Some were dreadfully insulted, and quite seriously, to have held up as a model such an immoral character as A Hero of Our Time; others shrewdly noticed that the author had portrayed himself and his acquaintances. … A Hero of Our Time, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait, but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation in their fullest expression.
The ominous excerpt in the very beginning.
The rise and fall of a civilization, of a city, of a family, of a person, I am persistently absorbed in the notion of this inevitability. Camus in his third and last complete literary text narrated -incessantly first person- the gradual decline of an eminent lawyer of Paris, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, to a self-proclaimed judge-penitent in a decadence Amsterdam bar, Mexico City. Guileless we are left to listen to his alluring monologue while crossing silently the misty capital of the Netherlands whose concentric canals resemble the circles of hell.
I dearly advice you my fellow reader, do not go gentle with our hero for surreptitious are his ways. He will ask you “May I Monsieur offer my services without running the risk of intruding?”. He will keenly buy you a drink because the grotesque bartender does not speak your language. He will lay his elaborate confession on you which will make you subconsciously challenge your own choices. Cunningly though attrition he will entrap you with his enticing words when you suddenly realize you were the one who has been confessing all along. Trust me dear reader, remain wary of the perils this path entails.
His definition of the occupation of his contemporaries is narrowed in just two passions: ideas and fornication. He entertains the notion that in all things we are in a way, in a way cultured, in a a way sophisticated, in a way bourgeois. In a way though you will not fully comprehend his enigmatic personality, where this strange one-sided conversation is leading, or why did he not cross the bridge with you? What is a judge-penitent? Where is the eerie laughter he heard at Pont des Arts coming from? What is that object that the police is fiercely searching for? Most importantly, how are all these questions related to his unavailing fall from grace? Ironic is a way as it might become later clearer.
You will have however first to follow his story as a charming, by getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question; immensely popular lawyer, familiar when it was appropriate, silent when necessary capable of free and easy manner as readily as of dignity, all in harmony; marked out yet humble by birth, with no religion but somehow with his happiness and merits were authorized by a higher decree; never feeling comfortable ,except in lofty surroundings, even in the details of daily life, always above, always in impunity; modest and generous in all aspects of his professional, social, private life, feeling constantly something of a superman.
Two incidents then occurred that indelibly changed our noble’s hero shortsighted perspective. The first was a trivial altercation during heavy traffic. Jean-Baptiste attempted to play the big boss but was utterly ridiculed and he obediently returned to his car. Afterwards he goes on a thorough explanation on his views upon women and romantic relationships, how he seduced women with his eloquence, how conquering them was only a matter of selfishness. He unabashedly generalizes his views about individuals: in order to live happily it was essential for the creatures he chose not to live at all for they must receive their life, sporadically, only at his bidding. His subsequent reaction at a woman committing suicide over a bridge -an irresistible weakness he called it- on rainy winter night may nonetheless indicated the contrary.
This is the critical point of collapse. Afterwards Jean-Baptiste decides that is it time to face the unavoidable: his own self. Debauchery, frivolity, gambling, alcohol, cynicism and the little-ease, I will now leave the suspense part of his fall although enjoy the moments of ruthless contemplation sprinkled thought the monologue.
No man is a hypocrite in his pleasures.
That the way man is, cher Monsieur, he has two faces: he can’t love without self love.
To be sure, I occasionally pretended to take life seriously. But very soon the frivolity of seriousness struck me and I merely went on playing my role as well as I could. … I was absent at the moment when I took up the most space.
Martyrs, cher ami, must choose between being forgotten, mocked, or made use of. As for being understood—never!
No one, ever again, would know the truth on this point, since the only one to know it was precisely the dead man sleeping on his secret. That absolute murder of a truth used to make me dizzy. Today, by the way, it would cause me, instead, subtle joys.
Each of us insists on being innocent at all cost, even if he has to accuse the whole human race and heaven itself. You won’t delight a man by complimenting him on the efforts by which he has become intelligent or generous. On the other hand, he will beam if you admire his natural generosity. Inversely, if you tell a criminal that his crime is not due to his nature or his character but to unfortunate circumstances, he will be extravagantly grateful to you.
Since, in the waking state and with a little self-knowledge, one can see no reason why immortality should be conferred on a salacious monkey, one has to obtain substitutes for that immortality.
Moreover, we cannot assert the innocence of anyone, whereas we can state with certainty the guilt of all. Every man testifies to the crime of all the others—that is my faith and my hope.
In order to cease being a doubtful case, one has to cease being, that’s all.
People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.
Dante accepts the idea of neutral angels in the quarrel between God and Satan. And he puts them in Limbo, a sort of vestibule of his Hell. We are in the vestibule, cher ami.
Ah, mon cher, for anyone who is alone, without God and without a master, the weight of days is dreadful. Hence one must choose a master, God being out of style.
When we are all guilty, that will be democracy.
He who clings to a law does not fear the judgment that reinstates him in an order he believes in. But the keenest of human torments is to be judged without a law. Yet we are in that torment.
At the end of all freedom is a court-sentence; that’s why is too heavy to bear.
What we call fundamental truths are simply the ones we discover after all the others. However that may be, after prolonged research on myself, I brought out the fundamental duplicity of the human being. Then I realized, as a result of delving in my memory, that modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress.
I’ll tell you a big secret, mon cher. Don’t wait for the Last Judgment. It takes place every day.
And a personal favorite quote which can’t be omitted:
Since then , Greece itself drifts somewhere within me on the edge of my memory, tirelessly.