Monday, 15 June 2015

The absurd ink of Albert Camus

In Albert Camus' The Stranger Meursault is the embodiment of Camus' philosophy of the absurd. Meursault lives his life and faces his death in a world which he sees as devoid of rational meaning. Alienated from this world, Meursault is an outsider, a stranger to moral dilemmas, moral judgements and accepted wisdoms. When his friend Raymond asks him to write a letter intended to hurt Raymond's girlfriend, Meursault sees no reason not to. He focuses his attention on the objects on the table, the squared paper, the pen box, the inkpot. The act of writing such a letter which will eventually trigger the events leading to his execution never bothers him.

He lit a cigarette and told me his plan. He wanted to write her a letter "which would really hurt her and at the same time make her sorry". Then, when she came back, he'd go to bed with her and "right at the crucial moment" he'd spit in her face and throw her out. I agreed that that would punish her all right. But Raymond told me that he didn't feel capable of writing the kind of letter that was needed and that he'd thought I might draft it for him. When I didn't say anything, he asked me if I'd mind doing it right away and I said no.
He stood up after drinking another glass of wine. He pushed aside the plates and the bit of cold pudding that we'd left. He carefully wiped the oilcloth that was on the table. Then he took out of a drawer in his bedside table a sheet of squared paper, a yellow envelope, a small red wooden pen-box and a square inkpot with purple ink in it. When he told me the girl's name I realized she was Moorish. I wrote the letter. I did it rather haphazardly but I did my best to please Raymond because I had no reason not to please him.
Raymond (George Geret) hands over paper, pen and inkpot to 
Meursault (Marcello Mastroianni) in Luchino Visconti's The Stranger (1967)

Albert Camus, The Outsider, Penguin 1982, first published in French 1942.

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