“I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”
I have just finished reading The Stranger by the French writer and existentialist Albert Camus. ‘What is an existentialist?’ I hear you ask. Well, an existentialist is somebody who follows the philosophy of existentialism. Well-known existentialist philosophers include Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche and the great Jean Paul Sartre (not Gaultier). Existentialist thought is concerned with the human individual – and its existence. In a ‘meaningless’ world, existentialists try to find meaning in their existence by taking responsibility for their identity and therefore, their actions. One of the main concepts of existentialism is authenticity, wherein one must live true to oneself – to act authentically in relation to their identity. Existential thought sees the world as ‘absurd’ – the idea is that the world does not have a meaning until we apply a meaning to it; the world is unfair and strange, anything can happen to anyone at any time. Existentialists accept that that there is no ‘meaning’ to life, and therefore understand that it is up to the individual to create their own meaning in an absurd world.
“I wasn’t even able to tell myself that it was hard to think those things.”
The Stranger (1942) is known as an ‘existential novel’, though Camus himself rejected the label. The novel can attributed to existentialism as we see the hero, Meursault, experience a tragic event that leads him to question his existence and the world around him – by encountering the absurd, Meursault encounters the ‘self’.
I think this is a text that is best read with a blank mind, so I won’t go into plot details, suffice to say that this is a book that can easily transcend generations, and will leave you to consider the absurdity of the modern world.