The Fall, by Albert Camus

The true test of literature is found in its ability to layer idiosyncratic truths in such a labyrinthine manner that all readers must toil to find their individual intellectual capabilities. For in this ideal situation the responsibility is no longer on the author to spell out the clichéd one moralistic climax; rather, analysis of all possible climatic emphases must be embraced wholly by the individual, if not, the reading experience is permissible in relation to all the facets imparted throughout by the writer.  In other words, it is easy to write a story which leaves the reader content, harder to leave them satisfied, since true satisfaction is found not in being given the answer but in finding what lies beneath. The Fall by Albert Camus is great literature.

Through the unapologetic use of dark and somewhat morbid irony, Camus challenges socially accepted conceptualizations of love, morality, and hypocrisy, all the while creating a philosophical conglomerate for the reader to maneuver. The book is posed as a conversation, yet only one side is recorded, the side of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a self proclaimed judge-penitent. The “listener” is referred to as “mon cher” for most of the book; it is to be assumed that the reader is supposed to input themselves as the listener of Baptiste’s tale. Although plot lines are inherently vital to all explorations of literature, in the case of The Fall, it seems considerably more apt to inquire specifically about the contextualized concepts found in between the pages, than to lay out a temporally based analysis of Camus’ work. With that being said, it makes sense to, before all else, dissect what Camus termed “the first truth,” absurdity.

In true existentialist fashion, Camus believed that life is, and will continue to be, meaningless forevermore; that nothing exists in the secular realm that could at any point be a source of meaning. He thus created a separate form of existentialism called “absurdism.” In this conception he asserts that there is something very absurd about the human quest for significance. Yet this, and most all existentialist theory alike, lies in an oxymoronic subconscious which cornerstones in the dissociative ability to claim skilled escapism as introspection. Meaning, in the very admittance of the quest as an undeniable journey which the individual undergoes, one therefore defends humanity’s innate desire to know where the “I” fits into the “we” and “they” of the world. This admittance, however, is conducted in such a way that a paradoxical tug of war is created within The Fall reader; with one side being their psychological hunger to find their meaning through external stimuli, juxtaposed with the other side calling on existentialist logic based in separating from the dependence of societal norms in order to self-determine one’s own innate meaninglessness. Camus reiterates this by acknowledging that “the absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.” With the complexities of the absurd unpacked to a level sufficient for the baseline needed, it must be asked, what does this quest look like?

Statistical evidence upholds the ideology that not all self-realization must be completed through actions connoted as reckless and “bad.” Nevertheless, in Camus’ rendition of life, he passionately supports a rock bottom mentality that accepts careless choices as experimentally valid. That is, exhausting one’s free will, through the consistent illogical use of such, for the purpose of exposing the limits of escapism. In his own words, “one recognizes one’s course by discovering the paths that stray from it.” Using this argumentation, the quest can then be defined in one’s capacity to self destruct fully enough to put themselves back together through the ultimate realization of meaningless. A counter-ideological response would claim that Camus’ approach is negating human’s ability to learn from the mistakes of those around them. Camus rebuttals this objection by inserting that, “you can’t create experience, you undergo it.” All in all, Camus depicts escapism as simultaneously freeing yourself from truth and being courageous enough to live.

Furthering this train of thought, inasmuch as pain has a place in the discussion of the quest, pleasure and happiness must also play a part. The commonsensical psyche wonders why the quest, in Camus’ portrayal, is inherently sinful in nature; sinful in such a manner that implies damage to the purity found in morality. Yet to this too Camus has an answer. He understands that in the searching, one cannot find; that “you will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of.” Happiness is then consequently not definable when one is still in the process of delineating the aspects. In Camus’ mind this applies not only to happiness, love, or divinity, but also to the self as a separate whole, “If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers,” he continues on, “aspects cannot be added up.” This mirrors another philosopher, Alan Watts, who said, “the definition, the description, leaves out the most important thing,” and in a more theological sense, “the moment [I] name it, it is no longer God; it is man, tree, green, black, red, soft, hard, long, short, atom, universe.” In fact, this challenge of the common sense only reinstates Camus’ intricate notion of the goal of the quest. A goal interwoven not with fighting off death but in conceding to mortality. For he notes in The Fall that, “one plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn’t even know whether or not one can hang on till the next day.”

At this point in the exploration, the cynicism of Camus is apparent in many of his opinionated stances on life processes. Be that as it may, he is blatantly human in his infatuation with love. This love is not in essence a romantic love, but rather, a love synonymous with the sap in the tree of life in its inseparability from the everyday. According to Camus, “we only know of one duty, and that is to love.” This concept he is touching on, as all concepts surrounding love, could not be possible without the passion that keeps the torchered up at night. A passion so all encompassing that it defines humans, a passion so predisposed that, contrary to Camus’ beliefs, it implies divinity, and a passion so beloved that it can cause the mind to reexamine the value of life without it. For Camus is only intrigued in this passionate love, “I’ve seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don’t believe in heroism; I know it’s easy and I’ve learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves.” Despite his strong defence against life being meaningful in and of itself, Camus finds it imperative for his audience to know that “a loveless world is a dead world.”

Although multiple of his ideologies resemble that of common atheistic principles, Camus says that he is “not an atheist,” even though he “does not believe in God.” Such theological distinctions are incredibly important to decipher in order to more comprehensively understand Camus and the implications of his work. Atheism is defined as “the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods,” while agnosticism is defined as, “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” Ergo, Albert Camus is an agnostic, and not an atheist as would be deduced from his rhetoric. Even still, for an agnostic, Camus sure does like to talk about hell.

The author of The Fall turns away from Dante’s orthodoxical perception of hell as a physical place and moves towards the idea of hell as a transcendent mindset that is found in life on earth through the perception of the individual. As such, Camus warns, “do not wait for the last judgment. It comes every day.” This, yet again, is not through the ethereal sense as is commonly connoted, but instead through the ceaseless judgement of other humans. This constant influx of castigation naturally leads to the suppression of one’s pure self, and in turn, Camus argues, we no longer want to “improve ourselves and be bettered, for we should first have to be judged in default.” In this way hell is the censorship of the fulfilling of self through whatever means necessary. Socialization processes lead society to see this not as an oppressive premise, but as a necessary boundary for the safety and security of all from deviant behavior. Camus refutes this and urges all to rebel such mechanisms of socialization and become superman insofar as he exists beyond, and is not affected by, good and evil. For, “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

Throughout this breakdown of The Fall, Albert Camus, and the ideologies which spring from such, hypocritical aspects of certain logistical thinking has become evident. But what separates Camus from philosophers and writers of his kind is found in his overt knowledge of his own hypocritical tendencies and the way in which he thrives within them. In other words, he recognizes the innate hypocrisy of sinful creatures and in all respects accounts for it.

Conclusively, by analyzing the aforementioned great literature, a few things have become intrinsically clear. First, Camus sees life as an equation; a problem so immense that it is the duty of the individual to attempt to answer it. Yet, he knows that the key point of the thesis displayed in that sentence is the word “attempt,” because, for Camus, the answer to this problem of life is found only in death. Next, the quest in which we do the act of attempting is based solely in the realization that the boundaries of escapism can only sustain the individual for so long before they must accept meaninglessness by their own self-determination. At last, Camus maintains throughout all of his discourse that “everything considered, a determined soul will always manage,” a determined soul, who he sees as himself.