Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
This collection of essays is in contrast to the novels and plays of Camus, a notable divergence between lightness and conflict. Though his two major themes are absurdity and rebellion, Camus also wrote poignantly of happiness:
“What is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
It may not have come easy for him. His novels are more expressive of how he viewed the world, not how he wished it to be:
“A certain kind of optimism, of course, is not my strong point. With the rest of my generation I grew up to the drumbeats of the First World War, and our history since then has continued the tale of murder, injustice, or violence.”
Camus wrote truthfully from his experiences of growing up in a post WWI – pre WWII (the Interwar Period) world. We can take lessons from this. At present, it is not easy to find happiness in the despair of nowadays. We are living with the uncertainties of chaos and pandemic.
But it is the simple moments, each one as they pass, that are pieces to the bliss. This is from Love of Life, written of time spent in Spain:
“When we are aware of every gift, the contradictory intoxications we can enjoy (including that of lucidity) are indescribable. Never perhaps has any land but the Mediterranean carried me so far from myself and yet so near.
“The emotion I felt at the cafe in Palma probably came from this. On the other hand, what struck me in the empty district near the cathedral, at noon, among the old palaces with their cool courtyards, in the streets with their scented shadows, was the idea of a certain ‘slowness.’ No one in the streets. Motionless old women in the miradors. And, walking along past the houses, stopping in courtyards full of green plants and round, gray pillars, I melted into this silence, losing my limits, becoming nothing more than the sound of my footsteps or the flight of birds whose shadows I could see on the still sunlit portion of the walls.”
Camus did conclude that ‘there is no love of life without despair about life’ and he did wish to be rid of the theme of ‘the extreme situation’ that he was irrevocably tied to. This volume is a respite to the turmoil he wrote about.
Lyrical and Critical Essays can be checked out online at the Internet Archive.
Patrick Stewart has been reciting a sonnet of Shakespeare’s each day on his twitter feed. Here is Sonnet 2:
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter’d weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Ann Porter
“Look, don’t be afraid, it is nothing, it is only eternity.”
This short story is autobiographical in nature, Katherine Ann Porter having also survived the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. She is one of the few writers to write specifically of this time and also wrote the most dramatic narrative of what it was like to be ill with the flu. Katherine’s illness was so severe that it permanently turned her hair white, a lasting souvenir of the Pandemic.
Main character Miranda quickly becomes ill, losing her grip on reality while ironically, sharpening her senses:
“It’s as bad as anything can be,” said Adam, “all the theaters and nearly all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day and ambulances all night —“
“But not one for me,” said Miranda, feeling hilarious and lightheaded.
Miranda walks around in an influenzal miasma, soon passing from waking nightmare into a whirling delirium of clarity:
Miranda sighed, and lay back on the pillow and thought, I must give up, I can’t hold out any longer. There was only that pain, only that room, and only Adam. There were no longer any multiple planes of living, no tough filaments of memory and hope pulling taut backwards and forwards holding her upright between them. There was only this moment and it was a dream of time, and Adam’s face, very near hers, eyes still and intent, was a shadow, and there was to be nothing more….”
The title quote comes from the Book of Revelation:
And I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
Ironically, the 1918 Influenza Pandemic struck a quarter of the world’s population at the time, 500 million. It killed 50-100 million.
No need to go to the library to check this one out, stay home and stay healthy. Here’s a link to the text:
Pale Horse, Pale Rider at archive.org