toorsdenote: (book)
[personal profile] toorsdenote
A friend recently stopped reading Wicked because he really didn't like any of the characters. I scoffed at this: the point of literature isn't to create pretend people that we want to be friends with.* Then I read The Stranger, and found myself more sympathetic to the idea that it's hard to enjoy a book about a person you just want to punch.

Actually, maybe the problem isn't that I don't like Meursault but that I don't relate to him in any way, and I can't work out whether or not Camus thinks I should. I certainly never thought, "Ah yes, this man epitomizes the human condition." Mostly I thought, "Is this guy a sociopath, or does he just have Asperger's?" Does Camus really think we're all in the same existential position as Meursault? Is he putting Meursault forward as an example of someone who copes well with the absurdity of life, or poorly? I feel like this is a book I needed to read with my AP English teacher on hand to explain the point to me.

I also think this book really let me down as an atheist who largely admires existentialist philosophy. Thanks, Camus, for furthering the idea that atheism involves trading in our moral compass for an utterly meaningless life! I actually think there's something really noble about the idea of creating our own meaning in the face of what Meursault calls "the blind indifference of the world." But Meursault doesn't create any meaning, and there's certainly nothing noble about him. I don't know much about absurdism, but it seems closer to nihilism than existentialism than me. And we all know what nihilists are like.



So, LJ friends, what am I missing about The Stranger? What makes this book an unforgettable classic?

* Or is it? All the other books I've read this year have featured protagonists so nice they beggar belief.

Date: 2012-01-27 05:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_tove/
it's hard to enjoy a book about a person you just want to punch.

I will never ever make it through The Fountainhead. (The first time I tried, I was an architecture freshman just beginning to discover how terrible FLW was.)

I read The Stranger in high school, and I don't think I was really trying to read it for philosophy. What I remember liking about it (not loving about it, but finding kind of fun) was the absurdly dry narration, and the feeling of being along for the ride in a brain that was clearly extremely different from my own, and watching as he seemed to find all sorts of horrible things reasonable. It was like watching The Godfather through a haze of some kind of downer. (Not that I've done that, of course.) Anyway, also it was required reading and not very long.

Date: 2012-01-27 08:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] toorsdenote.livejournal.com
"watching as he seemed to find all sorts of horrible things reasonable"

I think that's what I was expecting the book to be, but he never really showed horrible things to be reasonable. He just didn't care about them. His neighbor abuses his dog, meh, no opinion. He doesn't defend it; he just doesn't care.

Date: 2012-01-27 07:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dachte.livejournal.com
Interesting; I've been hoping to make stories that are likewise not trying to create identity links between the reader and the characters, with the idea that the world is too complicated for good and bad, or even a protagonist, and so all that's left is a story. I'm also hoping to make stories where the narrative's world-of-terms and conclusions are just one reasonable perspective, and where most of the characters are living in their own worlds-of-terms and story. IMO, stories should not be tidy or easy, they should just try to be interesting.
Edited Date: 2012-01-27 07:53 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-01-27 08:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] toorsdenote.livejournal.com
Fair enough. I didn't think it was that interesting, either. :-)

Date: 2012-01-27 08:31 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
"Thanks, Camus, for furthering the idea that atheism involves trading in our moral compass for an utterly meaningless life! I actually think there's something really noble about the idea of creating our own meaning in the face of what Meursault calls "the blind indifference of the world."


Did my comment on Dr Rieux in The Plague cause you to read or re-read this? Do I have to read The Stranger again? I disliked it. At least the Doctor is trying to build improvement in what still looks to me like a miserable world.

One of the things I appreciate about novels is the challenge of seeing someone else's world. I don't rule out characters who are "bad" - what sort of moral and sensitive character is Odysseus? Shylock? Gollum? I do have problems with "all-bad" e.g. orcs or two dimensional murder mystery villains. I have to be able to see the world as they see it, and find compassion for their tragic flaws/ hubris/whatever. Finding a way into their worldview is harder for me, but valuable.

Date: 2012-01-27 08:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] toorsdenote.livejournal.com
I actually read it because (a) my friend Andrew said it was the only thing he actually read in high school and that he had enjoyed it, and (b) I read that Bohemian Rhapsody is based on it, which actually turns out not to be true.

I think you're right about seeing the world as the "bad guy" sees it. The Stranger definitely failed at that. It seems to go out of its way to make you shocked by the way the protagonist sees the world.

Date: 2012-01-27 11:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/syd___/
I have not read The Stranger, however I had a similar feeling while trying to read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. And finally at some point, I just stopped reading. I went back and skimmed-read thru the books later (as I had many friends who really enjoyed these books) but until another narrator came in, I just had the hardest time suspending reality and actually feeling like I was participating in the story. The distance between myself and the narrator kept pushing me out of the experience of the book. I know not everyone reads the way I do, where I cease to be aware of the pages or the action of reading, but for me that level of immersion is one of the things that I enjoy about reading for pleasure (and why I really enjoyed the premise of actually entering the Book World in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series even if they were kind of fluff).

Date: 2012-01-28 01:00 am (UTC)
ikeepaleopard: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ikeepaleopard
"I actually think there's something really noble about the idea of creating our own meaning in the face of what Meursault calls "the blind indifference of the world."

I haven't read The Stranger but I did read The Plague in high school and I'd thought that was actually the point of the whole thing.

Date: 2012-01-28 03:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] toorsdenote.livejournal.com
Well, maybe I'll try The Plague then.

I was thinking maybe Camus did think Meursault was creating his own meaning, by the end of the book. Maybe I just disliked him so much by then I couldn't see it.

Date: 2012-01-28 08:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] marialuminous.livejournal.com
I DID read the Stranger with my AP English teacher on hand to explain it to me, and I didn't get it even then.

My tastes in high school tended to lean more towards things like Moby Dick. I had decided fairly early in life that if I couldn't fit in, then I would not even try; this had some amusing side effects, such as when I heard the "cool" kids complaining about Moby Dick, my love for it would suddenly skyrocket.

Date: 2012-01-28 11:43 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Not only did I not like the characters, I also had no reason to care what happened to them. I often read books about characters who I don't particularly like (meaning I don't wanna have tea with them, but neither do I want to slash their car tires).

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