Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Outsider (by Albert Camus)

I just finished reading The Outsider (also called The Stranger), a book I had heard of for a few years and bought a few months ago (at a 30% discount!). It is a short book, barely 118 pages but is neither too long nor too short. And unusual for me, I ripped through it in three days.

It is written very simply and clearly, predominantly one clause sentences. And in that way, the story just breezes into your mind with little resistance or misunderstanding. And that style is suiting the mind of the simple, honest protagonist, Meursault, who cannot help but being a man of few words. And because of the intimacy with his thoughts you can't but help sympathise for him. He gets annoyed quite often with other people, and when that happens he just ignores what they say. Many things pass him by. He is clumsy with speech and his meaning, but honest in total completeness. He is an "everyman", who lives his life truthfully.

The story itself is somewhat contrived, but in a way, the story is subordinate to the message. A man lives, inexplicably kills, is judged and executed. In a way, the fact that he killed is superfluous but a dramatic element to bring him to the point of death, and to be judged by others. Camus's explanation at the end of the book makes it clear that the protagonist is a character representing the "only Christ we deserve". With that statement I found a lot more clarity of the story. And such a statement is useful, as the story is amusing but the story is there for the interpretation but lacks a clear statement.

I liked his interpretation through the analogy. Specifically, Meursault is sacrificed for being himself and he is afraid of his impending death (even though he knows logically realises that he would die at some stage anyway). It is unextraordinary, as it should be, a simple ode to the obvious 'sacrifice' we could all make, and should make, to die as ourselves. A poignant book indeed.

Dawkins' God (by Alister McGrath)

This non-fiction book was a criticism of the ideas and theories of Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins is a prominent evolutionist, who produced books such as The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable (which I have!) and the Selfish Gene. To relate to this book, you would need to know Dawkins or be quite familiar with the arguments for evolution or atheism.

The author, Alister McGrath, is Doctor of Biochemistry but also an Anglican minister and qualified theologian. His biggest qualm is not specifically with evolution (which he thinks is probably a possible representation of the true development of life on earth), but rather the deductions Dawkins makes based on his belief in Darwinist evolution. You see, Dawkins vehemently declares that the theory of evolution is inherently atheist, and that the religious are deluded. You can understand that Alister might disagree with Richard on some points!

I was quite pleased with the logical exposition McGrath did to critique Dawkins' views, saying that despite the logic and clarity of Dawkins' earlier work, most later essays regarding religion are only based in his personal anti-religious beliefs.

The book also attacks the theory of memes and memetic cultural change, which is a topic I am quite enamoured with. This and my knowledge of Dawkins are what drew me to this book and I found it a rewarding read.


James said...

It sounds like you are enjoying your reading. Could I please borrow the Camus book?

Crypticity said...

Sure~ :-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't really care for Camus' Stranger. Although loaded with symbolism and hyped as a must-read for the better understanding of existentialist themes, I found it to be a bit dry and dull... His earlier essays are much better, imo. K.

Crypticity said...

Hi K. I don't think it should be read in search of existential themes. I think it was more or less a book about authenticity of living in society i.e. You might be killed for being yourself. For being honest. What symbolism did you see? I might have taken it too simplistically... I will read the Myth of Sisphus (sp?) later.

Anyway, for me, reading Camus's note at the end of it (I am not sure if all copies have it), really brought the message to me. Maybe without it, I might not have been as impressed.

Anonymous said...

quote: Anyway, for me, reading Camus's note at the end of it (I am not sure if all copies have it), really brought the message to me. Maybe without it, I might not have been as impressed.Bummer! I don't have a note by Camus at the end of my edition. What was the gist of the note? I wonder if it would really change my initial impression. btw, The Myth of Sisyphus was kind of stupid, imo...