I had to read The Stranger in high school, twice. And one of the things that always frustrated me was that the author, Albert Camus, adamantly asserted that he was not an existentialist. His books seemed thoroughly existentialist, and it’s fairly apparent that he actually believed in existentialism. But it finally clicked in my brain that he was indeed an absurdist, as he identified himself.

In The Stranger, we can see the main character, Meursault (mur-so), is utterly hopeless in all that he does. His stoic indifference to his mother’s death is eventually the evidence which unanimously condemns him to death. He preoccupies his dull, uneventful existence with merely trying to feel comfortable in the routine, in courting an exotic woman, and in maintaining the few relationships which have some importance to him.

I remembered that at the end of the book Meursault becomes invigorated with hatred towards religion and society, and becomes self-actualized. His emotion is evoked by the persistence of the priest and the crying of corresponding criminals. Meursault is sure that they are wrong. So while he takes existentialism as a premise, he is no longer bound by its hopelessness. He has found the will to overcome existentialism as the only thing of meaning in life.

The “will to overcome existentialism” is not logical, and therefore absurd. One cannot escape the logic of existentialism (absurdism claims), but you must still reject it because you are human. Camus paints Meursault as the epitome of the humanistic champion. Existentialism, relativism, perspectivalism, and nihilism should all be inherently paralyzing, because they attest to the ultimate vanity of all human actions. The problem with so many existentialists, is that they write passionate books about how wrong religion is, when to actually live out their perspective demands silence and paralysis. Neitzsche for instance, lived years mute and inactive before he took his life. He lived as an existentialist.

Among the nuances of existentialism, it rejects the existence of absolute truth, of a divinity, and of morality in any form. It’s a logical conclusion built on materialistic assumptions. I disagree with existentialism on many logical points, but ultimately it takes a surrender of the materialistic perspective to overcome it.

If two people are walking on a beach and one sees a seal out in the ocean, and the other looks and says “you’re an idiot that’s a log floating out there”, they both agree that there is an object, but their interpretation differs. So we can safely assume that there is such a thing as absolute truth because all of humanity is searching for it. So relativism is not wrong, but a challenge to find truth.

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2 responses »

  1. Chris Peters says:

    I painted the picture of the skeleton.

  2. Wonderful. I love stuff like this. Nice job!

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