11/13/2020     L’ÉTRANGER   {THE STRANGER}           7 Stages Home Brew Series
           

WHAT DOES IT MATTER?

"In our society any man who does not weep at his mother's funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death."   -- Albert Camus

 

MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.

 

Meet Meursault, the French Algerian protagonist and narrator of Albert Camus’ 1942 novel, L’Étranger   {The Stranger}.   Seemingly soulless, Meursault is a man who finds other people either intriguing or annoying, but can never, will never acknowledge any connection to them.  Camus describes him as "a citizen of France domiciled in North Africa, a man of the Mediterranean, an homme du midi yet one who hardly partakes of the traditional Mediterranean culture."   It is a measure of literature’s indifference that posterity has cast laurels and acclaim upon this particular book about this particular man whose story Camus chose to tell.

 

Meursault eases through his life, toiling at a banal bureaucracy (of a sort), making friends (of a sort), taking a lover (of a sort), murdering a man (who may or may have “had it coming”).  His trial becomes a judgment not of his guilt but of his character, and he faces the ultimate in French justice – a rendezvous with Madame Guillotine.

 

And throughout, he feels nothing, expresses nothing beyond a petulant pique at the universe and its randomness.

 

Michael Haverty has written (and produced the sound and video design) a beautifully realized film based on the book, and 7 Stages is including it as a one-weekend stream as part of its Home Brew series.  M. Haverty is very ably assisted by director Bryan Mercer, assistant director Marium Khalid, performer Jake Krakovsky, performer Luis Hernandez, and puppet designer Jeffrey Zwartjes.  Oh, did I fail to mention that the story is told through puppets, who don’t speak so much as chirp and emit Beaker-Like burbles?  It’s at this seemingly random point that I blame an indifferent universe that apparently told the puppet-me, “Why bother?  It doesn’t really matter.”  What I write doesn’t really matter.  We don’t really matter.

 

The puppets are “assisted” by a few video sequences, a few still photographs, some nicely designed text boxes in both French and English, and a world-weary narrator who speaks Camus’ prose as if it were an afterthought.  Which, in Camus’ philosophical ethos, it just may well have been.

 

I freely acknowledge (at this random point) my ignorance (even indifference) to the works of Camus.  I have never read any of his novels, though I do have an unopened copy of The Plague buried within my Nobel Prize library, which, truth to tell, may not be the best of reads while quarantined.  But the Camus volume does include the acceptance speech delivered on December 10, 1957 by M. Camus.  It begins thus:

 

In receiving the distinction with which your free Academy has so generously honoured me, my gratitude has been profound, particularly when I consider the extent to which this recompense has surpassed my personal merits. Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I. But I have not been able to learn of your decision without comparing its repercussions to what I really am. A man almost young, rich only in his doubts and with his work still in progress, accustomed to living in the solitude of work or in the retreats of friendship: how would he not feel a kind of panic at hearing the decree that transports him all of a sudden, alone and reduced to himself, to the centre of a glaring light? And with what feelings could he accept this honour at a time when other writers in Europe, among them the very greatest, are condemned to silence, and even at a time when the country of his birth is going through unending misery?

 

It can be truly said that these thoughts provide a (slight) illumination onto the mindset that produced L’Étranger, that created Meursault.

 

It is at this seemingly random point that I should mention that L’Étranger was first published in 1942 in Paris, during the Nazi occupation.  It is a measure of the universe’s indifference that the defiantly anti-authoritarian overtones of Meursault’s trial were ignored by the Nazi censors, and its publication was allowed (albeit in a limited 4,400-copy printing).  It was immediately embraced by Sartre as a paragon of existential philosophy, a label Camus diligently rejected.  He always insisted it was just the story of an alienated man in a colonial setting.  That is all.

 

And finally, apropos of nothing at all, despite its bleak view of humankind, of fate, of the Universe, I really found thus film entrancing and involving, even entertaining.  It actually induced an empathic connection between me and its totally unempathic puppet-hero.  Its narrative, its narration is constantly compelling, constantly surprising, constantly forcing me to re-evaluate the worth (even the definition) of “bleak.”

 

I couldn’t recommend it more fervently, more enthusiastically.  It apparently does matter.

 

And to conclude, let me thumb my nose at the Spoiler Police, at the Universe, and at fate, by sharing with you Meursault’s final narrative vision:

 

…and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the

first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #7StagesHomeBrewSeries  #L’Étranger)

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