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ADIEU, ADIEU, ALBERT CAMUS
his story starts off on an ominous note, fusing French existentialism, magazine fact checking, and the potentially lethal influences of Allan Bloom and Elill Bennett. But it picks up nicely, has an important moral, and only lasts around 1,000 words. So please bear with it. A few months ago, I wrote a story about socially conscious rock stars, noting that U-2 lead singer Bono Vox has a tendency to quote from Albert Camus. Forbes has a rigorous fact-checking procedure, so a few hours after the story was edited, a fact checker ambled into my office. Writers always view fact checking with dread-I was once asked for A1 Jolson’s phone number-but nothing in my past could, have prepared me for the terrifying question I was asked that afternoon. “Iin your story you mention this guy Albert Camus [pronounced Kammisl,” he began. “Who is he?” What in blazes? Who was Albert Camus? Who was Albert Camus??? Was this guy serious? I tried the diplomatic route: “I can’t believe you don’t know who Albert Camiis is.” “Well, I don’t, so please tell me.” “What did you major in in college?” “Agronomy.” ‘‘That explains it.” ell, it did, and it didn’t. True, there was no reason that the works of Albert Camus should turn up in any agronomical curriculum, so it was theoretically possible for a person to get through college without ever being exposeld to his vast influence. But this was a 27-year-old reporter working for a magazine located in the heart of Greenwich Villa.ge. The fact that he had never come across the name Albert Camus in his reading, chats, or dates with girls from Bard
life is meaningless, life eats it raw-can be found in the Library of Congress, in the Gray Room. In his heyday, Camus headed a pantheon of unbelievably flatulent characters including Carlos Castanede, Frederich Schopenhauer, Frederich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. But Camus had one great advantage over these other guys: You could actually read him. This meant that you could get in on pretentiousness on the ground floor, without putting in all the legwork you had to do with Kant and Hegel. No, unlike all those Germ an pro t o -crypt o -fa s c i s t s , the Frenchman wrote accessible prose exploding with the most exquisitely smug, halfbaked, undergrad banalities: “Men die and they are not happy.” “Today, my mother died. Or was it yesterday?” “Every artist preserves deep within him a single source from which, throughout his lifetime, he draws what he is, and what he says. When the source dries up, the work withers and crumbles.”
could mean only one thing: that Albert Camus, one of the heroes of my youth, was fading out of the collective consciousness. Forever. For the first time in my life, I felt the way aging gin monkeys must feel when they sit around the taproom rhapsodizing about Honus Wagner and Bronco Nagursky with some yuppie bartender who figures they’re talking about rent-acops working the night shift at the G.M. plant. For a philosopher, Camus was a man of that very same stature-the Gehs my colleague Stewart Flack puts rig of gloom, the Marciano of moroseit, “Albert Camus didn’t write The ness, the Aaron of angst. Yet our fact checker didn’t know who the hell he was. Plague; he was The Plague.” Though Camus was an underground It was enough to break your heart. Anyone who went to college in the favorite in the late ’40s and early O OS, he 1960s will know why, because the 1960s didn’t really break out nationally until was the Golden Age of Pretentiousness, the mid-’60s, a decade after his death. and in the Golden Age of Pretentiousness, That’s when millions of pretentious no one was more persistently, indefatigably 17-year-olds were starting college. I pretentious than Albert Camus. Not Mc- was one of those pretentious youths and Luhan. Not Heidegger. Not Hoffer. Camus, can well remember the path that led me of course, was the French philosopher who to Camus. I started out at age 15 with co-founded existentialism with Jean-Paul Kahlil Gibran, then moved on to Herman Sarh-e in the 1940s. Camus actually in- Hesse’s Glass Bead Game at age 16, vented the idea that life is absurd, though before stumbling upon the writer Hitler got credit for proving it. Patents for whose fashionably nihilistic philosophy many of his other ideas-life is boring, would perfectly mesh with mine until I
even operate the jails.---~-------------. Salinger. But Albert Camus and I are not parting company without a struggle. t h e R e a s o n Foundation’s monthly newsletter. if the younger generation has already decided that it doesn’t need. J. and lots of my classmates went to ’Nam. I do not spend the weekends playing Leonard Cohen or Gabor Szabo albums. So the day I showed up for my interview with the dean of admissions.. I’m going with him.PRETENSIONS started pulling down more than $50. The Incredible String Band. Samuel Beckett. I have never owned an M. STATE/ZIP MARCH 1990 Reason Foundation 2716 Ocean Park Blvd Suite 1062 Santa Monica. goddamn it. Still. my local bookstore-which prides itself on its literature section-has no copies of Camus’s important works and reports no recent requests for Camus titles. and I do not have The Col- Y lected Richard Brautigan poised next to my night light. so after the fact-checking incident.------------. I am not yet ready to make a complete break. Joseph’s College that I had the goods. and in order to swing a scholarship to college. we’ll tell you everything that’s happening as Big Government shifts functions to the private sector. Now.C. Thousands of cities and counties are using private firms t o pick u p the garbage.000 a year. and of those who have. I grew up in a poor section of Philadelphia. Teilhard de Chardin-before going to Powder River: Camus. I sprang Big A1 on him just as the conversation was starting to wane and I could see that I’d registered a hit: “The kid knows Camus.” es. Carlos Castanede. I deliberately softened him up with some second-rate material-Ayn Rand. CA 90405 reason 45 . A literary agent assured me that sales of The Stranger and The Plague were still brisk but cautioned that this was mostly because of college courses. And an informal poll of 30 friends is hardly reassuring: A full quarter have never heard of Camus. Fairport Convention. run the computers. Let’s put him in the Honors Program. If your city is not taking full advantage of privatization. doesn’t even know Albert Camus. see also privatization Fifteen years ago this word didn’t exist. Escher print. Let me make it clear that I am not one of those burned-out ’60s types who cannot let go of the past. --------------------. and Imamu Baraka.---YES. please enter my subscription to Privatization Watch at the special REASON rate of only $33 (two-thirds off the regular $95 fate). I might have joined them. Steeleye Span. you can get this newsletter at two-thirds off the regular $95price. Because if Albert Camus’s going. I had to convince the Jesuits at St. doesn’t want. I rarely quote Heidegger. trim the trees. me and the big fella go back a long way. He’s pompous enough to be a Jesuit. or the Firesign Theater. But I had another reason for feeling such affection for Camus: If it hadn’t been for him I might have ended up in Southeast Asia. So there are no two ways about it: The dude is in trouble. If that comeback is not to be. it’s sweeping the country. I can stay the course without Ludwig Wittgenstein.D. I can get through the rest of my life without Ravi Shankar. ri-va-tize\ vt to transfer from the pubHc sector to the private sector. Joe Queenan is a senior editor at Forbes. or Herman Hesse. I can live without Pound’s Cantos. I decided to conduct an informal poll to see how badly Camus had slipped. And as a REASON reader. your cost of local government may be 30 to 50 percent higher than it need be. We’ve been through a lot together. From acxoss the country and around the world.Jack Kerouac. Pentangle. On a discordant note. eight don’t know what he did for a living.-----------. and I was kind of looking forward to the year when Pretentiousness makes its big comeback. because my high school grades were just so-so. (Make check payable to the Reason Foundation 1 NAME ADDRESS CITY Keep u p t o date on the latest developments in privatization by subscribing to Priuatization Watch. then it’s probably time for me to pack it in as well.
o r whether the series wily divorce lawyer ignores the objecAnd it was here that I began.A. in which Benny’s overhave spent the last several seers resolve to lecture him about months on another planet not to--Benny and Alice have been responsible sex.Benny on the subject and-with drome himself.TELEVISION . sense to pull it o f f . Michael That said. Corky. n case you didn’t already Consider the season’s second know-and you’d have to episode. Brackman workforce as well.” is that Burke.” the man’s ed. Mistress Van Broth networks should be commended sharply to Alice’s father. GENTLE BEN BY A L A N PELL CRAWFORD ingly questionable.to spare her children and her soon-to-be squirm. Most of them appear to have discussed attorney explains. something-just what. whom they hardly man is fluent in Russian. Law” that the writers had know. “This when it became clear from the opening Benny-and for Alice. “They used to play games.” which look-alike accused of embezzlevery one of the law firm’s employees ment. Law. portrayal of M c K e n z i e . and for a reward she’d let him “L. “L. too. are supposed to disprove. and Victor getting it on. the defendant is overcome by retarded boy.” Kuzak tells Van Owen. ABC’s “Life Goes On. who plays the and a number have seen fit to counsel chew on one of her sweatsocks. you can’t say which is a tribute to the show’s “L. however. to whom ing a correspondence between human figures more prominently in those intro.A. While writers and to Larry Drake’s Benny learns about his sexuality. befeatures Bill Smitrovich and Patty Lupone as the parents of a retarded seems to know about Benny’s sex life cause he was under the spell of his teenalger who is sent to high school with and his relationship with AIice (Amanda dominatrix secretary. isn’t The same sort of friendly clear-about our own. I know he’s credits of “L. Law” didn’t try.Benny once showed a photocopy of his decency and a high. Meanwhile. first to itself is not too slickly sleazy a setting for tions of a well-meaning client who wants such a message-is becoming increas. bathroom. has Down’s Syn. He now Perkins (Michele Greene). Further identificaSifuentes (Jimmy Smits) takes tion probably isn’t necessary. Law”on NBC. of bludgeoning to death a white student doubts. I. This is not surprising.” Found guilty. like republicans. Arnie Becker (Corbin season Benny’s misadventures as a show that the retarded.” he cries. though his not only of the viewers but of the entire goal. one of the firm’s Owen. television drama. and this is a laudable Bernsen) is up to his old tricks. and in the first two episodes of the Finally.A. he says. who told him to do brighter youngsters after years of special Plummer). “Thank you. Law” is taking great pains to apparent guilt. “He’d clean her which is far more simpleminded than the intimate details among ‘themselves. for the most part.elegant black college professor accused dling is presented as evidence of virtue. novice Romeo monopolized the attention are people. I E 46 reaison MARCH 1990 . If this Most of us feel we’ve been on a wasn’t the kinkiest-and most first-name basis with Benny. considering the miscegenation with misogyny.enzie. But Benny’s Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) Chris Burke and the creators of is prosecuting a Fred Rogers simpleminded wonderfulness grows tiresome. ’What’s notable about the series.A. this writer-a Bennyphile self-righteousness of the firm’s lawyers. “Let me lie face down in for tackling the subject of mental retarda. implya bigger role in mind for Benny. about his decisions your dirty bathwater!” tion--and for doing so. who is also mentally retarded. Whether its creators have the good violence is only psychic. in a subplot that mixes with thoughtfulness and good humor. that their med. I was encouraged early in the season grounded as it is in their deep concern for with whom he was having an affair. Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) defends an from way back-is beginning to have his It is remarkable. it. the lawyers are working on three Braclkman’s mentally retarded cases.Q. throughout the fourever presented in network yearmnof “L.biggest clients. Alice’s chief advocate is Abigail innocent. He’s not responsible. that Benny’s good-heartedness. then to seethe. This time the McK. him condom shopping.A. manipulative-single episode anyway. each of which is to tell us file clerk. do). and the defendant’s ductory scenes (as Emmy winners tend to girlfriend’s face. astonishing presumption-to speak gratitude. regarding her. familiarity is generated by Larry Drake as Benny: The bigger role is welcome.