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A primer on existential philosophy?

  • Jul 4, 2010
Rating:
+4
Meursault is a clerk in Algiers, an intentionally non-descript young man with no particularly interesting traits, characteristics, skills or habits. Now considered to be mandatory reading for those interested in notions of existential or nihilist philosophy, Albert Camus' "The Outsider" or "L'Étranger" is the story of Meursault's life. Or perhaps it might be more precise to suggest that it is the tale of Meursault's indifference to and virtually complete lack of participation in the events surrounding him - how, in a sense, he is almost an indifferent, meta-observer of his own diffident state of being.

As the story opens, Meursault is told of his mother's death and, although he grudgingly attends her funeral, he does not weep nor does he display any of the typical reactions or emotions that are expected of a person in his situation. In fact, instead of mourning, he engages in a casual sexual relationship with a former acquaintance that he enountered that day. A few days after the funeral, as a result of an almost absurd string of events and circumstances, Meursault shoots and kills a man. But rather than displaying any remorse or concern, we witness Meursault casually sit through his own trial and judgment with virtually complete detachment and indifference. Before his execution, a chaplain attempts to discuss matters of faith with him and turn him to God but, as with other events in his life, Meursault is disinterested and reconciled to the world's lack of interest in him and his fate as well.

In trying to make some sense of what I had read, I wanted to at least learn a little bit about existentialism. As I now undertand it, a central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence, which means that the actual life of the individual is what constitutes what could be called his or her "essence" instead of there being a predetermined essence that defines what it is to be a human. Thus, the human being creates his own values and determines a meaning to his life. Ergo, I am concluding this means that Meursault is the quintessential existentialist in that he had determined the steps of his own life, made his own choices and lived with them. Having done so, he was indifferent to others and their reactions to what he perceived as his own self-worth.
 
I can say that The Outsider was ... well, interesting. For my tastes, unfortunately, I'd also have to categorize it as very bleak and joyless and certainly far from compelling. Perhaps, as a reader, I'm a bit thick when it comes to thinking of matters philosophical. But it is what it is and perhaps that's why I don't jump up and down suggesting that this is a must read classic. Recommended for those that want to challenge themselves with what one might call a thinking man's classic.
 
Paul Weiss

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More The Stranger reviews
review by . July 06, 2010
"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure." are the opening lines of Camus's "the Stranger" or "The Outsider". Let me ask you something, is this the way you would react if your mother died? I didn't think so.       Camus's 76 page novel is an easy read- namely, the language is simple, but thought-wise, it packs a lot. In a way, this is where Camus advertises for and against the idea "absurd" through …
review by . July 02, 2010
I should start out by saying that this book shouldn't be read by someone who wants something to read casually before going to bed. This is a work of literature and really makes you think hard about some of the things that are a big part of all of our lives.       This is the kind of book that you will either love, or you will hate. It introduces you to a character named Meursault whose careless attitude towards everything in the world will either anger you enough …
review by . August 05, 2010
Camus has a fairly bland style of writing similar to that of Hemingway, with relatively few metaphors or simile, but an abstract feel also.  This is not surprising when considering that Camus, like Hemingway, was a journalist.  I found The Stranger to be fairly slow at first and had difficulty getting into it, but it picked up for me as I progressed further into the plot.  I had initially thought that his Maman dying was the climax and that like Kafka, Camus started with the climax.  …
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
Really changed the way I viewed the world. Existentialism for the win!
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
A primer on existential philosophy?
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Stranger explores "absurd", existansialism and what society is really about. When Mersault, who is a complete stranger to the society, shoots an Arab, the society realizes his alien character and terminates him. "Mother died today. Maybe yesterday. I don't know" are the classic opening lines.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
An engrossing book with an unexpected twist in the MIDDLE of all places! Savage and beautiful.
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #16
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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