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The term existentialist has really been watered down over the years. Now it includes everyone who’s ever knocked an alarm clock off the nightstand. But Albert Camus was hitting it hard when existentialism was fairly new. He practically invented it, though I think we usually give that honor to either Dostoevsky or Kierkegaard.
Camus’ most famous work is The Stranger, also called L’Etrangere. (That’s what the French call it, bless them.) I “read” the French version for a high school class. I didn’t have the language skills to understand any of it, and my teacher, who was a replacement teacher and only came in halfway through the year, only spoke to us in French, so there was really no way for her to find out how little we comprehended. I muddled along through the book, and got a general feeling of a hot, dusty landscape. It was a parched feeling, like spiritual sunstroke. Someone was carrying a gun in his pocket.
It was really the eighties band The Cure who brought me face to face with “The Stranger” in a pop song by the same name. Dead man on the beach, dead man on the beach. I’m alive. I’m dead. etc. I have advisors who decide whether a band has a right to exist or not, and they seem divided on The Cure. On the one hand, the guitarist was cooking up something original. On the other, Robert Smith is no Morrissey. (But also no Boy George.)
Speaking of The Cure, I was supposed to read The Plague (also by Camus) for a religious studies class in college. I did not, as was so often the case, but I have carried the bright red paperback around with me ever since. I had bronchitis for pretty much all of that semester. I sat there stifling my uncontrollable cough while the professor carried on intense conversations with the other students. The bathroom was a tiny little room right off the classroom and I had to go in there, once, to wrestle with a contraceptive sponge, which I had literally coughed out during class.
This might be over-sharing, and seemingly off topic, but then again, the question is whether life is worth living, or whether it is really just some absurd joke, a godless prank to be endured, and pointless to question. Cough yourself awake for too many nights, endanger your own future with ineffective birth control, try to stop your drunken boyfriend from peeing on your typewriter, and then we can talk about the meaning of life.
But really, a few minutes on TUMBLR is enough to come into contact with millions of people who are still digging around in existentialism. Existential thinking is part of an authentic day. The feeling lives on, and strong, long after the death of Camus, who certainly didn’t have a copyright on this specific brand of angst. If he had, maybe it would have died with him in that car accident. No such luck.
Art= Midsummer Night’s Dream by Marc Chagall, 1939