by Dwight Furrow
I recently finished reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms on the same day in which the utter hopelessness of our political situation became obvious, as the “beacon of liberty” accelerates its descent into fascism. The final passages of the book didn't help my mood much. In Hemingway's masterpiece, the drudgery and pointlessness of war becomes a metaphor for the drudgery and pointlessness of life. In the end, neither the heroism of love nor the promise of birth can stanch the tragic flood that threatens every idyll. For Hemingway, stoic resignation seems the only proper attitude as Henry slogs his way home from the hospital where Catherine and their child had perished, huddled against the relentless rain that had darkened the final pages.
The world is not good enough and we can't do much about it. Soldiering on is the best we can do.
When in such a mood I like to consult Camus. No, I'm not masochistic, or at least I don't think so. The Camus that inspires me is not the fist shaking Camus of The Rebel or the dubious, Stoic-tinged Camus of the Myth of Sisyphus. There is another side to Camus that gets far too little attention. In an early essay, Nuptials at Tipasa, he writes:
The breeze is cool and the sky blue. I love this life with abandon and wish to speak of it boldly: it makes me proud of my human condition. Yet people have often told me: there's nothing to be proud of. Yes, there is: this sun, this sea, my heart leaping with youth, the salt taste of my body and this vast landscape in which tenderness and glory merge in blue and yellow. It is to conquer this that I need my strength and my resources. Everything here leaves me in tact, I surrender nothing of myself, and don no mask: learning patiently and arduously how to live is enough for me, well worth all their arts of living. (Nuptials, 69)
In the face of a world unresponsive to human values, despair is ruled out, for ensconced within Camus' numbing litany of all-too-human failure are lovely passages in which pure sensuous enjoyment lifts the spirit and provides justification even in life's trying moments. This is the lyrical Camus extolling what he sometimes calls the “Mediterranean life” where the live-in-moment vitality of sensory experience is a repository of meaning infusing life with significance in the absence of transcendental certification, even in the face of inevitable loss.
Intuitively, Camus' idea that meaning is to be found in the everyday rendered alluring by our willingness to see its beauty is appealing. The problem is I have never found an argument in Camus' work that links the Stoic-like absurd hero with the happy hedonist. How could something as seemingly trivial as the sun and sea provide meaning in the face of the absurd?