[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

 

Albert Camus Sketch by M.R.P. - The Stranger - authenticity

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

A month ago, your Tuesday Tome article consisted of a discussion of the topic of authenticity in the existential classic The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. This week, I would like to look at this same theme, authenticity, in the context of a work that is not merely labeled existential, but existentialist, appearing as it does among the canon of the French existentialists in the 20th century: The Stranger by Albert CamusThe Stranger - Albert Camus - authenticity.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of The Stranger, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

Specifically, I would like to talk about the ending epiphany of protagonist Meursault, and what it is that allows Meursault to face his death happily at the end of The Stranger. My initial premise is that attainment of the aforementioned authenticity allows Meursault to do so, but this premise will be complicated by the novel’s very last line, for which I will offer three different but related readings.

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[Work: The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942]
Smiling While Despised:

The Ending of Albert Camus’ The Stranger and the Beginning of Authenticity

was last modified: October 21st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Film: My Dinner with Andre, Louis Malle, 1981]
Glorious Disagreement:

The Energetic, Artistic Tension in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre

 

My Dinner with Andre movie poster

Introduction:

In the world of film, the works labeled ‘bold’ are often those which showcase shocking events, or put a spotlight on something that most people would rather not see. In such a context, it is an odd fact indeed that one of the most daring and excellent films of 1981 was a movie about two characters sitting down to dinner and having a conversation with each other in real-time: My Dinner with Andre, directed by Louis Malle and written by the two primary actors. Its daring nature, of course, comes from the elegant simplicity of its premise (though also from the far-ranging content of its writing), but that leaves the source of its excellence still to be accounted for.

Folks who have not seen My Dinner with Andre may hold the understandable-yet-mistaken notion that perhaps the film succeeds because the characters tell an exciting story, full of vibrant characters, like some kind of staged reading. In fact, the conversation is not a traditional narrative; the conversation is rather more similar to, well, a conversation. One of the men, the eponymous Andre (played by Andre Gregory), shares some recent biography and some philosophical notions, and the other man, Wally (played by Wallace Shawn), responds to Andre’s ideas. So, what is it that makes this movie work so well?

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[Film: My Dinner with Andre, Louis Malle, 1981]
Glorious Disagreement:

The Energetic, Artistic Tension in Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre

was last modified: October 7th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Efimovich Repin - The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy by Ilya Repin

The abiding concern of the most controversial and often the most fascinating instances of Leo Tolstoy’s later fiction was the struggle for meaning in the midst of the author’s own existential crisis. Among that later fiction, there is arguably nowhere that struggle attains more pathos nor more honesty than in his novella, The Death of Ivan IlyichThe Death of Ivan Ilyich - Leo Tolstoy.

Unlike other works by Tolstoy, the novella does not seem to contain an easily discernible, specific answer to the question of how one’s life should be lived. Perhaps a reflection of the author’s own inability to see a definite meaning in life or a definite reason for his own impending demise, or perhaps an expression of the very personal anxiety of reflection at such proximity to death, the physical decline of Ivan Ilyich is characterized by a parallel rising search for reason and meaning.

Though one is not given the particulars of Ivan Ilyich’s final realization, one is provided with the context and effect of that most joyous ultimate epiphany, as well as the particulars of the series of smaller revelatory modes of thinking which lead to it. As Ivan Ilyich passes through phases of thought, he gains more and more insight into his past, his life, and the nature of existence, ultimately concluding that what he has lacked and sorely desires is authenticity.

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[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

was last modified: January 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005]
Til’ Death Soon Us Part:

Love as an Intrinsic Good in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

 

Introduction:

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the foremost living novelists of memory and regret. Although this was clear when Ishiguro wrote the masterpiece of reflection that is The Remains of the Day, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 1989, it was his 2005 science fiction novel, Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro - love, memoir, which cemented his talent in my mind. It may strike you as odd to hear that this writer of poignant literary fiction produced a work of sci-fi, but the work is handled with no less sensitivity than his other subjects, and perhaps—given the stigma against ‘genre fiction’ in literary communities—even more courage.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Never Let Me Go, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book (or seen its 2010 film adaptationNever Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro - love, memoir).

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[Work: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005]
Til’ Death Soon Us Part:

Love as an Intrinsic Good in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

was last modified: April 6th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

 

Where is one left, after four weeks of discussing morality, if the conclusions reached are primarily that humans would do well to approach situations of moral choice with earnest, humble attention to nuance and detail? Well, some of the background assumptions which have led to this formulation are somewhat grander, such as that the apparent objectivity of some basic moral strictures may be an expected piece of a socially evolved mind, or that the justifications for trusting most proposed sources of moral knowledge are on equally dubious footing.

So, if by some chance you are willing to grant that I might be on the right track with both the grand propositions and the simple conclusions, then you might think that we are actually left in a somewhat sorry state, as moral actions then lack the special significance for which they are often revered. In responding to that charge, one can refer to some remarks of Thomas Nagel on the experience of absurdity, and on when mattering matters.

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[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

was last modified: April 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski