The Fall by Albert Camus

I’ll tell you a big secret, mon cher. Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day. 

There are two reasons why everybody should read Camus: one he was the second youngest person to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature and two, and probably the more intriguing, that he is credited with giving wings to the metaphoric tortoise that is Philosophy of Absurdism. Absurdism is a simple enough concept, it is the belief that life is essentially purposeless and man exists for no greater reason than to exist. Isn’t that a piercing crystal-clear cry in the wilderness for all those living on isolated mountain peaks searching for the carrier pigeon that will deliver their destinies? So, clutch contently at your straws because according to Camus, your existence is distilled down to simply that, clutching at straws.

I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers. After that vigorous definition, the subject will be, if I may say so, exhausted. 

The Fall is set in the form of a conversation between the main character, Jean-Baptiste Clamence and a stranger he encounters in a bar (not very different from a chance conversations had with strangers on 3-hour matatu rides). Now seeing as how the stranger does not respond, it comes off as a conversation between Clamence and the reader. Clamence speaks and we listen.

Allow me to ask you two questions and don’t answer if you consider them indiscreet. Do you have any possessions? Some? Good. Have you shared them with the poor? No? Then you are what I call a Sadducee. If you are not familiar with the Scriptures, I admit that this won’t help you. But it does help you? So, you know the Scriptures?

The Fall is philosophy abridged, if I may put it that way. The book itself is tiny, 51 pages, and to put it frankly is in its totality just an experiment in highlighting human hypocrisy. It reads like a confession, and you the reader made Father. Clamence bears his soul to the stranger and for what purpose? Not for the beads of a Rosary but that perhaps at the end of it the stranger may bear his soul as well, bow before a Mugumo tree.

You see, I’ve heard of a man whose friend had been imprisoned and who slept on the floor of his room every night in order not to enjoy a comfort of which his friend had been deprived. Who, cher monsieur, will sleep on the floor for us? p12

musah swallah art

Musah Swallah Art

Vanity of vanities all is vanity and Camus brings this to a heel beautifully. The book is a looking within; a private gallery showcasing the wilted virtues of Clamence; the death of the Beast’s rose. The carcass of this brute is this: are you good because you are good or are you good because it is good to be good? And is it really wrong if your answer kowtows to the later?

I am well aware that one can’t get along without domineering or being served. Every man needs slaves as he needs fresh air. Commanding is breathing—you agree with me? And even the most destitute manage to breathe. The lowest man in the social scale still has his wife or his child. If he’s unmarried, a dog. The essential thing, after all, is being able to get angry with someone who has no right to talk back. p16

There is one incident that sprouts and earmarks the apex of the tale: when Clamence passing across a bridge hears behind him a splash accompanied by a woman’s cry as her body is carried downstream. This is what haunts Clamence, the knowledge that he neither turned nor moved to help her, he continued home and cast his cultivated virtues down the river.

Believe me, religions are on the wrong track the moment they moralize and fulminate commandments. God is not needed to create guilt or to punish. Our fellow men suffice, aided by ourselves. 

The title is ominous, it might be referring to the fall of Clamence from his statue in life, the fall of mankind from grace or quite simply the fall of the woman into the water. This book is a call to introspection; Camus is asking us to hold the orbs of our lives in the palms of our hands and to really look in at the swirling flakes veiling our existence.

musah swallah.jpg

Musa Swallah Art

But too many people now climb onto the cross merely to be seen from a greater distance, even if they have to trample somewhat on the one who has been there so long. Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practice charity. 

Perhaps the reason I liked this little book is because it holds up a mirror and forces us to stare our own hypocrisy in the eye. Then again, this is the kind of book that requires certain readership because if you are naturally averse to introspection you will palm it off as nonsensical. Again, if you are cursed to be humourless you might see too much of yourself in it to finish. This book requires an open probing mind otherwise the essence of it will be lost like trees in the Mau.

Yes, we have lost track of the light, the mornings, the holy innocence of those who forgive themselves. 


One thought on “The Fall by Albert Camus

  1. Pingback: Exploring the Intricacies of Love in Essays in Love by Alain De Botton | maktabani

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