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Robert C. Solomon L'ETRANGER AND THE TRUTH Lying is not only saying what is not true. It is also and especially saying more than is true and, as far as the human heart is concerned, saying more than one feels. Albert Camus What would it be—not to lie? Perhaps it is impossible. It is not difficult to avoid uttering falsehoods, of course. One can always keep silent. But what if lying is also not seeing the truth? For instance, not seeing the truth about oneself even in the name of "not lying"? What then would it be not to lie?—to see oneself and one's feelings as brute facts, as matters already fixed and settled? The very idea of not lying would then be a lie. The lie—the very heart of French Existentialism. It is the infamy of the human condition for Sartre, the gravest sin for Camus. But where Sartre suspects that the lie—or what he calls mauvaise foi—is inescapable, Camus glorifies his characters—and apparently himself—as men without a lie. Meursault of L'Étranger, Camus tells us in a retrospective interpretation, "refuses to lie . . . accepts death for the sake of truth." Dr. Rieux of The Plague refuses to release information to Tarrou the reporter unless he reports "without qualification." Clamence of The Fall has been living a lie. He is now in purgatory (the seedy inner circles of Amsterdam), a judge-penitent: a judge, we come to see, of other people's hidden falsehoods, a penitent for his own past lie of a life. In The Myth of Sisyphus, it is "the absurd" that becomes the ascertainable truth, and it is the absurd hero who "keeps the absurd alive" with his defiant recognition of that truth. In the turmoil of French leftist politics through the Algerian crises and the Stalin show trials, Camus portrays himself in hisJournals and in The Rebel as the "independent intellectual," the spokesman for the truth who refuses to accept the necessary political fabrications of the left during a time of crisis and change. Accordingly, Camus has himself been interpreted and 141 1 42Philosophy and Literature praised as the hero and martyr for the truth, as "Saint Just," the absurd hero and existential champion.3 L'Étranger is the best known of Camus's works, and it is on the basis of this early short novel that the interpretations of Camus's philosophy reasonably begin. But virtually every interpretation of this work has resulted in what I shall argue to be a false claim—that Meursault is a totally honest man, the "stranger" who does not lie. In his own interpretation of The Stranger, Camus writes, . . . the hero of the book is condemned because he doesn't play the game. In this sense he is a stranger to the society in which he lives; he drifts in the margin, in the suburb of private, solitary, sensual life. This is why some readers are tempted to consider him as a waif. You will have a more precise idea of this character, or one at all events in closer conformity with the intentions of the author, if you ask yourself in what way Meursault doesn't play the game. The answer is simple: He refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what is not true. It is also and especially saying more than is true and, as far as the human heart is concerned, saying more than one feels. This is what we all do every day to simplify life. Meursault, despite appearances, does not wish to simplify life. He says what is true. He refuses to disguise his feelings and immediately society feels threatened. He is asked, for example, to say that he regrets his crime according to the ritual formula. He replies that he feels about it more annoyance than real regret and this shade of meaning condemns him. Meursault for me is then not a waif, but a man who is poor and naked, in love with the sun which leaves no shadows. Far from it being true that he lacks all sensibility, a deep tenacious passion animates him, a passion for the absolute and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 141-159
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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