Sunday, August 24, 2008

Camus and I, I, I the Refrain of my Life

Albert Camus had a wonderful short story entitled, The Fall. In it, the main character is a man named Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste was a Paris lawyer, self-described defender of "noble causes...widows and orphans as the saying goes." One evening, he heard a laugh behind him. He turned around. No one was there. It wasn't much, but for Jean-Baptiste, it was the laughter of judgment.

But that night, with the strange, from-out-of-nowhere, mocking laugh at his back, self-awareness began to dawn for Jean-Baptiste. He saw that what he really wanted was not to help others but to strut the stage in front of others. He saw, in the echo of the laugh, that he was a hypocrite, a lousy actor, a fake, a fraud. In his own words:

"...shortly after...[the laughter], I discovered something. When I would leave a blind man on the sidewalk to which I had conveyed him, I used to tip my hat to him. Obviously the hat tipping wasn't intended for him, since he couldn't see it. To whom was it addressed? To the public. After playing my part, I would take the bow."

The haunting laugh led Jean-Baptiste to a self-examination. He concluded, "I was always bursting with vanity. I, I, I is the refrain of my whole life, which could be heard in everything I said."

Source: Albert Camus, The Fall, New York, Vintage Books, 1957.

Story told by William Willimon, 12/04/94 [I wish I had noted the link!]

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Last year I came across Camus’s grave in Lourmarin, France.