I recently finished reading Albert Camus’ The Fall – a book I may have scared someone off of because when I was more than halfway through I still wasn’t sure what it was about.
…And I’m still not sure what it was about.
Unlike his earlier works of the Stranger and the Plague, the Fall doesn’t have much of a plot. Not really.
It’s about a man.
It’s about a man’s fall from grace – or rather, man’s fall from grace.
Or, perhaps, his rise to power.
It’s entirely unclear.
Its a book that seems, at least in English translations, to be full of backhanded jabs at Nietzsche.
We meet our hero after his fall. As he recounts the highlights of his life.
He was perfect, he says. He was happy. He pursued the highest attainable position in life, and was fulfilled by natural attributes which allowed him to achieve those ambitions.
“I enjoyed my own nature to the fullest, and we all know that there lies happiness, although, to soothe one another mutually, we occasionally pretend to condemn such joys as selfishness….To tell the truth, just from being so fully and simply a man, I looked upon myself as something of a superman,” Camus writes.
He was at the height of his life, he says. But in that height it is clear he is empty.
That exemplary perfection may as well be destruction. He is self-absorbed out of self-loathing. Cavalier out of over-caring. His presumed height is actually his deepest depth.
“Thus I progressed on the surface of life, in the realm of words as it were, never in reality. All those books barely read, those cities barely visited, those women barely possessed! I went through the gestures out of boredom or absent-mindedness. Then came human beings; they wanted to cling, but there was nothing to cling to, and that was unfortunate – for them.”
And then he falls.
Through nondescript tales of an ignored slight, of a spurned lover, our hero tells of his descent into further and further rungs of despair. Mapping his story as the journey through Dante’s Inferno.
At last, he is in the final circle of hell.But there, at the center of hell, at the depth of despair, there he is saved. There he finds perfection.
And in this wretched state, Camus ends the story: But let’s not worry! It’s too late now. It will always be too late. Fortunately!
And perhaps that is why I find Camus so compelling: he is a man who insists on salvation in damnation; who finds glory in despair.