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January 18, 1947 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 1947-01-18

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Page Twelve

PERSPECTIVES

BOOK REVIEW
"is complete madness"... Lester Wolfson

THE STRANGER
By Albert Camus
MR. C. S. Lewis has recently issued a
strong rebuke to the unrestrained
belief that all materials can serve equal-
ly well as the basis of art. He does not
foolishly suppose that philosophic and
aesthetic value are one and the same
thing, that a negative belief must nec-
essarily spell the form which encloses it:
he would certainly prefer Thomas Hardy
to Ann Campbell. Yet he indicates a
truth that we are in danger of forget-
ting--that there is a marked relation-
ship between a poem's purely aesthetic
value and its metaphysical or ethical
value, which "can differ only to a limit-
ed extent, so that every poem whose
prosaic or intellectual basis is silly, shal-
low, perverse, or illiberal, or even radi-
cally erroneous, is in some degree crip-
pled by that fact."
Even now, when the battle for a
broader conception of art, which frees
it from narrowly didactic purposes, has
been largely won, those who attack
extreme singularity or even perversity
in thought or execution are assailed by
the descendants of the "art for art's
sake" group as prim conventionalists
who would make art a handmaiden to
religion or ethics. But it is difficult to
see how anyone can believe that a pro-
duct of the human mind can exist as
an entity in itself, completely apart
from the individual human experience
which inspired it and, more importantly,
from the collective human experience to
which it must speak. Since our reactions
to life, and thus to art, are manifold,
we cannot decide that we are going 'to
enjoy only the imagery or only the idea
or only the rhythm of a particular poem
without vitiating the true nature of the
artistic appreciation. If we were half
men or even quarter-men, we could ex-
plore conceptual and imagistic compo-
nents in isolation, and assign prime im-
portance to any work which either in
whole or in part agrees with our belief
or successfully welds execution to in-
tention. But since most thinking men
are concerned with science, aesthetics,
ethics, and religion, it is quite impossible
for them to respond completely to any
work which cannot satisfy all their'
higher needs. If we are whole men, we
always question intention and cannot
accept unreservedly any excellence in
means which lead to eccentric ends. Mr.
T. S. Eliot himself, who believes the
success of the artistic "fusion' more
conducive to great poetry than the par-
ticular subject matter, admits that
Shakespeare's "Ripeness Is All" :is of
the highest order, not merely because it
is dramatically appropriate, but also
because it is suggestive of ethical
truth and has a "profound emotional
meaning."
That Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and
Milton are supreme because their work
represents an indissoluble union of
science, aesthetics, ethics, and religion
into a vast complex of affirmation needs
no proof: that fads in art never produce
anything of value unless the practice of
their proponents surpasses the theory
is instanced by what is worthwhile in
the work of the Imagists. In short, the
themes of great art are few and can be
simply stated: the love of man for wo-
man, of parent for child, the interrela-
tionship of man and man, of man and
nature, and of man and God; and
though there has never been any exter-
nal compulsion which forced them to do
so, the best artists have expressed their
reactions to life in a sane, central, uni-
versal way, whose basic import is im-
mediately apprehendable by the human
race of which they are a part.
If the thinking of the twentieth cen-
tury which until only recently has
ranged from the materialistic arrogncec
of the Nazis to the vague, unrooted hu-

manism of Bertrand Russell, challenges
the reality of objective and qualitative
value, the burden of proof for the worth
of its pernicious substituted rests en-
tirely with its various defenders. The.
accumulated wisdom of every great cul-
ture the world has known, the Chinese,
the Indian, the Jewish, and the Chris-
tian, the Tao, as Lewis so aptly puts it,
has been the dynamism'which accounts
for the few remnants of decency in our
morally-tattered society. If anyone still
believes that Albert Camus is a writer
of first importance, he does not know
that the road from "The Waste Land"
to the regions filled by the supernal
music of "Four Quartets" has been
paved anew, and that to falter on
that road is a confession of moral
bankruptcy.
The compartmentalizing of our in-
stincts has.led to the sophistry that to
tear down is necessarily good. When
Mr. Max Lerner writes in PM that
"Camus' pessimism has in it the ele-
ments of a healthy purge; his doctrine
is useful in clearing away a lot of the
moral debris that has littered the land-

and when the prosecutor brings evi-
dence that he had behaved inhumanly
at his mother's death, he is condemned
to die. In the last moments before he
is to be guillotined, he execrates the
priest who attempts to console him, and
evolves his own twisted philosophy,
which Camus intends to be the focal
point of the book.
If we permit ourselves to dismember
The Stranger, we find its worth on the
lowest level of artistic meaning-the
purely sensory. Anyone who appreciates
close and fresh observation will not deny
Camus' genius to create synaesthetic
pictures which crawl along the nerves
to the brain so that one can feel them
each inch of the way. This is his
description of the funeral procession:
"Presently we struck a patch of
freshly tarred road. A shimmer of
heat played over it and one's feet
squelched at each step, leaving bright
black gashes. In front, the coach-
man's glossy black hat looked like a
lump of the same sticky substance,
poised above the hearse. It gave one

The Bells.
The bells begin the burden of the song
ending in sumac under river willow
red beneath green and green beneath your laugh
children that play in brain above your pillow
shaping the cakedream from their hands in mud
killing off father who became a god
what about freud, you ask, your eyes an orchard
blue beyond blue where the gold leaves crowd
time will be snakes of joy, ourselves a garden
the music hold us like a long embrace
what other question than the elm trees singing
what other answer than your asking face

a stranger in life, a mere symbol for
Camus' philosophy which is alien to all'
our accepted values, he cannot be an-
analyzed by the usual methods. We
know that Hamlet was paralyzed be-
cause values dear to him were sorely
shaken, and we know too that he repre-
sents Shakespeare's belief that reason
does not suffice. But Cherault neither
thinks nor feels; he had been a student
once, soon realized that ambition of any
kind was futile, and finally concluded
that "one life was as good as another."
Even if we are not to judge him by
normal standards, Camus fails to give
us what we have a right to demand, the
reasons for the hero's apathy. He will
marry Marie, not because he loves her,
but because she wants him to; he agrees
to whatever Raymond says because it
is easier to say yes than no. Only in his
last outburst against the priest does
Cherault voluntarily galvanize into ac-
tion. And it is the expression of the
foolish philosophy toward which' the
whole book has been moving that the
final merit of The Stranger must rest.
Compare Cherault's approach to death
with Hamlet's, or Hector's, or Othello's,
or even Sydney Carton's. Fortunately,
Cherault had been a rather likeable
fellow, if one can like a rag dressed up
as a man, but his final justification of
himself is absurd and has dangerous
implications.
This is what The Stranger has to tell
us:
I'd been right, I was still right, I
was always right. I'd passed my life
in a certain way, and I might have
passed it in a different way, if I'd felt
like it. I'd acted thus, and I hadn't
acted otherwise; I hadn't done "x"
whereas I had done "y" or "z". And
what did that mean? :That, all the
time, I'd been waiting for this pre-
sent moment, for the dawn, tomor-
row s or another day's, which was
to justify me. Nothing, nothing had
the least. importance, and I know
quite well why--From the dark hori-
zon of my future a sort of slow, per-
sistent breeze had been blowing to-
ward me, all my life long, from the
years that were to come. And on its
way that breeze had leveled out all
the ideas that people tried to foist on
me in the equally unreal years I then
was living through. What difference
could they make to me, the deaths
of others, or a mother's love, or his
God; or the way a man decides to
live, the fate he thinks he chooses,
since one and the same fate was
bound to "choose" not only me but
thousands of millions of privileged
people . . . What did it matter if
Raymond was as much my pal as
Celeste, who was a far worthier man?
man?
This is complete madness, a negation
of all value, a denial of the truth ou
age above all others has been called
upon to acknowledge-that we are born
one for the other. It is the old claim
that Death is reality and that the only
kind of kinship we can have is a dia-
bolic brotherhood of despair. It justi-
fies Hitler, who chose "x" instead of
"y", abrogates the Christian belief that
God gave us the power of choice so
that we can bless or damn ourselves,
echoes Anna Christie's desperate cry:
"Don't bawl about it. There ain't
nothing to forgive anyway. It ain't your
fault and it ain't mine and it ain't his
neither. We're all poor nuts. And things
happen. And we just get mixed in
wrong, that's all."
And now, when it is particularly dif'
ficult to avoid lives of quiet despera-
tion, we must aver that it is Camus,
the pessimist, who claims le does not
have to live like one, and Sartre, who
are the "poor nuts." Our best thinking
has left them far behind.

scape . . ." he is either guilty of mis-
reading or else he honestly thinks
that human affection is nothing but
"moral debris." And when Newsweek
reports that Camus' The Stranger "is
executed with such fine artistry that
the reader cannot fail to appreciate its
daring and profound moral message,"
it fails to realize that the message is
part of the artistry. It is the purpose
of this review to state that The Stranger
is seriously weakened because its in-
tellectual basis is "radically erroneous,"
that it is diseased at the heart in spite
of excellences- which make one regret
that so much talent has gone astray.
Monsieur Cherault, the hero of the
novella, is an undistinguished Algerian
clerk who fails to cry at his mother's
funeral. He does not merely repress his
grief-throughout the story he suffers
from a kind of moral paralysis which
prevents him'from feeling any of the
finer human sentiments which make the
unique glory of man. Almost immedi-
ately after his mother has been buried,
he sleeps with Marie, whose only dis-
cernable virtue is her good looks. But
Cherault remains strangely passive even
in his sexual relationships, totally devoid
of the fierce lusts which give warped
affirmation to the characters of O'Hara
or Farrell. Raymond, an unsavory pimp,
and an 'acquaintance of Cherault's,
beats his mistress, and Cherault be-
comes involved. Finally the clerk kills
the Arab brother of the beaten girl and
is arrested for-murder. He languishes
in jail for several months, keenly sensi-
tive to all odors and sounds. No remorse
for what he has done ever assails him.

-Harold V. Witt
a queer, dreamlike impression, that
blue-white glare overhead and all the
blackness 'round one: the sleek black
of the hearse, the dull black of the
men's clothes, and the silvery-black
gashes in the road. And then there
were the smells, smells of hot leather
and horse dung from the hearse,
veined with whiffs of incense smoke."
And if there is something slightly deca-
dent about all this, Camus can be vernal,
too, and we have this description of the
coming night:
"Just then the street lamps came on,
all together, and they made the stars
that were beginning to glimmer in the
night sky paler still. I felt my eyes
-getting tired, what with the lights
and all the movement I'd been watch-
ing in the street. There were little
pools of brightness under the lamps,
and now and then a streetcar passed,
lighting up a girl's hair, or a smile, or
a silver bangle.
In many places, the reader heels almost
too sharply the crushing heat of the
Algerian seashore, and the murder of
the Arab is committed in a heat-induced
frenzy. When he does not become mor-
bidly preoccupied with tastes and
odors, Camus is an imagist of rich
suggestiveness.
But The Stranger is not an imagist
poem: it is a story with a message, and
it is the characters who must convey
that message. Yet with the exception
of the dead mother's old friend, all the
subsidiary characters are merely scoops
of life-and low life, at that. Cherault,
who tells the story, demands any re-
viewer's full attention, and since he is

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