The title of this is two things: First, it is a quote from one of my best friends. Secondly, it is poking fun at a really interesting book. This is not my first experience with Camus, as I read The Myth of Sisyphus a little over a year ago, and to be honest I’m still not sure what I think about his philosophy. There is no arguing that Albert Camus was the coolest human being that ever lived, but does this translate over into great thinking and great writing? Well, there are thinkers I appreciate more and writers I enjoy more, but Camus is far from uninteresting.
If you are unfamiliar with Camus (pronounced Cam-moo), let me start with simply explaining The Stranger (spoilers are inevitable, but the book is so old and so widely read, a spoiler isn’t worth much in regards to it). Essentially, the narrator, Meursault, is living a completely ordinary life. He has a 9-5 job, he has recently been forced to put his mother in a nursing home because he doesn’t have a lot of money, he has neighbors that he is involved with, etc. There is really nothing that jumps out as unique about him. Immediately he is confronted with the death of his mother, which he feels little about. He never comes to terms with whether he is sad about this fact or not. People die, he thinks, and that’s just how things happen. People keep trying to make him feel something more or explain further how he feels, but he simply expresses that it doesn’t matter. Soon, he begins dating a girl he had met at his workplace. When she asks him if he loves her, he gives a similar answer. Essentially saying it doesn’t matter, but no, he doesn’t love her. He agrees to marry her anyway. Soon, after helping a friend harass a woman who his friend had suspected of cheating on him, he and his friend are trailed by a group of Arabs who appear to know the girl. They get in a fight and his friend is stabbed. To prevent his friend from enacting revenge upon the man who stabbed him, he takes his friend’s pistol. Immediately following he walks upon the beach and comes face to face with the Arab who had stabbed his friend. He makes a choice between walking away and starting something with the man: choosing the latter, he shoots him.
Much of the rest of the novel is set in the courtroom or the prison in which Meursault is held. He has multiple discussions with lawyers and guards who want to know why he did what he did, many holding him in contempt because he seemed to express no reaction to the death of his mother, connecting it with premeditated murder of the man. Meursault puzzles those around him because he seems to be unable to feel anything. Meursault’s feeling and assertion that nothing ultimately matters governs his entire thought process, and thus, as he is led to the guillotine as the book comes to a close, approaches it with confidences and happiness, knowing that his life matters no more than his mother’s did, whose life mattered no more than another character’s dog’s.
The Stranger is considered Camus’ greatest work in exemplifying his philosophy of Absurdism. In the end, according to Camus, nothing really does matter. Any meaning we give to things is simply a happy thought that is no more true than anything else. It’s a catchy sort of nihilism to me. Sure, it’s interesting and I’m sure some people truly do live by it, but in the end I don’t find it that interesting. Perhaps I am not as enlightened as Camus (Likely), but I just don’t agree with him that our asserting meaning on things is simple fantasy and wishful thinking. I won’t be imagining Sisyphus happy anytime soon, either. In the end, Camus’ thinking, as dismissive as this will sound, is something that creates a lot of great jokes that I really love to laugh with, but when it comes to taking it beyond that, I simply can’t. Meursault is a cold human being who willingly makes poor moral decisions simply because there are no real consequences. The world will keep on turning regardless because nothing matters. I don’t disagree with him out of a feeling that there is a great beyond or anything of that nature. I disagree with him because consequences are real even if he does not see them. He willingly allows a woman to be beaten. He kills a man simply because he chose to not walk away. Camus’ mistake with The Stranger is opposing his logic to religious thinking. It’s the easy way out. I understand that would be his biggest brushback of the time, but not even bothering to consider the other types of moral reasoning that exist outside religion is the downfall of The Stranger. As my friend likes to say about it: “I really like that book, but it’s silly.” I agree.
This is not to say you should avoid it. It’s a great little read that you should encounter and force yourself to consider. Camus is funny, his writing is well done and charming, everything has a point and no time is wasted. You won’t walk away regretting having read it. Yet, I do prefer Dostoevsky as my existential author of choice. Philosophically I’m a mix of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
Recommended to: those who haven’t read Camus yet, those who want to read a different kind of atheist (believe it or not, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are not go to authorities for philosophical atheism), and those who want a short, almost introductory literary read.
Avoid as if sitting by me and asking me some inane question every five seconds while I am trying to read The Stranger by Albert Camus: This book is 121 pages of easy going philosophical writing. I can’t in good conscience say I wouldn’t be disappointed in a person if they couldn’t finish this one.