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Document extract:
NOTES made
19th-20th March 2003

Why do we not read Camus today?
We turn to a Blanchot, or Fouacult - as tho’ Camus were ‘too obvious’. As tho confusion/ambiguity could only be answered by confusion? But maybe right now a certain amount of moral clarity would not be such a bad thing. His writing: steely, windblown, out in the open.

I am the same age this year as Camus when he died…
Myth of Sisyphus written when he was 29.
The Rebel when he was 38.

(Something in my own ‘unconscious’ pushing me, even to make these Notes, where before, I would have had the idea, and not concretised it; or started, and let it dribble away…

(Is this war, then, actually far more than 9/11, going to become a watershed?)

How do we go on.

After WW2 when the reality of the Camps became clear … the “we” of that time, people still had to go on with their lives.

The lure, after Sep 11, of all too lofty pronouncements … which lasted hardly longer than the shelf life of the papers and magazines which contained them. (Could I locate that frenziedly scribbled critique I wrote about M Amis piece in Guardian Review? I can’t even remember what the line was – his or mine. Or perhaps one of my objections was that he was so ostentatiously blurry, line-less? Here, the word ‘picayune’ comes to mind, without my even knowing if it is apropos.) It has all turned. And now one feels it – the UNREALITY – of, on the one hand, the turn the call the imminence of War; on the other, nothing seems affected: the banality and triviality of television, for example, in everything which precedes and follows News reports, continued unabated, unaffected. People promote their dreadful films. Etc, etc.

One perhaps finally understands that what Blanchot is saying [in eg The Writing of The Disaster] isn’t so difficult or obtuse. The disaster affects nothing. Touches everything but changes nothing. And do I need add here, that Blanchot’s whole thought centres around a certain ethical devotion to working out questions gifted by Jewish thinkers, books, experiences?
Impossible to measure the ‘influence’ upon us of certain books, writers, their call, appeal, their example…
Writing of The Disaster a core work: one I will never tire of consulting, wrestling with, expropriating.

(And that, maybe, it is this “example” – whether Camus or Blanchot, Derrida or others – that is pushing me forward, right now?)

Camus: “-an attempt to understand the time I live in.” Echoes of
Mailer here – in that i.e. ‘no one writes or speaks like this anymore…’
Camus: “…its guilt must be understood.”
Its GUILT. This is core, And unresolved, even at this ‘late’ date.
We’re all too interested in the sexier notion of ‘revenge’ than we are in its murkier, more awkward, less attractive twin: guilt…

Myth of Sisyphus. Written in 1940 when he was 27. He had fought in the Resistance. Impossible for “us” to know… Re reading the Preface now I have liminal flashes of déjà vu. Of 12-15 yrs ago, when I planned to write something about Camus (and never did: so much for the Existentialist example in my case!); and also of reading these works for the first time, in my teens. What I remember – and perhaps this reflects me as much as or more than the books the texts Camus – is the beauty the poetry of the writing itelf. As much as the ‘positions’ or the ‘metaphysics’. A sentence such as this: “Although The Myth of Sisyphus poses mortal problems, it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.” In the very midst of the desert. (How not to think, here, now, of Algiers and what has become of it?)
That is what I recall. To LIVE and to CREATE.
Perhaps I [or we?] NEED these words, here, now, more than ever before. Is it war prompting this? Not really – or, not in the conventional sense. (i.e. the conventional sense of: ‘… one is living on the edge of death. Which precipal position prompts…’ I am not living on any such dramatic curve. I am not in any Resistance.) But more one’s rage at the surrounding & ingrained & accepted hypocrisy and muddle and so forth. Continued RAGE without an outlet: this cannot go on.
And the fear, too, that we are incapable of seriousness somehow.
Camus: “-the essential fluctuation from assent to refusal which, in my view, defines the artist and his difficult calling.” Again the combination of beautiful poetics … and the kind of statement[s] considered risible these days. But risible BY whom? And for what reason? “The artist and his difficult calling.” No one thinks like this any more – or if they do, hesitates to pronoucne it. An ‘artist’ is Damien Hirst, today. A buffoon for hire. And our rock groups are not Doors or MC5s, they are childrens entertainers. (That last statement not necessarily a value judgement.)

An artist and his - his? - difficult calling? One mustn’t say such things today! But … says who exactly? Often, says: the type of academic person who endlessly writes ABOUT other peoples texts, but has never struck out on their own to risk the act of creation, even a minor act. The bet, the wager, the risk. The calling, and the Call. Rather: a legion a conveyor belt a con game of bloodless texts which turn off the main highway to lose themselves in the undergrowth of endless minutiae…

Camus: “-alternately cold and impassioned.”

(When I set down the word ‘call’, I think of one specific person.)

Other Camus-related question: why did SARTRE become more firmly installed as the definitive ‘intellectual’ IMAGO? Tactical, again, I think, in that he was easier to mock, and belittle. Not without reason, obviously; on an intellectual level, this has been articulated by Derrida, amongst others, that I know. That Sartre was very precisely WRONG about every thing he ever touched. Literature AND politics. Or, I get the feeling [eg the Foucault biography which I have been re-reading] that even people who marched with Sartre did so tolerantly, but only just; and often not even that far, when they got the persistent feeling that he was hustling other people’s turf getting gthe headline pay-off for their actual in-depth hard work.)

Sartre even easy to lampoon physically. Misshapen, cloudy eyed. As tho’ some inner poison had seeped out to gnarl his exterior aspect. Whereas Camus had all too obvious dash. Sensuous, too. Sensuous world of open air, sun, afternoon flesh, as opposed to Sartre’s almost pathological squeamishness about bodies and their doings.

+Interesting that Derrida and Camus both come from Algeria.
And ‘return’ there, ceaselessly…
+And oh, the toxic melancholy as one contemplates Algeria today, and its recent history.
+ and of course, Camus, Derrida … who came into my wan English life to replace the Mediterranean sun left behind, which I so missed? (And miss still.)
+Naivete: in Tangiers that time (1983?), inquiring about traintimes in order to get into Algeria ‘for the day’. Idiot romantic boy!
+Camus: Summer in Algiers: “a secret fragrance. A mouth or a wound…”

I recall now the circumstance of my first buying and reading these books. Mid 70s Saturday afternoons in a rainy shopping precinct. The difference between a books writing, reception and subsequent history… it says something that Camus was still being printed, bought, read 30 yrs later… (but how different are the two times/places? Does it matter? And, now?)

+I go to turn off the TV and it is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. [Fritz Lang, 1956] Seems to pertain, somehow. (Is it simply that many more things ‘seem to pertain’ at times like this?) QUOTE: “He’s trying to reach the governor’s chair over the bodies of executed men.” Well. I’ll say it still bloody pertains! (We’ll come back to this…)

…there is perhaps a personal Q/ under these reflections.
If I was genuinely touched affected by these figures – Fassbinder, Camus et al – as I claim (and claim, most of all, consistently, to myself, as a kind of litany of reassurance) then how come I have ended up such a sponge? (Snail or sponge? If snail it is, then there is still some form of hope.) So wary of personal memoir at the moment. It occurs that the massive appetite in papers and publishing for the memoir right now … is the intersection of certain trends and tactics. Me/we. Blame. Victim. Poor me. Permanent adolescence. Etc etc. But also… one wonders… doesn’t it suit a certain generalised politics or “politics” (the ideology of NO ideology), as in, say, the Murdoch line…?
It occurs (also) that some or most or all columnists ought to have a strapline explaining if they are in any way related to papers owners, editors, etc. (I know at least two cases, and I’m not even ‘in the loop’ any more.)
The Prozac zapped Generation… in the end it just comes down to ME… the story only one of a SELF overcoming: there is then nothing wider put under any consideration or magnifying glass… it remains solely within the pen-umbra of the self… spoiled, sanctimonious, trivial, listless ME-graphers, who endlessly begin opinion pieces “We…” as in “We’ve all grown sick of war coverage” or “We read HEAT and obsess about celebrities because” or a thousand other things which bear no relation to one’s thoughts, friends, life.

posted by Ian 4/20/2003 04:51:00 PM

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