87) And then, once convicted, on the inevitable end shared by all: “What really counted was the possibility of escape, a leap to freedom, out of the implacable ritual, a wild run for it would give whatever chance for hope there was.” (109) “Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, across the years that were still to come, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living.” (121)
Existentialists tend to discourse on our sorry lot as humans in this life, caged between birth and death, trapped in this existence, the terror and nausea of realizing how lousy it all really is. Friedrich Nietzsche referred to this terror as the greatest weight: What if this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself.
The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, a speck of dust!
Jean-Paul Sartre expounded on the horror in his play No Exit: You have stolen my face from me: you know it and I no longer do. Luckily, thanks to our evolved sensibilities and their application to technology, we can see the kernel of this philosophical gobbledygook captured in profound and eternal loops.
The GIF – or Graphic Interchange Format – is, as Albert Camus wrote, basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all. There is only absurdity and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.
The city is in ruins, not still smoldering but that feeling there, the sky bright, endless, the depth terrifying and clear. There is nothing. And it is a good thing. Yes, a good thing. It is not that people haven’t been lost. They have. They are distant and gone. There is a gap from that. But not as much as would be expected. The screams have gone, not from dying, but the drunkenness, the all-knowingness, the certitude banged up against in the street, dumb-eyed, suddenly stopped, turning. There is none of that. The quiet is sure. It is a free place, drifted to, away and alone, the climb to the top, the twist through the shoulders, feet firmly planted, hands tight, watching, clear-headed, almost happy with nothing on TV but Gilligan, too poignant, verging on Camus. But the funny thing is I feel good, too good.And I know I should feel guilty about that.
One of the keys to the success of Stephen King’s The Shining is the revelation that the main character, Jack Torrance, is going mad: All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.The manuscript on which Jack has been working throughout the story contains this same phrase written again over hundreds of pages and is an excellent device to convey his lose of touch with reality.And it this very device that seems to have been plagiarized from Albert Camus’ The Plague in which Grand’s emotional imbalance is realized late in the narrative when Dr. Rieux reads over a manuscript of 50 pages documenting the same phrase again and again:One fine morning in May, a slim young horsewoman might have been seen riding a glossy sorrel mare along the avenues of the Bois, among the flowers…And while the purpose – and indeed content – is quite different, the device is not. The repeated phrase – a secret held from the reader and all other characters – is only revealed late in the story as a surprise to all. Did King acknowledge his source? Did he give credit to Camus?
Or does he, like so many of the writing workshop gurus, rely on the specious credo that all writers steal from each other. I, for one, am not buying it.
The heathen fanbase of teams across the continent – be they in Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles or Chicago – simply do not understand. They think it is about winning, hugging and celebrating in a crass display, that this is the point of the game. And I feel sorry for them.They don’t understand that it isn’t this at all, but, as Camus wrote in The Plague, instead is a reminder of our “never-ending defeat.”The Toronto Maple Leafs are only for those who can take it, not the world as we dream, but as it truly is: empty and unrelenting.
Leaf goaltender Drew McIntyre
Yes, the Leafs are only for pure existentialists. Their recent travails – an eight-game losing streak – has even brought The New York Times on the Being and Nothingness train, citing the “disturbing situation”, “devastating slump”, and Leaf coach Carlyle’s catch phrase, “Just breathe. Take it easy. Breathe.” But they don’t understand. They use these words devastating and disturbing like they’re a bad thing, like they aren’t needed, like they can be avoided. They don’t see the wall behind us, the epidemic that’s surrounds. No. All they see is putting the puck in the net. And it’s just so sad.
They beat it out of you, and by they I mean we. It’s us, just us, with our wisdom and cruelty, our dreams of being whole and true, yeah, lying about that. We’re good at that, pretending to be on the subway, losing the call, sitting on our friend’s lap and saying we are laughing when that isn’t inside at all.It’s our demise, our degrading bodies, our trip into the nothing, not loving, not dreaming, not slimming down our skirts as we sit, but just standing there, thinking we might be something and then remembering we’re not.