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Why do men like 'L'étranger'?

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  • Why do men like 'L'étranger'?

    What made these English media and academic chaps interviewed by Jardine and Watkins choose, as their watershed novel, a book written by a French-Algerian communist existentialist in 1942, read in translation, about a pied-noir who kills an Arab and seems indifferent to his fate?

    For years, I have thought of myself as one of a small, discriminating group whose members, touched by a common emotional quirk, regarded Albert Camus's L'Etranger (The Outsider) as the most important and influential book they have read. Imagine my distress, on reading last Thursday's Guardian, to discover that a whole swathe of English male media types, academics and students were claiming similar intimacy with the book, and attesting to its significance for them.

    Last year, academics Lisa Jardine and Annie Watkins conducted a survey, among women only, to find out what "watershed" novel had most sustained and helped them through difficult times. Jane Eyre was, by far, the most frequently cited.

    A similar survey of men, the results of which were revealed last week, had The Outsider as the book most often mentioned as having helped them get through life. This surprised and puzzled me. What kind of problems could the interviewees have had that would have been ameliorated by reading The Outsider?


    'In our society, any man who doesn't cry at his mother's funeral is liable to be condemned to death.'

  • #2
    i tried to read that book once, but i couldn't... it was to--- uh how can i say this-- boring?... i don't know, i was in a wrong mood for reading...


    • #4
      WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- When I heard the news last month that a vacationing President George W. Bush had decided to include Albert Camus on his summer reading list, I was dismayed to discover that he was only perusing "The Stranger."

      Of all that the Camus canon has to offer, "The Stranger" struck me as a less-than-ideal choice. I have no idea what the president made of the book, or if he even finished it. But in light of the current wrangling between the White House and the Senate over the Geneva Conventions, I'd encourage him to return not to Camus' fiction, but to his journalism - specifically, the 1958 essay "Preface to Algerian Reports," the first of three Algeria pieces contained in the collection "Rebellion, Resistance and Death."

      As a "pied noir" - a French settler in Algeria - Camus was famously unable to articulate a clear position on, or solution to, the Algerian question. And he was something of a late-comer to the issue of torture.

      There was, however, one issue on which he demonstrated a passionate clarity: Appalling as the acts of terrorism perpetrated by the nationalists were, the use of torture by the French was not only exacerbating the problem, but also speeding the death of an already too-polemicized national polity's soul.

      "Unquestionably," he wrote, it was necessary to condemn "in no uncertain terms the terrorism applied by the (Algerian National Liberation Front, known by its French initials FLN) to French civilians and indeed, to an even greater degree, to Arab civilians."

      Breaking from many on the French left who used the evils of colonialism to provide moral cover for FLN attacks on civilians, he wrote that "Such terrorism is a crime that can be neither excused nor allowed to develop." But, he held, the same was true of the use of torture by French forces, and he confronted head-on the argument that it was necessary.

      "When excuses are made ... to torture or to condone torture, are they not also incalculable errors since they may justify the very crimes we want to fight? And what is that efficacy whereby we manage to justify everything that is most unjustifiable in our adversary?" he asked.

      Turning to the "ticking bomb" argument that torturing a person who knew details of a planned attack was justified, Camus found the moral calculus just did not add up.

      "Torture has perhaps saved some, at the expense of honor, by uncovering thirty bombs, but at the same time it arouses fifty new terrorists who, operating in some other way and in another place, will cause the death of even more innocent people."

      But it was not just false notions about the efficacy of torture that bothered Camus.

      Sen. John Warner, R-Va., has said he considers the current showdown with the president as being about much more than the fate of a dozen or so "high value detainees" at Guantanamo. "It's about how America's going to be perceived in the world, how we're going to continue to win the war against terror," he said - and then drew attention to his necktie, a gift from President Ronald Reagan that bears the legend "Democracy is not a spectator sport."

      Warner's words echo Camus' in 1958. "Even when accepted in the interest of realism and efficacy, such a flouting of honor serves no purpose but to degrade our country in her own eyes and abroad," he wrote. "The moment they are justified, even indirectly, there are no more rules or values; all causes are equally good, and war without aims or laws sanctions the triumph of nihilism."

      And it was in this vein that Camus lamented the debasement of democracy in France, a decline aided and abetted by politicians and intellectuals of both left and right that, he concluded, had made it impossible to have an informed, rational dialogue, and whose rationalizations of torture were killing France.

      "For the past 20 years the French have loathed their political opponent to the point of preferring anything to him, even foreign dictatorship... When violence answers violence in a growing frenzy that makes the simple language of reason impossible, the role of intellectuals cannot be ... to excuse from a distance one of the violences and condemn the other..."

      He lambasted both sides of the political debate for sacrificing what they most held dear. "Most often the Right ratified, in the name of French honor, what was most opposed to that honor. And most often the Left, in the name of justice, excused what was an insult to any real justice. In this way the Right abandoned the monopoly of the moral reflex to the Left, which yielded to it the monopoly of the patriotic reflex.

      "The country suffered doubly," he concluded.

      While occasionally Democrats (or the occasional Democrat) have, in the past, expressed concerns about or even voted against some of the more dubious war-related initiatives pushed by the administration, there's no one in mainstream public life today actively excusing the actions of those who deliberately kill civilians, as there was in France.

      And virtually everyone from the law enforcement and intelligence communities who has actually been properly trained in interrogation agrees the techniques the White House is trying to protect are unnecessary. Indeed, reporting for National Journal last year, I talked to a number of current and former CIA officers - including some with firsthand experience of the darker side of interrogation - all of whom agreed, in stark contrast to the protests of current CIA Director Michael Hayden, that coercive interrogation practices allowed by the White House were not only ineffective, but a national disgrace.

      Rather than parroting the official line, Hayden might do well to recall - and emulate - the example of Gen. Jacques Paris de Bollardiere, who in 1957 resigned his command in Algeria in protest of institutionalized torture. Before he felt compelled to resign, Bollardiere had ordered his soldiers to resist the "temptation, which the totalitarian countries did not resist, of considering certain procedures as normal methods of obtaining intelligence."

      It was not enough, he added, that those procedures be rejected unequivocally - they had to be formally condemned.

      Outside View: Torture lessons from Algeria


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