Thursday, 27 March 2014

Camus:Faith And Literature

He lacerates our ego, decimates self righteous attitude, and rips apart all pretensions
Reading Camus’ The Fall is like consenting to be operated without anaesthesia. Nothing exposes better our moral weaknesses, our complacency, our guilt. Reading his The Plague calls for almost superhuman courage to experience life as plague without shrinking from responsibility to ameliorate it. His The Stranger has a hero who doesn’t feel about anything including the death of his mother thus critiquing modern alienation. Camus lacerates our ego – self righteous attitude and pretensions. Be ready for soul hammering in the works of Camus. One can emerge much more humble and compassionate after baptism in the fire of his works. He sees through the sickness, the cancer of the soul of modern man. There are dangers too, however. We have to be respectful but critical. Great lessons in ethics need to be learnt but corroding skepticism following from failed mystic adventure and dogmatic rationalism and arrogant humanism and misreading of religion has to be resisted.
One of the most influential and beloved writers of the 20th century, Albert Camus’ work is a response to Nietzsche’s  diagnosis of the malaise of modern age – The Death of God. For him the key problem is: can one be a saint without God? He was troubled by seeming injustice including innocent suffering in the world and asserted that he can’t accept any scheme of things which required putting innocent children to torture. He argued that only serious philosophical problem is that of suicide. He argued against suicide seeing it as a cowardly act and instead argued for defying the absurdity of life. He asked for passionate love of the world against what he considered illusory hope in the next world. Let us love the world with all our hearts and minds, he counseled. Camus attempted to create ethics for an atheist existentialist and he has worldwide following though of late he has become less relevant. However he is an inspiration for many Kashmiri students and scholars and is cited as influence for their turn against religion. He is immensely powerful, lucid and beautiful as a writer. His lyricism and charm, his humane concerns, his fight against death punishment and totalitarianism, his advocacy of human dignity and nobility in the face of absurdity all have contributed to his appeal. One can’t but admire many of his virtues both as a man and as a writer.
Camus’ fundamental assertion in his philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus is that “absurdity” is the key description of the universe as man experiences it. The absurd born of the confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world must not be forgotten. The absurd must ever be kept alive. This is the fundamental tenet of absurdist philosophy. Carrying the absurd logic to its conclusion he lists the implications as follows:"…a total absence of hope (which has nothing to do with despair), a continual rejection (which must not be confused with renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction." For Camus it is evil and injustice of the creation that entitles man to revolt against whatever power planned and organized this universe. Camus’ problem is to search for human happiness and a response worthy of man in the face of incomprehensible and alien universe. The eternal injustice revealed in the confrontation of man and his human condition could only be resisted; it can’t be accepted or tolerated or changed. It is bleak tragedy. His revolt is primarily "against the sky rather than against the world." The following dialogue captures the problematique of absurd man that Camus saw as his hero. 
Caesonia : You can’t prevent the sky from being the sky, or a fresh young face from ageing, or a man’s heart from growing cold.
Caligula [with rising excitement]: I want … I want to drown the sky in the sea, to infuse ugliness  with beauty, to wring a laugh form pain.
For Camus salvation in an absurd universe could be possible only in knowledge, in a sort of gnosis which negates the absurd. But that knowledge doesn't come at the rational philosophical plane. But he is adamant like a hardcore rationalist in his demand for solving the riddle and mystery of Existence:
"I want everything to be explained to me or nothing. And the reason is impotent when it hears this cry from the heart. The world itself, whose single meaning I don't understand, is but a vast irrational. If one could only say just once: 'all is clear' all would be saved."
Camus asks “…Is there something behind the wet skies?”  Though his head refused to entertain any such thing his heart did feel that there is a secret meaning to everything. However the problem with modern way of life is that it refuses to have trucks with this secret. It seeks to avoid encounter with the Light, the knowledge that negates modern man’s cities and his comforts. Modern man has chosen to live without the sacred, to be earthly and true to the dust of earth and Camus though inwardly unhappy over this choice, over tremendous uglification in Europe that has exiled Helen, chooses to be with modern man, with all his illusions and untruth and his blindness to the world above that alone contains answers to all his problems, all his sorrows.
Camus’s narrator Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in The Fall notes that what future historians will say of us.  A single sentence will suffice for modern man: "he fornicated and read the papers.” This is Camus’ estimate of our times.  Indeed modern man has no heroism, no dignity, no beauty, no charity, no love to boost off.  He has knowledge and therefore newspapers suffice for him. He doesn’t know what is love, love eternal that Jesus worshipped as God. He knows only ugly lust and a poor image of that love of which Plato speaks and of which mystics speak. What makes Camus and Beckett pessimistic is the wretched state of modern man who distrusts all claims from traditional philosophers and mystics that love is eternal and fails to replace traditional God with his manufactured idols. Camus shows absurdity and its wrecks. He resolutely fights against despairing consequences of nihilism which is a presupposition of modern thought that he largely takes for granted. He, as a philosopher of immanence attempts to show how man faces the world, creates values and chooses to live when deprived of God. Although he stands for the forlorn abandoned man in the face of the “incomprehensible” and apparently indifferent if not hostile world he fails to convince by his logic and rhetoric. We see Camus opening to the sacred or transcendence in his reflections on music, on art, on beauty despite his antitranscendence rhetoric. His youthful passionate lyricism is a move towards transcendence. The note he left beside his sleeping wife hints at this.
Camus sees himself as a stranger in the world and laments that nothing can lift the veil and make it familiar. Indeed scientific and rational knowledge will not make the world familiar. The material world, the realm of manifestation doesn’t contain its principle of existence in itself.
            For Camus heavens don't respond to the cry of an afflicted soul. From the Eastern perspective it is the self’s or subject's or the mind's demand to be spared the encounter with its own nothingness or voidness that really is the problem. If we are frightened by the infinite silence of the stars it is because we fear to see squarely nothingness at the heart of being, the emptiness of all empirical or phenomenal things, the illusion of ego. We fear to have a dialogue with the silence that was before the word and in which alone is our salvation. In fact the vision of God that dispels all darkness and fear for good is the renunciation of all chatter, all sounds, all desire to be heard, to be anything. A faint echo of this experience is heard in Lear who attains the sublime tragic understanding when he escapes in the dark rainy night with nothing to shield him, with all worldly attachments gone, naked before the vast silence of the heavens. Peace is only got by returning home, to our Origin in the dark abyss of Godhead, Serenity of God or heaven is the serenity of nonexistence that was before we came and that will be after we are not.
Camus’ problem lies in Cartesian heritage that divorced reason and intellect, mind and heart, body and soul and ignored symbolism and metaphysics that makes scripture perfectly comprehensible. He failed to note that theology is autology (science of Self) and that art that he championed was parasitic on the sacred he rejected. God can’t be judged because He is Being and Beyond-Being and not a cosmic policeman. The sacred can’t be mocked. Neither can it be ignored. It is our very life. God is the Meaning of life. Man can’t live without meaning. Camus affirmed this meaning despite his mind’s failure to clearly articulate it. He worshipped God’s fragmentary images in the form of women and other beautiful forms and desire. That is why his lyricism, his love, his affirmative spirit and his passion for beauty are no match for that of Rumi.

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