Sunday, March 5, 2023

Albert Camus: Suicide in Czechoslovakia

According to the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. The gods were wise, Camus suggests, in perceiving that an eternity of futile labor is a hideous punishment.  

Spark notes: The Myth of Sisyphus

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. 
He concludes that all is well. 
This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. 
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.  
Albert Camus; The Myth of Sisyphus (pdf here)
In Albert Camus' book, The Stranger (aka The Outsider in Europe), after the main character's arrest for murder and while awaiting execution:
"...the whole problem was: how to kill time. After a while, however, once I’d learned the trick of remembering things, I never had a moment’s boredom. 
Sometimes I would exercise my memory on my bedroom and, starting from a corner, make the round, noting every object I saw on the way. At first it was over in a minute or two. But each time I repeated the experience, it took a little longer. 
I made a point of visualizing every piece of furniture, and each article upon or in it, and then every detail of each article, and finally the details of the details, so to speak: a tiny dent or incrustation, or a chipped edge, and the exact grain and color of the woodwork. 
At the same time I forced myself to keep my inventory in mind from start to finish, in the right order and omitting no item. With the result that, after a few weeks, I could spend hours merely in listing the objects in my bedroom. 
I found that the more I thought, the more details, half-forgotten or malobserved, floated up from my memory. There seemed no end to them. 
So I learned that even after a single day’s experience of the outside world a man could easily live a hundred years in prison. He’d have laid up enough memories never to be bored. Obviously, in one way, this was a compensation. 
Then there was sleep. 
To begin with, I slept badly at night and never in the day. But gradually my nights became better, and I managed to doze off in the daytime as well. In fact, during the last months, I must have slept sixteen or eighteen hours out of the twenty-four. 
So there remained only six hours to fill—with meals, relieving nature, my memories ... and the story of the Czech. 
One day, when inspecting my straw mattress, I found a bit of newspaper stuck to its underside. The paper was yellow with age, almost transparent, but I could still make out the letter print. It was the story of a crime. 
The first part was missing, but I gathered that its scene was some village in Czechoslovakia. One of the villagers had left his home to try his luck abroad. After twenty-five years, having made a fortune, he returned to his country with his wife and child. 
Meanwhile his mother and sister had been running a small hotel in the village where he was born. He decided to give them a surprise and, leaving his wife and child in another inn, he went to stay at his mother’s place, booking a room under an assumed name. His mother and sister completely failed to recognize him. 
At dinner that evening he showed them a large sum of money he had on him, and in the course of the night they slaughtered him with a hammer. After taking the money they flung the body into the river. Next morning his wife came and, without thinking, betrayed the guest’s identity. 
His mother hanged herself. His sister threw herself into a well. 
I must have read that story thousands of times. In one way it sounded most unlikely; in another, it was plausible enough. Anyhow, to my mind, the man was asking for trouble; one shouldn’t play fool tricks of that sort."  
The Outsider  (pg 49-50)  

Albert Camus 

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