- Rethinking the Politics of Absurdity: Albert Camus, Postmodernity, and the Survival of Innocence by Matthew H. Bowker
Following his birth centenary in 2013, Albert Camus continues to attract renewed scholarly interest, and Matthew H. Bowker’s rigorously researched volume provides a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate surrounding this author and his work. Bowker aims to offer ‘a radical reinterpretation of absurdity’ (p. xv) and, with reference to political philosophy, literary criticism, and psychoanalytic psychology, attempts to comprehend the absurd condition, which, he contends, is a type of experience ‘designed to resist comprehension’ (p. xvi). These are bold objectives, given the plethora of research—not least in Camus studies — that already exists in the field of absurdity. Yet Bowker’s approach is refreshingly different: viewed as a metaphor for psychological understanding, absurdity becomes a vehicle through which enlightenment can be achieved, where meaning is sacrificed in exchange for the survival of innocence. The book’s six closely argued chapters unpack this idea, covering much ground in the process: from investigating the discourse of victimization in Camus’s imaginative and political writings, through pursuing an interdisciplinary approach to the subject of absurd experience via a [End Page 569] prism of thinkers such as Georges Bataille, Judith Butler, and Emmanuel Levinas, to analysing modern expressions of absurdity and survival such as the zombie and the vampire (Bowker makes an interesting connection between the last idea and Sartre’s concept of existentialist hell). The absurd situation, Bowker argues, seeks to maintain conditions of rupture and meaninglessness rather than to defeat them. Paradoxically, lost innocence is restored by resisting the temptation to impose meaning on a meaningless experience. Throughout, Bowker is an engaging and well-informed guide, anchoring his arguments in the context of both old and new scholarship and with clear signposting to help orient the reader. Complementing the detailed theoretical analysis is an assessment of ‘absurd encounters’, drawn from a series of twenty-six interviews that Bowker conducted in the United States and Singapore in order to ‘investigate accounts of absurdity from a phenomenological and psychodynamically sensitive perspective’ (p. 39). Such personal testimonies provide a distinctive focus for the author’s research and make for very interesting reading in their own right; the ‘interview protocol and respondent data’ are usefully collated in a Research Appendix at the end of the volume. Ultimately, it is the aim of this thoughtfully written work (which includes a full index and bibliography) to ‘make absurdity meaningful’ through a process of rethinking; by the end, the reader is left in no doubt that such a laudable objective has been achieved. The book can be highly recommended to both the specialist and non-specialist reader, who will doubtless discover that a topic which was thought to have been researched to its limits still has many intellectual surprises in store.