All too soon after posting my brief, Kafka-inspired thoughts last night, I found the following, apt quote by Kierkegaard, after I kept going in Stach’s book: “Sometimes the most difficult life is the one that is about nothing.”(1) Indeed– and hence, this blog-writer’s frequent agonizing about greater purposes, grand individual mandates and places in this world, etc. and etc. It’s not really connected to Camus and his stern determination to confront the absurd head-on, but reading The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays alongside the Kafka bio, I’m at least thrown into the desire to make vaguely valid comparisons.
I came across the following phrase while spending my lunch hour in a still-chilly concrete vat in the middle of town, surrounded by banking execs trying to balance the sheer pleasure of early-spring sun on their skin with the need to maintain professional composure and the impression that nothing, really, can affect their urbane selves anymore: “the heart the creator needs– I mean the closed heart.” (2) Even with the ideal of literature he tried to serve and all the personal agony in which that effort left him, I would imagine nothing could be more distant to Kafka (or to me) than the thought that the creator’s heart must be a closed one. I have the feeling, too, that neither of these two authors could follow the other’s approach to or feelings about life’s core absurdity; for one thing, I really can’t picture Camus laughing at anything, at least not without being somehow snide or disparaging in some way. I’ve known many a man (and only one woman) who’s felt strongly positive about, or even been able to bear life, thanks to Camus. But his virile (and I think he would willingly adopt that adjective) confrontation with the disparity between human hopes and a world that never ceases to disappoint them just leaves me cold, feeling as if I were in the presence of one of those guys who takes a girl out with his friends and just leaves her feeling bad about herself, alone somehow all evening in the midst of men who never openly insult her, but who’d rather, it’s obvious, not have her around, and pointedly do nothing to include her in the conversation.
Maybe that particular feeling has something to do with the fact that his then-standard use of “man,” “men,” etc., as a universal pronoun really does seem to point solely to people with penises, and to the values Western society was, at the time, at least, passing off as natural. And so, even though I love the phrase, found a few pages earlier in his essay, “a lucid heart,” as in “their fate is an absurd fate which might charm and attract a lucid heart,” (3) Camus’ idea of lucidity might entirely exclude my own notion of that concept– a notion that, even though defined here by the ability to see and accept reality clearly, would also refuse to dismiss the input of whatever it is that lies beyond intellect (very loosely, emotion, I suppose) that also makes that lucidity human. Yes, yes, the absurd starts where our reason leaves off, and Camus will have no truck with those who try to limit valid human existence to reason alone– but I imagine my own version of lucidity would be too soft for him, unwilling to face up with bold defiance to the stark reality of our meaningless existence. And unfortunately, I haven’t thought it through enough to prove his hypothetical suspicions wrong. But there it is nonetheless: an undeniable, if not entirely lucid, distrust of the Frenchman’s assumptions about pure hearts, or good ones or lucid ones or the ones possessed by real creators. For now, at least, I’m sticking with weird little Franz, and that beautifully muddied heart of his that created one incomparable window after another onto an always-absurd reality.
(1) Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years, transl. Shelley Frisch (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 2005: 42.
(2) Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York: Random House), 1983: 85.
(3) Ibid., 77.