Posts Tagged ‘conceptual’



  In the Myth of Sisyphus Camus retraces Hamlet’s famous words: “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. The murdering king’s bloody desire for power must be uncovered, and a play within a play will allow this. Camus is also, like Hamlet, keen on desiring to catch and uncover. This can be seen in our tracing anew his commentary on the words by Ophelia’s vanishing lover: “‘Catch’ is indeed the word. For conscience moves swiftly or withdraws within itself. It has to be caught on the wing at that barely perceptible moment when it glances fleetingly at itself” (MoS, 77). Conscience eludes us, and yet we desire to get hold of it, somehow. Conscience is a task, not a given; it is there, but it is not.

  Eros, for the Greeks, was much like this. It too moves in flight: “flutters its wings amongst the birds of air” (Sophocles, Love, fr 855, Lucas 224). We humans of course do not fly. And this perhaps it is why desire is so hard to ‘catch’: “as a sweet apple turns read on a high branch/ high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot —-/well, no they didn’t forget — were unable to reach” (Carson quotes Sappho, 26). Eros  and Camusian conscience both evade us as soon as we attempt to ‘catch’ them. They are like red apples we cannot really bite, and yet we yearn to taste their sweetness.

  Writing a concept trace has to do a lot with all this. To leave a trace is to leave marks, a sign of something’s presence. But the marks stand there as a memory, what left the trace in the first is long gone. And we long for it; if not, then why trace it in the first place? And so we set out to trace that which left its footsteps, or better, its wing-marks. For this particular quest we reach out to the vestiges of desire as it traverses Camus’ lyrical philosophy.

  But to trace, we ought to remember, is not only to follow, or to track down. To trace can be like the hunter; but we do not want to hunt, that is, catch in death. Hunters seem to be fond of stones. But stones leave no traces, for they neither walk nor fly. (Stones are truly not ruins, like the ruins at Tipasa). To trace can also refer to a much simpler innocent act that, as children, we repeated again and again and again. To trace refers also to the act of drawing or copying with lines or marks. To trace, then, is to recopy. I set out then to recopy Camus’ words, listening intently for the appearance of such an elusive force as is desire, the Greek Eros. In this sense to trace is truly to plagiarize. And plagiarizing is not only always inevitable and desirable, but, it can, if done properly, also be liberating. Besides, plagiarizing Camus is remembering him again and again and again. And this is something to be desired.

  Our search along desires’ vestiges in Camus’ marks and lines will proceed in triangular fashion: i) by providing the general location of desire within it, albeit, given that this is just a tracing, briefly, incompletely, and sketchily, ii) by giving some specific locations in the work by referring to some pages where desire has been “caught” in words, pages which I will copy once again, that is trace, as I did as a child, and iii) by letting desire have its play through the desire to question which we feel governs us. Questions born out of desire as fragile sketches.









i) General location


            a) Drusilla’s death is the death of a loved one. Besides it is the death of a desired sister. Loss here is at once erotic and filial. Caligula’s refusal to face this desire as truly relevant.

            b) Caligula’s desire for the impossible as symbolized in the moon. His drive to physically possess the moon; to be sexually moonstruck. Sadistic desire to kill and to obliterate, out of love of power and of the impossible, the other, the human and the possible. Caligula as hunter. The forceful desire to teach his logical truth: “Men die and are not happy”.

            c) Caesonia’s desiring love of Caligula.

            d) Cherea’s desire for meaning and his hard-won respect for Caligula.

            e) Caesonia v.s. Cherea on love.

            f) Scipio’s love and admiration of Caligula. Scipio’s love of art v.s. Caligula’s solitude and rejection of the lies of art.


ii) Specific locations


            a) pages. 4, , 6, 6, 10, 15, 71

            b) 7, 8, 15, 40, 46, 49, 71

            c) 17

            d) 21, 58,

            e) 63

            f) 67, 65,


a) 71, “love isn’t enough for me; I realized it then. And I realize it today again; when I look at you. To love someone means that one’s willing to grow old beside that person. That sort of love is outside my sort of range. Drusilla old would have been worse than Drusilla dead”

b) 46, “she was coy to begin with, I’d gone to bed. First she was blood-red, low on the horizon. The she began rising, quicker and quicker, growing brighter and brighter all the while. And the higher she climbed the paler she became. Till she was like a milky pool in a dark wood rustling with stars. Slowly, shyly she approached, through the warm night air, soft, light, as gossamer, naked in beauty. She crossed the threshold of my room, poured herself into it, and flooded me with her smiles and sheen … So you see Helicon, I can say, without boasting, that I’ve had her”

c) 17, “ I needn’t swear. You know I love you”.

d) 21 “to loose one’s life is no great matter; when the time comes I’ll have the courage to loose mine. But what is intolerable is to see one’s life drained of meaning, to be told there is no reason for existing”

    58, “he forces one to think, there’s nothing like insecurity for stimulating the brain, that of course is why he is so much hated” (words said even after his condemnation of Caligula’s “corruption” of Scipio (56)

e) 63, “too much soul, that’s what bites you, isn’t it? You prefer to label it disease .. tell me Cherea, has love ever meant anything to you?”

f) 67, “I shall go away, far away, and try to discover the meaning of it all … Dear Caius when all is ended remember that I loved you”



iii) Some questions


Is Drusilla’s role simply secondary, as Caligula says? Why then did Camus not choose any lover? What is that only emotion Caligula ever felt, that “shameful tenderness for” Caesonia (70)? Why does Caesonia ask Cherea if he has ever loved? Is Cherea truly ‘loveless’ and ‘simple minded’? Does Caligula ‘really’ think he has possessed the moon? If so then why does he say “even if the moon were mine, I could not retrace my way?” (49) What could it mean that Caligula is still ‘alive’? Does desire have to do something with it?





i) General location

            a) Maria’s unconditional, bodily love for Jan; simplicity; loss of a world outside Europe in which together they were happy.

            b) Jan split not only between the desire to fulfill his duty to relatives and his love for his spouse, but also between the land of exile and the homeland.

            c) Martha’s longing for the wind of the sea. Her desire to breathe under the sun, even if this implies murder. Her asexuality, bodilessness and stone-like character. (Like The Commander for Don Juan, like Sisyphus’ stone, like the Gods).

            d) The mother’s fatigue of life briefly cast aside through the emergence of a late love. (Like Meursault’s mother’s love for Perez)


ii) Specific locations


            a) 81, 84, 128

            b) 88

            c) 79, 105

            d) 81, 124


a) 128 Martha: “What does that word mean (i.e. love)?”, Maria: “It means all that is at this moment tearing, gnawing at my heart; it means that rush of frenzy that makes my finger itch for murder. It means all my past joy and this vivid sudden grief you have brought me, yes, you crazy woman”

b) 86-87, “As for my dreams and duties, you’ll have to take them as they are. Without them I’d be a mere shadow of myself; indeed you’d love me less, were I without them” …. and ….. “One can’t remain a stranger all one’s life. It is quite true that a man needs happiness, but he also needs to find his true place in the world. And I believe that coming back to my country, making happy those I love, will help me to do this”

c) “What is human in me is what I desire, and to get what I desire, I’d stick at nothing, I’d sweep away every obstacle in my path”  ….. and ……. “ I have a very different idea of the human heart, and to be frank, your tears revolt me” (129) …… and ….. “Buried alive! No one has ever kissed my mouth and no one, not even you, has seen me naked. Mother I swear to you that MUST be paid” (122)

d) 122 “its no more than the pain of feeling love rekindle in my heart”


iii) Some questions


Is Maria simply a secondary character? Is Maria’s appeal to the Gods a ‘weakness’? Are these Gods the same stony one’s of which Martha speaks? Is Martha’s longing similar to Caligula’s? Is it just in a ‘minor’, much less impressive, scale? Can it not be seen instead as appealing to the contrast between the public and the private sphere? Politics and ruthlessness as against family and intimacy? Is The Misunderstanding really more familiar than Caligula? What is Camus’ idea in recovering the force of this play in The Stranger? Is this a little like Hamlet’s staging a play within a play? Is Jan at fault for not being straightforward? How to understand the dichotomies present in this work of mirrors: home/exile, dark/light, burning sun/sun of life, family love/erotic love, past/future, rich/poor, men/women? Can the absurd be seen as springing precisely out of their tension? Would it be too crazy to say that it is rather strange an odd that Camus chose the names of Maria and Martha as those of the central figures of the work? Is it not puzzling that their names, out of a million others, begin with the three letters which stand for sea in Spanish(i.e. mar)? Are not Maria’s tears which Martha repudiates born out of this sea? Can one see Maria’s encounter with Martha as a mirroring encounter? Like the different mirroring encounters Caligula has with himself? What does this mirroring have to do with our recopying Camus’ words in front of us? What of the words in The Stranger  which tells us of the sea that “it lay smooth as a mirror”? (54)





i) General location


            a) Greek valuation of nature’s beauty. Socratic desire for limits and desire for admission of ignorance.

            b) Modern split between instrumental rationality, and expressive powers (Like Jan split duty/love)

            c) Hubris; desire of power (Like Caligula’s overstepping of limits)

            d) love of friendship (a healthy Scipio)


ii) specific location:


            a) 187

            b) 189

            c) 191

            d) 192


a) 187, “The Mediterranean sun has something tragic about it, quite different from the tragedy of fogs. Certain evenings at the base of the seaside mountains, night falls over the flawless curve of a little bay, and there rises from the silent waters a sense of anguished fulfillment. In such spots one can understand that if the Greeks knew despair, they always did so through beauty and its stifling quality. In that gilded calamity, tragedy reaches its highest point. Our time on the other hand, has fed its despair on ugliness and convulsions. This is why Europe would be vile, if suffering could ever be so”

b) 189, “we turn our backs on nature, we are ashamed of beauty. Our wretched tragedies have a smell of the office clinging to them and the blood that trickles from them is the color of the printer’s ink” (very different, of course, than that of Camus’)

c) 189 “Our reason has driven all away. Alone at last, we end up by ruling over a desert”  ……. and ……. 190-1 “Nature is still there, however. She contrasts her calm skies and her reasons with the madness of men. Until the atom too catches fire and history ends up in the triumph of reason and the agony of the species. But the Greeks never said  that the limit could not be overstepped” (Overstepping in a universe devoid of Gods)

d) 192 “we shall fight for the virtue that has a history. What virtue? The horses of Patroclus weep for their master killed in battle. All is lost. But Achilles resumes the fight, and victory is the outcome, because friendship has just been assassinated: friendship is a virtue?”


iii) Some questions


Is Camus’ view of Nature here truly romantic? Is not an appeal to nature as objective standard inaccessible to us moderns? Could one then relate this view of nature to our inner expressive powers? Nature reborn out of its transfiguration? Nature’s epiphany? Does Camus fall into a regressive desire for a land long lost for us, that is the Greeks? Is his a failure like Rimbaud’s  ambivalent Soleil et Chair? Or does he find a way to retrace this past era in a way that it opens, for us moderns, new possibilities of becoming? How to link Helen’s beauty with both a political project and an ethical outlook? Can Helen return form exile?





i) General location


            a) longing love of the homeland; permanent exile (Like Maria and Martha, and Caligula, and Jan, and Camus, and us)

            b) love of water and the Sea God (a God in Camus!)

            c) love of light; its ephemerality

            d) love of what is, as it is

            e) split love again: beauty and the humiliated

            f) love of love; an ethics of overflowing giving

            g) strange love of paradoxical articulated secrets


ii) Specific location


a) 194 Medea “You have navigated with raging soul far from the paternal home, passing beyond the sea’s double racks, and now you inhabit a foreign land”

b) 195 “for five days rain had been falling ceaselessly on Algiers and had finally wet the sea itself ….. which ever way you turned you seemed to be breathing water, to be drinking the air” …. and …… 200-201 “before dropping into the sea itself. It is seen from a distance, long before arriving, blue haze still confounded with the sky. But gradually it is condensed as you advance towards it, until it takes the color of the surrounding waters, a huge motionless wave whose amazing leap upward has been brutally solidified above the sea calmed all at once. Still nearer, almost at the gates of Tipasa, here is its frowning bulk, brown and green, here is the old mossy god that nothing will ever shake, a refuge and harbor for its sons, of whom I am one” (The sea of Meursault’s flowing with Marie)(Tipasa, the loved ruins of our youth)

c)  199 “In the earth’s morning the earth must have sprung forth from such light” ….  and …..202 “O light! This is the cry of all the characters of Ancient Drama brought face to face with their fate … I knew it now. In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was an invincible summer in me”. (invincibility in Camus!)

d) 196 “disoriented, walking through the wet, solitary countryside, I tried, at least to recognize that strength, hitherto always at hand, that helps me to accept what is when once I have admitted that I cannot change it. And I could not indeed; reverse the course of time and restore to the world the appearance I had live” (dis-orientation)

e) 203 “yes, there is beauty and there are the humiliated, whatever may be the difficulties of the undertaking, I should like never to be unfaithful either to one or the other”

f) 201-2 “For there is merely bad luck in not being loved; there is misfortune in not loving. All of us are drying up of this misfortune. For violence and hatred dry up the heart itself … I discovered at Tipasa once more that one must  keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice and return to the combat having won that light” (ethics of benevolence and artistic creation; good-fortune?)

g) 203-204. (a secret cannot be revealed)


iii) Some questions


Is the tension between beauty and the humiliated fully surpassable? Can one think of a longing to a rebirth of the world outside a Christian tradition? What is the relationship between Camus’ moving philosophical work and his moving and lyrical work? Are they complementary, in tension? Does Camus’ loving transfiguration of nature eliminate its silence? If not, then what does it mean to ‘leave everything as it is’?  (Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence)





i) General location


            a) contradiction: desiring the end of desiring. Force of suicide and lack of meaningfulness

            b) a desire too move beyond nihilism as loss of meaning. Beyond exile and malaise.

            c) desire and nostalgia: modernity and homelessness

            d) Lovers’ dialogue: A: “What are you thinking of” B: “Nothing”

            e) death appears: mortality and the end of desiring

            f) Don Juan’s Love: like a platonic cicada

            g) The actor: the body is king

            h) Conqueror: desire for articulation, lost causes and self-conquest.

            i) desire for creation: ephemeral works of art

            j) loving and knowing

            k) desire to break stones; hatred of unhealthy rockiness

            l) desire for happiness


ii) Specific location


a) Preface, 3, 5 “It is confessing that life is too much for you, or that you do not understand it … It is merely confessing that it is not worth the trouble”

b) Preface, “even within the limits of nihilism, it is possible to find the means to proceed beyond nihilism”

c) 6, “in a universe suddenly divested of illusion and light, a man feels alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy (a logical contradiction with b?) since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting is properly the feeling of absurdity”

d) 12, “but if that reply is sincere, if it symbolizes that odd state of soul in which the void becomes eloquent, in which the chain of daily gestures is broken, in which the heart vainly seeks the link that will correct it again, then it is as if it were the first sign of the absurd”

e) 57, “the idea that ‘I am’, my way of acting as if everything has meaning, all that is given the lie in vertiginous fashion by the absurdity of a possible death”

f) 69, 71, 72, 76, 77  “the more one loves the stronger the absurd grows” ….. “this life gratifies his every wish and nothing is worse than loosing it. This madman is a creative man” …… “yet it can be said that at the same time nothing is changed and everything is transfigured. What Don Juan realizes in his action is an ethic of quantity, whereas the saint on the contrary, tends towards quality” ….  “what more ghostly image can be called up than a man betrayed by his body who, simply because he did not die in time, lives out the comedy while awaiting the end” ….. “the ultimate end awaited but never desired, the ultimate end is negligible”.

g) 80, 81 “the actor is the intruder. He breaks the spell chaining that soul, and at last the passions can rush onto their stage. They speak in every gesture, they live only through shouts and cries. Thus the actor creates his characters for display. He outlines or sculptures them and slips into their imaginary form transfusing his blood into their phantasms”

h) 84, 88 “don’t assume that because I love action I’ve forgotten how to think …. I can thoroughly  define what I believe. Believe it firmly and see it clearly and surely. Beware of those who say :’I know this too well to be able to express it’ For if they cannot do so this is because they don’t know or it is out of laziness they stopped at the outer crust” (biting the apple of desire?) ….  “conqueror’s sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always ‘overcoming’ oneself that they mean”

i) 93, 94, 113, 114  ( 93-4)“it is certain that a new torment arises wherever another dies. The childish chasing after forgetfulness, the appeal of satisfaction are now devoid of echo. But the constant tension that keeps man face to face with the world, the ordered delirium that urges him to be receptive to everything leave him another fever. In this universe the work of art is then the sole chance of keeping his consciousness and of fixing its adventures. Creating is living doubly” ….. 113 “ this is the difficult  wisdom that the absurd thought sanctions. Performing these two tasks simultaneously, negating of the one hand and magnifying on the other is the way open to the absurd creator. He must give the void its colors”

j) 97, 98, 117  (97), “there are no frontiers between the disciplines that man sets himself for understanding and loving, they interlock, and the same anxiety merges them”

k) 120, “You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of the earth”

l) 123 “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”


iii) Some questions


Is Don Juan just a step on the ladder to the conqueror? Is this not too Hegelian a view? In other words is quantity leading up to quality or are quantity and quality at the same level; even in constant interacting conflict? (like Dyonisius and Apollo in Nietzsche) Can one have a Doña Juana? Is loving and knowing at the same time really possible?  Can one not desire suicide under certain circumstances? How is Sisyphus’ stone linked to Christ’s cross? Does not Camus tend to see the Greeks and the Catholic tradition too much like each other? Can Sisyphus be really happy, or is he just fooling himself? Can one really move beyond nihilism starting from it? Why does Camus say yes and no?  How is it that the body and all we are ‘become’ conscious of its mortality? By reading Camus? By being sentenced to death? By external events; an accident? Is the Myth of Sisyphus simply related to an ‘individualistic’ retrieval of ‘consciousness’; if so then why does the conqueror say, “as for me. I decidedly have something to say about the individual. One must speak of him bluntly and, if need be, with the appropriate contempt” (84)? What then does the conqueror’s self-conquest imply? How is it that art becomes the sole possibility of keeping consciousness?





i) General location


            a) Marie, lovely laughing living Marie. (Like in The Misunderstanding?)

            b) Salomon and his dog (Raymond and nameless girlfriend, a variation)

            c) Friendship; love of Celeste

            d) Love of ghosts: Marie’s traces

            e) Mother’s new love

            f) Love v.s. priest (Cherea v.s. Caesonia?)

            g) Love of life: love of ice-cream


ii) specific location


a) 27, 28, 29, 42, 56, 57, 78 

b) 52

c) 93

d) 75, 79, 80, 113

e) 120


g) 98, 104-5


a)  27, “ I let my hand stray over her breasts” …. I caught her up, put my arm around her waist, and we swam side by side. She was still laughing”, …..  41 “ One could see the outline of her firm little breasts, and her sun tanned face was like a velvety brown flower” …56 “for the first time I seriously considered marrying her” …. 78 “I remember Marie’s describing to me her work with that set smile always of her face”

b) 52 “I tried hard to take care of him; every mortal night after he got that skin disease I rubbed an ointment in. But his real trouble was old age and there is no curing that“ (Meursault’s reaction ‘a yawn’)

c) 93 “ I didn’t say anything, or make any movement, but for the  first time in my life I wanted to kiss a man”

d) 80 “ I never thought of Marie especially. I was distressed by the thought of this woman or that …. so much so that the cell grew crowded with their faces, ghosts of my old passions. That unsettled (desire unsettles?) me, no doubt, but at least it served to kill time” (compare to Don Juan “he is incapable of looking at portraits” (72))

e) 120 “and now it seemed to me I understood why at her life’s end she had taken on a ‘fiancé’. Why she’d played at making a fresh start”

f) 118 “and yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair. Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldn’t ever be sure of being alive”

g) 104-5 “only one incident stands out; towards the end, while my counsel rambled on, I heard the tin trumpet of an ice-cream vendor in the street, a small, shrill sound cutting across the flow of words. And then a rush of memories went through my mind — memories of a life that was no longer mine and had once provided me with the surest, humblest pleasures: warm smells of summer, my favorite streets, the sky at evening, Marie’s dresses and her laugh. The futility of what was happening here seemed to take me by the throat, I felt like vomiting, and I had only one idea: to get it over, to go back to my cell, and sleep …. and sleep”


iii) Some questions


How does desire’s appearance relate to the idea that Meursault is simply a ‘passive’ character? Is not desire precisely where Meursault finds meaning in life? Is he not truly artistic in his meticulous descriptions of places and people; like Camus, in a sense? Is this a prearticulate sense of bodily activity and meaningfulness a more adequate path towards Caligula’s questioning and dismissal of Drusilla and consequent search for the impossible?  (Like enjoying ice cream, and the smells of summer, and favorite streets, and the evening sky, and Marie’s dresses and especially her laugh) Why did Meursault decide, finally, to marry her? What to say about Meursault indifference to his mother’s death,  to Salamano’s beatings, to Raymond’s beating’s, to his four extra-shots? Just chance? Just psychoanalysis? Just unethical? How do we in our everyday life become aware of the value of life; do we have to be sentenced to death? But is not reading this book a kind of death and a rebirth? How, if at all, can Meursault ever become a political being? Is there not a tension here?



We have in this way come to the end of some of the tracks left by desire in Camus’ words. But surely many other traces remain untracked, and if we are to follow the Conqueror’s conception of conscience, somehow we must be able to articulate what moves elusively in all these marks and figures. But for now, tending to believe that such a project is doomed to fail, let us remind ourselves of the ambivalent love of ice that Sophocles tells us children feel; that same love of ice, as of ice-cream, which triggered in Meursault the surest and humblest pleasures:


            “Like children that beneath a frosty heaven

            Snatch in their eagerness at icicles

            (First they are ravish with their latest toy;

            Yet soon they find it hurts their hands to hold

            That icy thing: and yet how hard to drop it!) —

            Even such are lovers too, when what they love

            Tears them betwixt ‘I would not’ and ‘I would’” (Sophocles, Lucas, 224)


Desire traced has come into our hands but it has melted; its gone. This is a feeling Camus knew all too well. It, too, is present in the gaining of our own self and meaning:  “For I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, If I try to define it and summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers” (MoS, 19).

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