Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Fall by Albert Camus


The main character in Camus’ novel knows he is a fraud the moment he chooses to ignore the cries of a woman who jumps off a bridge into a river. Though her cries for help as the current pulls her under awaken an awareness of his personal freedom and resultant responsibility, he indicts all of us and shatters our moral complacency.

Some excerpts from the novel:

“I was a lawyer before coming here. Now I am a judge-penitent. But allow me to introduce myself: Jean-Baptiste Clamence, at your service… My profession satisfied most happily that vocation for summits… I lived with impunity. I was concerned in no judgment…

“You have noticed that there are people whose religion consists in forgiving all offenses, and who do in fact forgive them but never forget them. I wasn’t good enough to forgive offenses, but eventually I always forgot them… I never remembered anything but myself… I was considered to have charm. Fancy that! You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question…

“I could live happily only on condition that all individuals on earth, or the greatest possible number, were turned toward me, eternally in suspense, devoid of independent life and ready to answer my call at any moment, doomed in short to sterility until the day I should deign to favor them…

“Spitefulness is the only possible ostentation. People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves… We are all exceptional cases. We all want to appeal against something! Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself…

“Don’t believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity… If you are in that situation, don’t hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection…

“The obligation I felt to conceal the vicious part of my life gave me a cold look that was confused with the look of virtue; my indifference made me loved; my selfishness wound up in my generosities…

“I always looked with amazement, and a certain suspicion, on those strange creatures who died for money, fell into despair over the loss of a ‘position,’ or sacrificed themselves with a high and mighty manner… I was tormented by the thought that I might not have time to accomplish my task. What task? I had no idea. Frankly, was what I was doing worth continuing? But that was not quite it. A ridiculous fear pursued me, in fact: one could not die without having confessed all one’s lies… I wanted to break open the handsome wax-figure I presented everywhere… But truth, cher ami, is a colossal bore…

“We cannot assert the innocence of anyone, whereas we can state with certainty the guilt of all. Every man testifies to the crime of all others—that is my faith and my hope… God is not needed to create guilt or to punish. Our fellow men suffice, aided by ourselves… Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day…

“There are always reasons for murdering a man. On the contrary, it is impossible to justify his living. That’s why crime always finds lawyers, and innocence only rarely… You have had a chance to observe that I spare nothing, and as for you, I know that you agree in thought. Wherefore, since we are all judges, we are all guilty before one another, all Christs in our mean manner, one by one crucified, always without knowing… The keenest of human torments is to be judged without a law. Yet we are in that torment. Deprived of their natural curb, the judges, loosed at random, are racing through their job. Hence we have to try to go faster than they, don’t we?

“…The portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror… The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you. Even better, I provoke you into judging yourself, and this relieves me of that much of the burden…”


(1956)

Camus, Albert. The Fall. New York: Vintage Books, 1956.  

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