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ON LUCIDITY by David Arthur Walters Albert Camus spoke of lucidity, of being lucid. What does it mean to be lucid, to see the world clearly in the glaring light of day, free and clear of the rosy romantic fog of mysticism we employ to subtly cloud our vision? Lucidity may be a painful experience as far as friends are concerned. Friendship is paved with insincerity instead of honesty. Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a Parisian lawyer, speaks on this subject in Camus' THE FALL: "Above all, don't believe your friends when they ask you to be sincere with them. They merely hope you will encourage them in the good opinion they have of themselves by providing them with the additional assurance they will find in your promise of sincerity. How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? A liking for truth at any cost is a passion that spares nothing and that nothing resists. It's a vice, at times a comfort, or a selfishness. Therefore, if you are in that situation, don't hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection." If you know that your friends are lying to you, it follows that you know the truth about yourself, and since they know they are lying they have a truth about themselves: they know they are liars. Clamence's friends "extolled the harmony and security" they found in his company. Yet he "was aware only of the dissonances and disorder that filled me; I felt vulnerable and open to public accusation. In my eyes my fellows ceased to be the respectful public to which I was accustomed. The circle of which I was the center broke and they lined up in a row as on the judge's bench. In short, the moment I grasped that there was something to judge in me, I realized that there was in them an irresistible vocation for
judgment. Yes, they were there as before, but they were laughing." Once he became lucid, he looked past his friends. He saw that even people on the fringes did not really admire his apparent success in the community: "The look of success, when it is worn in a certain way, would infuriate a jackass." He goes on to describe the moment he became lucid: "I was condemned for past successes. For a long time I had lived in the illusion of a general agreement, whereas, from all sides, judgments, arrows, mockeries rained upon me, inattentive and smiling. The day I was alerted I became lucid; I received all the wounds at the same time and lost my strength all at once. The whole universe then began to laugh at me. That is what no man (except those who are not really alive--in other words, wise men) can endure. Spitefulness is the only possible ostentation. People hasten to judge in order not to be judged." Camus was lucid when he wrote those lines. He saw the spoken rules of behavior denied in action. For instance, "Judge lest ye be judged." He saw the underlying crisis clearly, the hypocrisy of man, the ambiguity of his existence. And man's relations are not merely with other men, for all men are in the world with which they must deal or perish, hence they are bound to regard the world at large or perish. When the world is stripped of man's projections, when it is a dehumanized and thoughtless object, a Stone, his perception of the world is lucid. He sees that his self-conscious relations with the world are fictional. He realizes he has endowed the world with his own attributes, and when that haze is lifted, he sees that the world does not give a damn for him. The world cares not for him. The world, so to speak, is deaf to him. His is relation to the world is absurd.
When a lucid man hears a poet waxing ever so eloquently about Nature or God, as if nature or god were a human being, he might laugh and declare such behavior to be as absurd as a man beating a boulder with his fists because it refuses to budge. He still has a sense of humor. Yet he is lucid and is thereby divorced from his setting, the very world he once loved and hated as if it were his partner, the world he is now alienated from. So people who believe life is a joke and can laugh about it may be leading quite healthy lives. On the other hand, those who take life so seriously that they are afraid to face it as individuals are not so healthy. It is not either the man or the world standing alone which is absurd, it is the relationship between man and world that is absurd. The world is “deaf” to man. Lucidity is the clear apprehension of that absurd relation, the disjunction between the world and what man wants of it. Yet even in absurdity there is no diremption or clear divorce between man and world. The world is, after all, his world. The relation between subject and object is reciprocal: Sisyphus pushes the Stone, the Stone resists, and it is in our perspective that we insist the inertia of the stone is "passive." Thus absurdity is tension, anxiety, anguish, unease, mental disease, and so on. We may believe we have stripped the world of our projections, but they remain in us as our reactions to the world. We push the Stone farther. In the pushing we discover which one has priority, Sisyphus or his Stone. The Stone is just a Stone now that we have stopped worshipping it. For the sake of lucidity we should lay Sisyphus bare too, strip the man of the conditions and conventions of society that identifies himself to himself and to others. What remains to the objective observer? A crazy Stone. As far as we are concerned, we have not rid him of his basic anxiety, of his mental disease. He is clearly
insane. As far as he is concerned, he is no longer concerned. If social conventions are insanity, he is sane now. He does not know it. He might as well have committed suicide to get rid of one-half the problem, leaving the Stone behind--how absurd! We need not despair, however, over the paradox lucidity presents. A lucid man does not have to be a raving lunatic or a suicidal murderer. He may, like Sisyphus, chose a life of revolt in the world by setting his shoulder against the Stone. The Stone includes stony men, for men, being in and of the Stone, are part Stone. As a natural born alien, or individual, he can find his satisfaction in the exercise of will against the Stone. That includes getting out of the way when it rolls back down the hill. The Stone nourishes and strengthens him by virtue of that struggle. The struggle is an argument, a forceful, two-way communication. A man must work with and against the Stone. The Stone shall return nothing for nothing. It shall return nothing to the man who wants something for nothing. It shall return nothing to the man who wants to resign his will and be reabsorbed by the Stone in a regression to total dependence. Yes, it is possible to squeeze blood out of the Stone. Still, the Stone is obviously not on Sisyphus' side. The fatal weakness of the lucid absurdist causes him to embrace it and backslide down the slippery slope. He would put a god or man in the Stone, making of it the fictional psychic support that he set out to repudiate. He denies that the Stone is the concrete stage for the working of his psyche, his will, his existence, so it rolls over him, flattening him. He loses faith in the process of stripping everything down, or ridding himself of self-deception. He fears the self-destructiveness implied by anarchy. He fears the lunacy of nothingness.
Another sort of nothingness is arrived at by Sisyphus in his meditative moments: the nothingness that remains when falsity is exposed. To wit, Nothing, the Source of all that is. Sisyphus knew his limits and got out of the way of the Stone at the top. Then he ran down the hill to heave the Stone up again, laughing at the warden-god of his punishment. The truth was in the paradox. Now that god is dead, would Sisyphus be so eager without a witness to his revolt? He surely would, for god is only dead in name and not in reality. "God is dead" does not mean there is no god, but that men have ceased to have faith in god and therefore in themselves because they do not know where god is located. They are really not waiting for the return of the son of god but for the return of god. The Parisian lawyer Jean-Baptiste Clamence, his friends, acquaintances and other witnesses, had no genuine faith in themselves. Their faith was badly invested in false pretenses and thus had many evil returns. Their confidence was a veneer over mutual self-contempt. They were out of touch with the Stone, hence they had no solidarity. Yes, Clamence was lucid in his perception of bad faith and the flimsy scaffold of lies supporting "decent" society, but his acidic vision failed to reveal the Stone in its right relation to humanity. Perhaps we may succeed where he failed. --XYX-Quotation from: Camus, Albert, THE FALL, Trans. Justin O'Brien, New York: Vintage Books, 1956
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