17 September 2006

A Difficult Wisdom and an Ephemeral Passion

Filed under: First Lines — ktismatics @ 11:36 am

“All those lives lived in the rarified air of the absurd could not persevere without some profound and constant thought to infuse them with strength.”

Albert Camus, “Absurd Creation,” 1955

In the mythology of creation, art is an outflow of passion. Camus reverses the flow: passion is an outflow of art. Having discovered the depthless indifference of the world, the artist, absurdly, begins to create. But the artist doesn’t create passion. The unfolding creation envelops the artist in passion. So too the philosopher. Artists and philosophers involve themselves, become themselves, in the work. “There are no frontiers between the disciplines that man sets himself for understanding and loving.”

“If the world were clear, art would not exist.” Art fails to make the world clear. Art is absurd.

“To think is first of all to create a world (or to limit one’s own world, which comes to the same thing…” Philosophers are writers who populate their created worlds with characters and symbols and plots. Novelists structure their worlds with postulates, logic, clarifications.

“The fecundity and the importance of a literary form are often measured by the trash it contains.” In bad novels, thought wins out over style. Worst of all is the novel that proves, the smug novel, the novel dominated by ideas instead of thought. And what of great novels? “The writer has given up telling ‘stories’ and creates his universe. The great novelists are philosophical novelists – that is, the contrary of thesis-writers.” What then shall be said of good and bad philosophy: the same, or its inverse?

Melville, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Malraux. “What distinguishes modern sensibility from classical sensibility is that the latter thrives on moral problems and the former on metaphysical problems.” Camus, poised at the end of an age, acknowledged the suicidal absurdity of having to work on problems that cannot be solved. Is postmodern sensibility recognized by the death of all problems or by the suicide of the problem-solver?

“Hope cannot be eluded forever.” Through the patient and ruthless exercise of an ascetic discipline the creator might postpone hope’s inevitable dominance; rarely can he elude it. Camus counts Moby Dick as an absurd work – but it’s too early to start making lists.


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