Adrian Gargett


“In order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to exist”
(Albert Camus)

Spawned by unilateral difference, the human animal is a hybrid of sentience and pathology; or of differentiated consistency with matter. Knowing that its community with nature sucks it into psychosis and death mankind valorizes its autonomy, whilst cursing the tidal desires that tug it down towards fusional dissolution. Morality is thus the distilled imperative to autonomous integrity, which brands as evil the impulse to skinless contact and the merging of bodies.

Camus’s break with Kantian humanism is characterized by a ruthless exactness as he rejects transcendence, adopts a position of strict immanence and invites us to live out a rebellious acceptance of our absurd fate. Continuum is wrested definitively from humanist containment, the order of the object is contested with a profundity at the scale of zero, and interiority is denuded to the point of impersonal intensity. Camus invites us to accept the immanently absurd world – in the original sense of “absurdus”; an incongruous universe devoid of the harmony and meaning that ordinarily dwell in things through the power of an ordering principle allegedly external to our world. Like Nietzsche, Camus rejects transcendence and attempts to persuade us to structure our lives without seeking such an external meaning. Sisyphian life in the face of the absurd is the only authentic attitude available to mortals who reject suicide and forcefully affirm their lives.

A Nietzschean motif is clearly evident in Camus’s thought, and the aesthetic model of authenticity reaches its culmination: “the absurd joy par excellence is creation. “Art and nothing but art”, said Nietzsche; “we have art in order not to die of the truth” (MS p.77) – or of the spirit of objectivity which suppresses personal truthfulness. Camus approaches the absurd from a personal perspective. He expresses the pathos of one who is seized by a piercing feeling of absurdity and asks the essential question of “whether or not life had to have meaning to be lived” (MS p.47) “Absurdity” is the given premise of all modern experience, an uneasy feeling, above all, a sense of contradiction, and is the beginning of a perception of life, its meaning and consequences.

Throughout his writing Camus unconditionally or unequivocally reiterates an adroit materialist proposition, demonstrating that transcendent dogma does not lie in the imagining of an outside to experience, but more exactly, in the imagining of experience as disconnected from its fall into oblivion. What gives his thought its vitality is not its abstract character but its relation to the complexities of his life and times. Experience can never understand of define dissolvent immanence, and the assertion that it might can be symptomatologically construed as the result of a utilitarian reconstruction into objectivity. It is thus that Camus restates Nietzsche’s diagnosis pertaining to the moral basis of epistemology. The very prospect of a problem about the correlation between experience and the real – entailing a presumption of representation – presumes the deformation of experience in expressions of the “good”, or, in other words, the constant, solitary, and determinate, correlated to
the imprisonment of noumenon in the form of the object. In fierce variance to the basic premise of explicit or calculating idealism, experience is not given in reality as knowledge, but as collapse.

The broad strokes of Nietzsche’s critique are well known:

“I count life itself as an instinct for growth, for duration, for amassing of force, for power: where the will to power is lacking there is decline. My assertion is that this will is lacking for all the highest values of humanity – that decline-values, nihilistic values, pursue dominion under the most hallowed names”. (N II p.1167-8)

It is the reduction of the highest values, the paroxysm at the apex of nihilism that aborts the human race. Having fiercely segregated the high and low in extension, humanity discovers itself stripped of its idols – which have sanitized themselves into explicit inexistence – and is in this manner thrown vertiginously into its base values; animality, pathology, sensuality, and materiality. At the end of human civilization there is in consequence a degeneration motivated by zero, a rancorous seizure of reversion whose impulse is the void of an blank telos; the death of God. Zero religion.

As an organism of zero, “overman” is not a theoretically comprehensible development from humanity. Humanity cannot be amplified/overtaken, but only terminated. It is initially essential to scrape out the nascent anthropomorphized creature at the basis of man, in order to re-open the intensive series in which it is implanted. If overman is an elevation further than humanity, it is only in the sense of being a relocation of its intensive foetus. This is why overman is principally a relapse; a step back from expansion in order to leap into intensity. Zero is the transmission element which amalgamates active and reactive stimuli at the end of the great Platonic separation between nature and culture. Zero is undifferentiable without being a unity, and everything is re-organized around zero. Eternal recurrence – the most nihilistic thought – activates everything again, as history is re-charged through the nihilistic indifferentiation between zero and enthusiasm and enthusiasm for zero. Passive nihilism is the zero of religion. In one respect is Schopenhauer’s metaphysical pessimism, in the other Nietzsche’s Dionysian pessimism as the ecstasy of dissolution. Within the order of bilateralized representation the “will to nothingness” (N II p.837) is of overpowering indefinition:

“either abolish your reverence or – your self! The latter would be nihilism; but would not the former also be – nihilism? – This is our question mark” (N II p.212)

When Nietzsche’s abhorrence of God reaches its climax it becomes a compulsive reverberation of the One. One, re, re, repeatedly, “monotono-theism”, as Nietzsche calls it; a God whose conditional arpeggio disintegrates everything into the one, the Father, Son, and spirit, power, compassion, and knowledge, the simplicity, equality, and ontological individuality of the soul, the whole universe crushed up together by a phallic fervour for monolithic form. The Christian tripartite composition is the indicator that everything comes back to One unless it is zero. To establish the question of difference as a clash between the one and the many is a considerable tactical error – the Occident lost its way at this position – the real issue is not one or many, but many and zero.

“Wherever there are walls I shall inscribe this eternal accusation against Christianity upon them – I can write in letters which make even the blind see...I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great instinct depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind...” (N II p.1235)

Camus insists that the crisis that brings on the “feeling of the absurd” when “one day the “why” arises” (MS p.18) is utterly arbitrary, and hence beyond argument and justification. The “feeling of the absurd” can have no philosophical justification. However, the crisis it induces is a crisis of justification. “the stage-set collapses” abruptly and our “mechanical life” (MS p.18) demands justification and meaning. Nevertheless, this demand cannot be satisfied:

“I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me?” (MS p.45)

The theoretical position taken here by Camus is simply acknowledgement that there can be no answer. There is the acute realization that there is an unbridgeable gap between our meaning and happiness, and reality, which is unresponsive to this need. One cannot overcome the feeling of absurdity by trying to find some existential raison d’etre, since it is precisely our doubts about the power of our reason to do so that causes the crisis in the first place. The philosophical attempt to overcome the feeling of absurdity brings us to the point of “philosophical suicide”, since by indulging us and providing us with an illusory “reason for living” it also provides us with an “excellent reason for dying” (MS p.11) Therefore Camus recommends acceptance and affirmation of life even if it lacks transcendent meaning. The vindication of absurdity is not to escape to philosophy or suicide, but, rather, to accept it as a given. Camus like Nietzsche offers hope without reason as the authentic reaction to the absurdity of immanence embodied in the myth of Sisyphus.

The heresy of existential absurdity by the surgical elimination of the threatening circus of damnation, illuminates the essential impetus of Judeao-Christian monotheism as no other principle can. This God is the opposition to zero, and therefore the citadel of identity, personality, and individuation. To be exiled definitively from such a God – to lose his security – is to relapse into indissoluble non-being; de-created into the “nihil”. It is Bataille who suggests that Nietzsche’s thought of the death of God is sacrificial, orgiastic, and celebratory. Christian belief must pass over not into a self-satisfied scientific utilitarianism, but into the ecstasies of unrestrained excess. The loss of God is the loss of self, the ultimate splintering of the anthropoid image, so that the perjuring ego of servile humanity is dissolved into the “solar energy flow”. Bataille is not in the least interested in being saved, he wants only to sense the extreme; “I have wanted and found ecstasy” (OC V p.264), an ecstasy that is experienced in the loss of being. This is not a matter of dying, but of surviving “momentarily” only through excess as chance, without guarantees, and without inhibiting the dissipative current.

Nietzschean evaluations are not simply values; they are the ways of being, the modes of existence of those who evaluate. We have the beliefs, feelings and thoughts we deserve given our way of being or style of life. Like the Nietzschean “overman”, who adopts the existential formula of “amor fati”, “the absurd man says yes” (MS P.99). In the effort to develop an authentic life in a world of immanence, the way is the objective, for there is no objective at the end of the way. In spite of the fact that his efforts lack purpose, and there is no chance that he will fulfil his longings, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” (MS p.99); otherwise he would have to commit suicide. Without doubt this is not happiness generated by transcendental values or the logical outcome of the feeling of absurdity; still, this happiness allows one to function creatively and vitally. Thus the feeling of absurdity enables one to attain happiness and secular, “godless holiness”: “I conclude that all is well” says the Sisyphian authentic hero, “and [this] remark is sacred” (MS p.98) Emphasizing that “there can be no absurd outside the human mind” (MS p.31) Camus explains that the absurd is rooted in the subjective human perception of the world’s immanence. Therefore Camus does not seek to derive any “value” from facts about the world in itself, but aims to make us resilient within the immanent sphere of our perceptions, notions and longings.

Camus advocates a subjective authentic stance that rejects the security of “salvation”. As with Nietzsche, Camus demands that we liberate ourselves from the yearning for salvation by overcoming our nostalgia for it. Camus’s determination to withhold from us any “metaphysics of consolation” (MS p.42) makes authenticity all the more vital since in his eyes it is the only solution capable of withstanding the feeling of absurdity. Because it can never be eliminated, one must, despite enormous difficulty, accept it, and go on living. The way to live with the absurd on the verge of the abyss is not to seek external salvation but to turn to self-creation or creation in general. An aesthetic model of authenticity is attained via the Absurd joy of creation. “Art is nothing but art” said Nietzsche; “we have art in order not to die of the truth” (MS p.57). The artist according to Camus knows that his/her activity is useless, without any future, and knowing this is able to pursue his/her “adventure” to the extreme.

Following Nietzsche, Camus declares: I acknowledge a lucid and sombre attitude, since I want to realize authenticity, to live intensely but without “stage-sets” that distort my selfhood; hence I turn away from suicide which will prevent me from engaging in revolt, the practical embodiment of authenticity. Therefore the feeling and notion of absurdity and the constant struggle against their nihilistic implications are necessary conditions of authenticity. “I am authentic “ergo” it is absurd” is Camus’s version of the Cartesian “Cogito”. “Only from chaos is a star born”, claims Nietzsche, and Camus develops this idea, claiming that only from the feeling of absurdity and from the complex sensations that constitute its pathos is the ambition to authenticity derived. This occurs when the “stage-sets” of normative ethics “collapse” and the question of where to go – “suicide or recovery” (MS p.18) – becomes unavoidable.

Absurdity is a concentrated existential pathos which exposes inauthentic being. The revolt against this feeling, together with resistance to taking shelter under “stage-sets” of alleged paths to salvation, makes a sombre and authentic attitude possible. One must embrace a spirit of revolt and the Sisyphian relation to the world without yielding to it – suicide – or getting lost on its account – transcendence. In itself the revolt is of no value, but the impact of the rebellious attitude on the rebel generates authenticity, the free and courageous determination to go on living creatively despite everything.

But in a world without value why accord any meaning at all to authenticity? This is, of course, an unpredictable and free personal option with no objective or logical validity. In making this choice Camus affirms something stressed by Nietzsche; the search for authenticity is a personal risk/stake in a world where other outcomes are no more probable. But if this exceptional chance succeeds, the outcome is supreme – authentic selfhood.

In “Difference et repetition” Gilles Deleuze finds a metaphysics of flux in the Nietzschean image of the game of chance. Nietzsche’s “will to power” is the differential element between quantities of force, and it is precisely this “difference” that constitutes forces in tension as active or reactive, that is qualities. (DR p.50) Furthurmore, the relation between forces is subject only to chance. Every body is nothing but the arbitrary relation of force with force; every body, every difference between forces in Deleuze’s terminology, and every “will to power” in Nietzsche’s, is chance and nothing but chance. (DR p.40) In this sense existence is understood, in Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche , as radically innocent and as just, a game of chance. Deleuze quotes from Zarathustra:

“[I]f ever I have played dice with the gods at their table, the earth, so that the earth trembled and broke open and streams of fire snorted forth: for the earth is a table of the gods, and trembling with creative new words and the dice throw of the gods.” (Z p.245)

Deleuze elaborates that chance is played out on two tables: on the earth and in the heavens, yet there is only a single dice throw at each time. Each single dice throw is played out on the earth – as the “affirmation of becoming – and also in the heavens – as the affirmation of the being of becoming.” Each dice throw affirms chance, but the numbers on the die affirm the “necessity” of chance as the being of becoming. The necessity of chance is precisely what constitutes its innocence and even wantonness; it releases all things from having a purpose. In this way, the necessity of chance in the dice throw is an affirmation, and force can only be understood as an affirmative and thoroughly non-dialectical element. Only such an affirmation can actually lead to an ethic of joy, which heads off guilt and bad conscience. It is the only way to create chance and multiplicity – the being of becoming – that is, there is only “one” way to combine being and becoming so as to have innocence, necessity, and multiplicity instead of mere probability.

For the skilled dice player, there is an incommensurability between chance and cause; Nietzsche himself stressed this: “We have absolutely no experience of a cause...we have combined our feeling of a will, our feeling of “freedom”, our feeling of responsibility and our intention to perform an act, into the concept “cause”” (WP p.551). For the skilled player, the idea of a objective has been removed from the process, and, in spite of this, the player affirms the process, experiences every moment, every dice throw, as good and valuable, as pleasure. (WP p. 36) But for lack of critique, we slip into playing badly, we forget that the interpretation of the qualities of forces and interpretation itself requires critique.

The will to chance is the sacrifice of the will. This is not to say that the will enacts its own end, since any “act” of surrender merely consolidates humanity; extending the range of possibilities into negation. Unlike any act, the will to chance resists the order of the possible, but even its resistance is involuntary, a fatality of evil in disorder. Between chance and the will is impossibility or unilateral difference, such that the succumbing of the will is itself succumbed to as chance. Chance is everything that no agent can do, and its range is only circumscribed by fictions. It is at the same time the collapse of individuated being into communication.

Chance is not a pre-ontological arche-reserve of possibilities, and to regard it as such is simply to relocate ontology; diminishing chance to randomness once again. A chance has no essence outside its instantiation, which is simply an avowal of the basic anti-Platonism enough in principle – were in not in fact unintelligible – for the invention of minimally materialist thought. Chance is not some kind of “infra”, “super”, or “ur-being”, and there is no sense at all in which it covertly “is”. The “ground” of the accident is even more accidental than the accident itself. Chance is far less a fundament than a betrayal, at once extreme and unwarranted, whereby being falls prey to its indeterminate exactness. Being gains only a fading particle of its contingency from the fact that it is haunted by the logical apparition of an eliminative negativity. The immeasurably prevalent part of its deviance stems from its vacillating composition, beyond which there is only idealist phantasm tics. If being is conceptualised, through capitulation to logical functions – either that of resistance to nullity, or difference from subjective measurement – it is idealistically restructured in a method that is one with the suppression of chance. What disconnects base materialism from the pedagogic differentiation between composition and creation is its realism, in accepting that “being is only what it is”. In other words, being is indeterminably, or “intensely” unnecessary.

That being is simply a chance indicates that it is “logically intolerant”; emptying virtually the complete area of possibility of the source for actualisation. The authentic circumstance of being’s logic – ontology – is a vacuum. It is not that Nietzsche articulates chance in any way that Camus comes to decode, but more accurately that in Nietzsche’s text chance decouples itself from the penal complex of probability, exploding in its magnificent latitude. Nietzsche’s writing is not a dogma but a paroxysm of disorder, breaking-open the prison of Kant’s “nihul negativum” to drift in positive psychosis. As early as 1938, in his book of essays “Noces” (Nuptials), where he displays a nearly-pagan worship of nature, bedazzled by the Algerian landscape linking two vastnesses, the sea and the Sahara, Camus explores such a cosmic anti-logic, in which irresolvable improbability, irrational negation, and indeterminable compositional intricacy are interlinked. The sky and sea and silence manifest “lucidity, indifference, the true signs of despair and of beauty”. In the essay “Le vent a Djemila”, he remarks on the influence of the Greeks and Romans who “face their embracing death” As for Camus, “It doesn’t please me to believe that death leads to another life. For me it is a closed door. I’m not saying it is not a step that has to be taken: but it is a horrible and dirty adventure” (LACE p.75-80) An “adventure” made more acceptable facing the sea and the shimmering sky, for in this landscape death is not divorced from everyday reality. It is merely closure to a series of gestures in the face of overwhelming indifference. When contrasted with the play of combination occurring at an inferior stratum of composition every “being” is an improbability so violent that it can be labelled “chance”.

Camus sees the realm of the aesthetic as the main source of authenticity in the face of the absurd. Art, by providing a concrete, though imaginary description of authentic life in an immanent world, is the best means opening a process of critique. Camus uses fiction to overcome “the current nihilism” and entice the reader into adopting the “art of living” in its place. Nietzsche provides us with some furthur markers into this abyss as he describes the artistic process as follows:

“the extreme sharpness of certain senses, so they understand a quite different sign-language – and create one – the condition that seems to be a part of many nervous disorders-; extreme mobility that turns into an extreme urge to communicate; the desire to speak on the part of everything that knows how to give signs-; a need to get rid of oneself, as it were, through signs and gestures; ability to speak of oneself through a hundred speech media – an explosive condition. One must first think of this condition as a compulsion and urge to get rid of the exuberance of inner tension through muscular activity and movements of all kinds; then as an involuntary co-ordination between this movement and the inner processes (images, thoughts, desires) – as a kind of automatism of the whole muscular system impelled by strong stimuli from within-; inability to prevent reaction; the system of inhibition suspended, as it were” (N III 716)

The artistic process is therefore associated with an infectivity and a nervous illness, a ferocious emission of abreactive gestures with their allied intensities. The inhibition to this discharge breaks-down, but the appearance of new material is severely condensed. In other words, the powers of assimilation are undeveloped; anorexia is united with logorrhoea, or intense volubility, and art is thought on the basis of a violent wasting disease.

The dawning of history is traced, by Nietzsche in note #584 in “The Will to Power”;

“And behold, suddenly the world fell apart into a “true” world and an “apparent” world: and precisely that man’s reason had devised for him to live and settle in was discredited. Instead of employing the forms as a tool for making the world manageable and calculable, for deranged acuity of philosophers divined that in these categories is presented the concept of the world to which the one in which man lives does not correspond – the means were misunderstood as measures of value, even as a condemnation of their real intention – The intention was to deceive oneself in a useful way; the means, the invention of formulas and signs by means of which one could reduce the confusing multiplicity to a purposive and manageable schema” (N III p.726-7)

Since the will to power is the differential and genetic element, will to power is, for Nietzsche, what interprets; it estimates the quality of force that gives meaning to a given phenomenon, or event, and it measures the relation of the forces which are present. The will to power evaluates. The will to power as genealogical element is that from which senses derive their significance and values their value. Each phenomenon is a “sign” or a “symptom” whose meaning is found only in an existing force, and as Deleuze reads this in “Nietzsche and Philosophy”, “The whole of philosophy is nothing but a symptomatology, and a semiology. The sciences are a symptomatological and semiological system” (NP p.3) Force is sense and insofar as forces in tension constitute bodies or phenomena, each phenomenon is a sign whose meaning is a force that must always be evaluated. In a sense, there is no “nature”, or, at beast, nature is a history, so that not only is semiotically – not linguistically – and culturally constructed, in regimes of signs (or as Nietzsche states, evaluated). History, desire, nature all are constituted out of evaluations, which is another way of saying ethics – genuine critique.

The will to power interprets and evaluates the relation of forces and determines noble and base by means of qualities of affirmation and denial which designate forces. These qualities are not oppositional but active and reactive. They are means, in the profound sense, that affirmation is the very act of becoming active and negation is the act of becoming reactive. “The signification of a sense consists in the quality of force which is expressed in a thing: is this force active or reactive and of what nuance? The value consists in the quality of the will to power expressed in the corresponding thing; is the will to power affirmative or negative and of what nuance?” (NP p.54-55). Since forces are purely quantitative, and their relations with other forces are purely chance, only the quality of will to power is subject to human interpretation. So Nietzsche asks of the will to power in each case; Is it affirmative or negative? By which he means, is it creative or slavish? The signification of a sense and the value of a value can be derived or determined only in terms of the differential relations between forces, that is, in terms of quality and quantity, and they are not a function of some underlying principle, nor of some telos. This forms the basis of Deleuze’s claim that evaluation is both ethical and aesthetic, in the sense of critical and creative. Evaluations are not judgements based on knowledge, but ways of being. “This is why we always have the beliefs, feelings, and thoughts that we deserve given our way of being or our style of life.” (NP p.1) The body we have is the body we live – in this sense the one we deserve.

According to Camus, no ethical rule can be sustained in an absurd world. “What rule, then, could emanate from that unreasonable order?” (MS p.58) asks Camus, and answers: “There can be no question of holding forth on ethics. I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules.” (MS p.57) Against the abortive consolidation of Kantian industrialism associated with Hegel and teleology, Camus counterpoises Nietzsche and the naked risk of chaos, chance and surrender to the sacred. For Camus, the ideal of integrity, or Nietzschean “truthfulness in life”, is positioned above the objective ethical norms of honesty and sincerity. Authenticity reigns “beyond good and evil”; it does not involve, nor can it possess, ethical rules for the rational justification of actions. Authenticity is an individual, instinctive morality that comes from freedom and openness without ant external “a priori” determinations of Reason, God or History. The power of authenticity lies in itself. Judgements concerning authenticity, for Camus and Nietzsche cannot be the subject of any normative ethics. Only the individual can put him/herself on trial – a trial in which he/she is both judge and defendant. Seemingly, this leaves open the possibility that this individual will not simply be a judge, but also a murderer, like Meursault in “L’ Etranger”

Living the absurd, above all, means a total lack of hope – which is not the same as despair – a permanent rejection – which is not the same as renunciation – and a conscious dissatisfaction – which is not the same as juvenile anxiety. Hence the seeming contradiction that life will be more fully lived in so far as it has no meaning. The absence of hope frees the Absurd individual from any illusions about the future and he/she can now live out an adventure within the confines of their own lifetime. The Sisyphian struggle in the face of the absurd paradoxically demands that the individual act within society and its limits, even if this entails rebellion. Conflict is essential since the authentic attitude constitutes an incessant clash with anything that attempts to control the subjective pathos of authenticity.

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: “Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.” That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday.” (L’ Etranger p.9)

In “L’ Etranger”, until the moment he is sentenced to death, Meursault exemplifies the sincere and genuine hero who acts “ad absurdum” according to the existing ethos, exploding it from within. This gives rise to a pathos of authenticity which gradually asserts itself as he awaits the guillotine. Camus radicalises the honest character, who lives the ethic of sincerity without any concession, to the point where his society finds him unacceptable and rejects him for embodying this impossible ideal. Sincerity and honesty are aspects of the character who lives according to the ethic of objectivity and unconditionally adopts the correspondence theory of truth. Sincerity and honesty are found where there is a correlation between feelings, words and actions: where one does not hide from the public-eye. This is exactly how Meursault lives – by rigorously applying the correspondence theory to his life. He does not “say more than is true...he says what he is, he declines to veil his feelings.”
Camus demonstrates that society, which maintains the ethic of objectivity, sincerity and honesty, is not prepared to allow in its midst one who embodies the spirit of this ethic perfectly.

A society constructed on double-standards, hypocrisy and worn-out watchwords cannot tolerate a hero who demonstrates that virtually all its members are “strangers” to its ethics, “outsiders” who cannot live up to its demands. This is the real danger Meursault represents. The prosecutor asks for “the capital sentence” because “This man place in a community whose basic principles he flouts without compunction” (L’ Etranger p.102) Meursault is punished not for the murder, base as it is, but because of his utter sincerity, which calls into question the most “honest” citizens in his community.

Transgression is not plain criminality, insofar as this latter involves private utility or the occupation by a subject of the site of proscribed action. It is alternatively the effective genealogy of law, operating at a level of community more basic than the social order which is simultaneous with legality. Transgression is only judged as such in the course of a regression to a pre-historical option which was decided by the institution of justice. However difficult or repellent the matter at stake might be, we can scarcely avoid the search for the sense of transgression, which is the requirement of relating it to the Kantianism which forms our philosophical actuality. It is because Kant completes the understanding of the difference between laws and cases that his involvement is already implicit in any attempt to judge crimes. (Hegel will of course suggest that to merely understand justice is still insufficient, and that it remains to justify it.) Our world recoils from meaningless crime, since modernity is in large part the necessity that death testifies, even if it is in the guise of a “problematic concept”: serving as a limit to the understanding. Knowing must be articulated with death, and the philosophical vocabulary of the modern age is adapted to this task. Absurdity is the lack of concord between one’s expectations and behaviour on the one hand, and an indifferent world on the other. For Meursault who feels absurdity intensely, values such as honesty and sincerity are meaningless. When Meursault acts according to these categories, the result is mechanical, almost automatic behaviour, that allows no exception or compromise, as called for by Kant’s categorical imperative. Indeed Meursault acts piously, as prescribed by this ethic but gradually begins to perceive the hypocrisy and hollowness of its watchdogs – the examining magistrate, the press, the judge, the prosecutor, the chaplain. He becomes aware of the shortcomings of this ethic, and, while in prison, turns to his own self and to an authentic pathos that emerges in the face of his impending death. He does not retreat from this new stance, in spite of the chaplain’s promises of salvation and eternity.

“L’ Etranger is visibly divided into two sections: the first, ironic section where Meursault witnesses the collapse of the ethic of sincerity and begins to sense the absurd; and the second where he becomes conscious of the notion of the absurd and contemplates his life. He affirms his life and authentically faces his imminent death. Law is not exercised upon inert beings, but only upon those whose cooperation can be claimed. Obedience is always at least minimally active. Passivity in respect of the law is quite different from a surrender, in exactly the same way that moralists are different from mystics. Surrender is a more profound “iniquity” than any possible action The essential principle of action is an acceptance of justice and responsibility, and any act – as such – an amelioration of crime, expressing defiance within the syntax of redemption. In stark contrast with action, surrender gnaws away at the conditions for salvation. Giving itself up to a wave of erasure. Surrender is not a submission to an alien agency – devotion to God – but a surrender of agency in general, it is not any kind of consigning oneself over to another – return to the father – but utter abandonment of self.

The question becomes, whether Camus thinks that without God, one is permitted to kill in the pursuit of authenticity. This is not a consideration of the legality of such an act, since Meursault himself admits that despite the fact that he is not “conscious of any “sin”; all I knew was that I’d been guilty of a criminal offence” (L’ Etranger p.116) Camus’s narrative on Meursault is a discourse on personal authenticity. Meursault does not become a hero of authenticity because he kills an Arab without any reasonable motive. His authenticity is attained only after the murder and, more exactly, after he is sentenced to death. It is impossible, on the inner logic, of Camus’s absurd, for Meursault to become authentic by virtue of only one act, however extreme. If all acts are without meaning and value, murder too is valueless; hence it cannot give Meursault any value, and certainly not authenticity. It cannot be sufficiently stressed that evil is never on trial. The same bedrock of human passivity that in Meursault generates the complex of separations between self and activity, self and victim, culpability and death, is also at work in Camus’s text. In “L’ Etranger” Camus distinguishes between the ethic of sincerity – or any value derived from universal reason – and authenticity as an intimate pathos of the self. Meursault’s authenticity comes from the manner in which he faces death. In awaiting the execution of his sentence Meursault’s authenticity is tested in the most taxing manner possible, his integrity lies in his not lying to himself about his feelings and convictions and not compromising about what matters to him most, even in the shadow of the guillotine. Meursault goes authentically to his death, reconciled with his self and his earthly and limited happiness.

Camus suggests not that authenticity authorizes murder, but, that it asks us to die while affirming our lives: not in general as the highest human value, but our own individual lives. The concluding sentences of the story sound as if they were appropriated from Nietzsche, where “the eternal recurrence of the same” is the ultimate criterion of personal authenticity. Echoing Nietzsche’s scheme, Meursault, without ant resentment or remorse, pronounces: “And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again...I laid my heart open to the benign, indifference of the universe...I’d been happy, and...was happy still” (L’ Etranger p.120) Meursault affirms his life and enjoys the limited pleasures it offers, and his roots in his earthly life grow yet deeper as he approaches death. At that moment Meursault senses and appreciates the accordant link between his feelings of absurdity and the world, which despite or because of this absurdity, is “his”. It is this awareness that brings ease to Meursault, as it does to his philosophical twin Sisyphus.

In the literary parataxis of “L’ Etranger” Camus connects Meursault’s notion of the absurd with the syntaxical style that describes this climate of the absurd. Atomistic sentences in the present tense, lacking any rational correlation, provide the sense that each moment in the hero’s life is completely separated from all the others. No coherent rationalization is provided, and there is no attempt to enable the reader to understand the on occasion unusual acts of Meursault. The sentences simply depict arbitrary facticity, affording neither softening tone nor meaningful context. This narrative structure of an intimate union between literary style and of the absurd crystallizes Camus’s attempt to reduce “ad absurdum” the “objective” ethic of complete sincerity. In this distinctively stark technique, Camus develops a one-to-one correspondence between Meursault’s behaviour and reasoning. These sentences visibly reveal that nothing is concealed, that everything is absolutely transparent and open; the hero’s character is in perfect accord with his actions. Use of first-person language and present tense allows the reader the privilege of entering into the innermost life of the hero, only to discover that there is nothing to reveal: no hidden motives, no implicit feelings, only the basic instincts of sexuality and fear. This total disclosure is mandated so that readers will be able to track the ethic of sincerity, with nothing omitted – there are no private wishes or personal desires to confuse the events.

In the first section of “L’ Etranger” the language is concise: the background is left out and descriptions lack specificity. Only expressions of negative response or appreciation are traced, though without justification or explanation. This extremely rigorous outline of the objective ethic of sincerity is thus ironic, ultimately exploding to reveal the unviability of uni-dimensionality in the area of human emotions and intentions. After this ethic is ravaged by murder, Camus devotes the second section of the novel to describing Meursault’s feelings, reason and perspectives. This reflective tone is especially salient in the dialogues forced on Meursault by the prison chaplain. This second section, unlike the first, is distinctive in its expressive quality and a sense of contentment. In a subjective and personal colour, it ends with an affirmation of his life.

Becoming what one is involves an incessant yet undefined process which cannot be univocally characterized. It is an ever-present happening without any causally determining past or rationally distinct future. The literary attempts to capture this process, as with Camus’s heroes provide us with this ever-presentness of the spontaneously lived life whose only passionate commitment is to the ormation of its own unique authenticity. In the crucial moments that require definite and significant decisions and action, we are more capable of discerning who we genuinely are. There is no one but ourselves to condemn or appreciate our behaviour. There was nobody left in the desperate circumstances of “La Peste” to reward Dr. Rieux for the valiant humanitarian services he rendered to the victims; nevertheless, he rendered them to the end. This, perhaps, explains the existentialists’, notably Heidegger’s, intense interest in death. Our deaths and, especially, our ways of dying are characteristic of our authenticity. For many, death is the most individual, unquestionably unadulterated – and surely the only radical – action performed in an entire life. Thus for example, an atheist’s death without rites in a Christian society is revealing, since he/she is not acting for the sake of adjustment or reward. We cannot but admire Meursault’s consistency in rejecting the chaplain’s insistence that he confesses and thereby be “absolved” of his “sin”. His response seems authentic:

“I didn’t believe in God...I wasn’t conscious of any “sin”; all I knew was that I’d been guilty of a criminal offence. Well, I was paying the penalty of that offence, and no one had the right to expect anything more of me.” (L’ Etranger p.113-16)

The calm which comes after the storm of abuse against God and the chaplain is unlike any other in modern literature. In the final paragraph of “L’ Etranger”, Camus does not summarize his hero’s fate, but leads him to an overwhelming vision of a new life in the face of death.

“For the first time in a very long time I thought of mother. I felt that I understood why at the end of her life she’d taken a “fiancé” and why she’d pretended to start again. There at home, where lives faded away, there too the evenings were a kind of melancholy truce. So close to death, mother must have felt liberated and ready to live her life again. No one, no one at all had any right to cry over her. And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and I laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy.” (L’ Etranger p.116-7)

Extreme circumstances expose that standard social values are often perforated by inconsistency. We are reluctant to take up these contradictions directly, and decide alternatively to overlook them. Only if it becomes necessary do we attempt confrontation, and then usually arrive at an artificial compromise. We constantly avoid the quandary of our functioning values, and circumvent explicit engagements. These conflicts only surface when an existential crisis requires imperative action. We create our authenticity; it is not delivered to us by higher authorities. As human-beings, however, we are often “ethically” compromised by escaping our responsibility to ourselves. To block off certain avenues of escape and bring about fundamental changes in lives, Camus uses fictional representations and dramatic descriptions of intense situations that make one realize how, even in everyday situations, it is up to the person to create his/her own life-force.

In the end – no one to any further extent contests it –there is death, but for this instant one has, (maybe) other ends? There must, of course, be other ends. Man as an end in himself? We have this apparently, some would argue we have significantly too much of this. Since Zoology has developed sufficiently to adopt its most deviant species – the adverse specimen – it is problematic for us not to see perverse claims to a singular human dignity as an insult against nature. However, is it not feasible to precipitate the conception of our humanism, condense it down to goodness? Who could be so presumptuous as to look for something other than goodness? This is surely the very quintessence of the end, the absolute end, luminously stunning in its Platonic interpretation: The Good. How movingly naïve this word seems today. The good is the object of rationalized desire, of what had become, by the end of the eighteenth century, will. The word economists eventually settled for is “preference”
or more ideologically “choice”. Even after being split, by psychology, from its Platonic situation in the divine order, the good is still crucial to material reason, as its end and orientation. The good is precisely what – upon consideration – we want. At least, it is what we should want; the lucidity of cultured desire. Our society has inundated us with “goods”, at least in its metropolitan zones. But, Freud proposes, that we remain discontented by society, concerned by “Unbehagen”. The difficulty with goodness is not so much its incompetent distribution than the fact it is so depressingly dull. It is possible that all rectitude is on the side of the good, but as for the “good-life”, wouldn’t it, to some extent, better to be dead?

Since Schopenhauer all those who have reflected at all about the matter have acknowledged that we do not in the least want the good. The good is exactly what we don’t want, that which is set against our wanting, a barrier, a renunciation. Instead of desire we may refer to “virtue” – the way to a good life, no doubt, but one that leaves us perfectly indifferent, or perhaps mildly nauseous. Faced with the choice of working in the direction of an ethical community or stealing an illicit kiss we might choose the path of duty, but we would not pretend to be furthering our beatitude.

The dispute is no longer sentient, it is unnecessary to contend that desire is anything other than amoral savagery, there is near concord about it, generally in the figure of an inherent ego-psychology, which admits stoically that sexuality will always be with us, even though it makes us ill. Nevertheless, it is still the rationale that the fact no one wants what is “good for us” worries us less than it might. What slender perturbation it does cause is usually understood as a call for a more severe or more insidious moralization, for more education, greater ideological penetration, a larger police force. When we shock ourselves our empathy always seem to lie with the passive subject, and not with the untamed beast.

Camus suggests that literature should disorientate and confront our most fundamental assumptions. In “L’ Etranger” Camus does exactly that – he challenges the ethos most of us regard as sacred. We begin, along with Meursault, to see the implausibility in the ethic of sincerity, and we are induced, with the hero, to feel estranged from it.

Camus wrote in a preface to his early essays that a writer’s work was “nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great simple images in whose presence his heart first opened” His own writing was nourished by “a single stream”, Camus went on: “the world of poverty and sunlight” of his youth in Algiers. (LACE p.18) The Mediterranean light and climate, that knife-edged light, the pools of inky shadow, the hot breath out of the desert and, above all, perhaps, the kaleidoscope of the sea and its beaches, informed Camus’s sensibility. Even before tuberculosis became a recurrent vexation and, indeed, life-threatening condition, Camus sought out the white sun, the intense tints of his Algerian childhood. It is this radiance and the abrupt blackness which can follow on Mediterranean sunsets, in Algiers, in Spain, in the Midi, which were to inspire Camus’s finest writing. Complementarily, it is the dark gloom of a Flemish north which gives the late monologue “La Chute”, its desolation.

Having broken with al fidelity to existence, fiction belongs amongst what is toxic and accursed on the earth. Fiction is initiated in an annihilation of the world, but one that is at first isolated. Such writing is a darkness that is itself contaminated in the dark; emerging festering in a blackness that usually smothers it. In its derision for the concrete quality of things, literature is sullied by a sacred character, and is nothing beyond the possibility of deeper contact than that obtainable in profanity. Nevertheless the implementational space of the profane world subjugates it with the full force of being; imprisoning it in the spectre of interiority. In this way the “intrinsic” destiny of literature is compelled to the fate of an address. Literature cannot be analysed beyond the common problem of an utterance and its dissemination: beyond the fatality of communication.

Camus imagines that the lucid recognition of immanence is the only possible authentic attitude for one who feels the absurd and perceives its consequences. What constitutes acceptance of immanence? One must realise that one is responsible for one’s actions, violations, desires and ambitions, and state cogently: despite the worthlessness and earthliness of my life, despite the pain and disappointment awaiting those who attempt to realize their longings, I will not forsake my legitimate aim for this way of life. This attitude is expressed in the metaphor of the sun, which appears in almost all the stories and essays that precede “L’ Etranger”. “[an] authentic, a real light, an afternoon light, signifying life, the sort of light that makes one aware of living” (LACE p.46) It symbolizes awareness of the immanent nature of the world at a time when the “stage-sets” collapse and the ethic that formerly guided our behaviour appears erroneous and vacant. Bataille gazes at the sun and foresees a “thirst for annihilation”. It is not a desire which man levels toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history It is only because of this unparalleled power of the sun that “[f]or the common and
uncultivated consciousness the sun is the image of glory. The sun radiates: glory is represented as similarly luminous, and radiating” (OC VII p.189) such that “the analogy of a sacrificial death in the flames of the solar burst is the response of man to the splendour of the universe” (OC VII p.193).

In “La Peste”(1947) Camus designs a realm of Greek Tragedy. The City – Oran - is, in effect, the central character of the “chronicle”, and its collective fate at the hands of ravaging nature is its spiritual core. Confronted with the supremacy of death, the inhabitants of the city, resigned now to their fate, begin a “long sleep”, in which they “resemble nothing at all” and where the plague has erased “all value judgements”, all illusions and, chiefly, memory. If death can bite it is not because it preserves some fragment of an efficacy apparently proper to the object, but because it remains uncaged by the reserve objectivity necessitates. Death alone is utterly on the loose, howling as the dark motor of storms and epidemics. After the merciless abstraction of all life the blank savagery of real time lingers: the desert, death, and desolator of all things. Bataille writes of “the ceaseless slippage of everything into nothing. If one wants, time” (OC V p.137), and thinks of himself as “a tooth of TIME” (OC I p.558). It may also be stated, in a more Nietzschean vein, that zero-becoming has its metaphor in a bird of prey, for which every object is a lamb.

The allegorical story of “La Peste” portrays Dr. Rieux as the Socrates of authenticity. He remains in the city to do “the best he can” although he can flee, as many indeed do. He remains at his post “following the dictates of his heart” out of complete genuine preference that does not follow from any higher principle.

“Why do you yourself show such devotion, considering you don’t believe in God?...Rieux said that if he believed in an all-powerful God he would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort...and this was proved by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely.” (La Peste p.116)

Oppression is always unsuccessful, but nowhere is there a more excessive example of such breakdown than the attempt to bury death silently on the outskirts of the city and get down to business. Only the veiled historical superficialities of zero are wedged in the dirt, condensing death down to its primary dissolution, and enhancing its powers of penetration. Marx writes on this filtration process in “Capital” where he remarks about money/death that it “does not vanish on dropping out of the circuit of the metamorphosis of a given commodity. It is constantly being precipitated into new places in the arena of circulation vacated by other commodities” (Cap. p.114) Dead labour is far harder to manage than the live material was, which is why the Enlightenment project of interring gothic superstition was the royal road to the first truly vampiric civilization, in which death alone comes to rule.

Rieux admits to having been the “secret narrator” of the chronicle of the plague, having done so in order to keep his personal life separate from what is supposed to be objective commentary. He watches as life returns to “normal”...

“And, indeed as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperilled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it roused up its rats again and sent them forth to die in a happy city” (La Peste p.252)

Camus’s essay “L’ Homme Revolte” (1951) attempts to resolve the predicament of authenticity in society. Camus never renounces his formulation of the Absurd. For him, the world was still a closed-off, “indifferent” place without apparent solace. But moving on from the feeling of individual angst associated with the Absurd and existentialism, he now poses a new question: “Can man, alone and without divine help, create his own sense of values?” In the Absurd experience, the tragedy is an individual one. But with the movement of revolt, this takes on a collective awareness. The tragedy becomes the adventure of everyone. The negativity which one man has experienced up to now becomes a collective plague. In “L’ Homme Revolte” the notion of the difference between “right” and “wrong” freedom appears as the distinction between authentic metaphysical rebellion and historical rebellion. The latter is political revolution engendered by ideology falling back on totalitarian regimes and mass-murder to justify its particular absolutes. Camus calls such historical rebellion “collective suicide” It arises from the nihilism that develops when individuals are “isolated and cut off from [their] roots” (L’ Homme Revolte p. 64); it always ends in chaos.

Camus had already made his basic position clear in his seminal essay “Ni Victimes, Ni Bourreaux” (1946). If the Absurd had toyed with the idea of suicide – individual experience, he was now talking about “murder” – the collective. Calling the Twentieth Century “the century of fear”, he paints a devastating picture of a world reduced to silence, abstraction and lack of human confidence, a world where murder is legitimised and human life considered futile. Such terror can only have legitimacy if one believes that the end justifies the means, as do those philosophies which turn historical necessity into an absolute. Counterpoising this Camus writes the outline of a politically modest ideology, free of all messianism and rid of any nostalgia for paradise on earth.

What distinguishes an authentic rebellion from one that is nihilistic and destructive? By what criteria is Camus’s Europe preferable to the Third Reich? Camus’s attack is on practical nihilism – the road to the concentration camps and the “isms” of the future. Every purely nihilistic revolt is basically inauthentic since it destroys but does not encourage reconstruction of positive life-patterns. Modern Socialism, from its starting point as a rebellion against capitalism, is the crowning example, cynically using its own rebels as mere instruments towards a desired goal. Camus sets-up and eliminates targets one by one, but reserves the bulk of his ammunition for Hegel, with his insistence that only those values matter which will be justified in the long run by History. Man does not determine History, he is carried along by it. His freedom consists in his being absorbed in the necessary course of events. Hegel glorifies the State, claiming that the interest of each state is its own highest law. Hegel’s philosophy of History has as its basic character a fear of degeneration to a primitiveness that would abandon the protracted developments of one’s Occidental ancestors, and this is in turn a indication of the abject Western nihilism that maintains one has an vast amount to lose. That our History has been in any way advantageous is something Schopenhauer forcefully renounces, and his passionate anti-historicism – which Nietzsche comes to extraordinarily revamp – has at least this worth; it sets itself confidently against one of the basic apologetic images of Occidental societies. After all, we cannot use the word history without meaning a singular process that one population has inflicted on several others, as well as upon its own non-servile virtualities, a process that has combined grisly accident with continuous atrocity.

Man revolts against injustice secured in the State – if this revolt is successful, it becomes a revolution. But revolution leads inexorably to the foundation of another State, and every State is unjust, tyrannical and oppressive. What has begun as rebellion end in totalitarianism.

The exploratory model of revolution is one of “taking-over”, the pessimistic model is one of escape; in one case the deposition of oppression-as-exploitation, and in the other the deposition of oppression-as-confinement. Utilizing an ultimately unsustainable dissection it could be said that at the level of social depiction these representations are at least as complementary as they are exclusive; the requisition of labour power and the obstruction of free movement have been complicit in the disciplining of the human animal since the establishment of settled agriculture. However, at the level of strategy a certain bifurcation begins to surface, leading Deleuze and Guattari to splinter-apart a Western and eastern representation of revolution, the latter being created on a segment of incompletely repressed nomad desire, oriented to the dissolution of sedentary space and the liquidation of the State.

For Camus the rebel is one who rejects injustice and strives for individual dignity and that of oppressed humanity. Rebellion creates values. And insofar as “values are common to himself and to all men” (L’ Homme Revolte p.16) authenticity, as a supreme value, belongs to “a natural community” and is not exclusively sustained by remarkable individuals. “The individual is not, in himself alone, the embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs all humanity, at least, to comprise them.” (L’ Homme Revolte p.17) Rebellion therefore causes authenticity to be socially practicable and stimulates the individual’s self-respect and sense of the self as “the supreme good”. Camus extends his thinking to a point which now feels that in isolation from community, values are worthless, since authenticity requires “the kind of solidarity that is born in chains.” (L’ Homme Revolte p.17) In place of the traditional cosmic police-God, Camus offers a “metaphysical” view of “human solidarity” To
rebel is to create one’s authentic self despite obstacles laid down by commissars of various stripes. To rebel is to create one’s authenticity in a world of immanence, a world lacking any transcendental telos or rational principles. Camus asserts that we may write our own life-stories only if there are no other potential authors,. Therefore Camus creates a type of synthesis between the biological and the aesthetic representations of authenticity: the revolt arises from human nature, but its end is to create the self.

Camus draws an analogy between his notion of the absurd and Descartes’ method. Indeed, he considers himself a Cartesian rebel against the absurd: “the real nature of the an experience to be lived through, a point of departure, the equivalent, in existence, of Descartes’ methodical doubt” (L’ Homme Revolte p.8) Cartesian doubt makes known the basis upon which Descartes established his rationalist philosophy, just as the authenticity of selfhood created by the challenge to rebel against the absurd presents the contemporary subject with something positive to hold on to. Just as doubt is the singular assurance of certainty, so “the first and only evidence...within the terms of the absurdist experience, is rebellion.” (L’ Homme Revolte p. 10) The question Camus comes to ask is: how have men come to acknowledge collective murder in the name of revolt and revolution? For him, as with Deleuze and Guattari, revolution must never be an end in itself, but a means of achieving justice. For the non-Communist rebel, it is a matter of moving up from the absurd position of being without God, of liberating oneself and all others. “Je me revolte donc nous sommes”, he declares, paraphrasing Descartes.

However, the purpose of Camus’s rebellion is not rational certainty but the construction of values against a background of the wreckage of rationalist metaphysical ethics. Deleuze writes, “In Kant, critique was not able to discover the truly active instance which would have been capable of carrying it never makes us overcome the reactive forces which are expressed in man, self-consciousness, reason, morality, and religion.” (NP p.89) Deleuze claims that rather than carrying out a critique of knowledge (reason), morality and religion, Kant simply justifies them because he “believes” in the reigning system of values. Kant’s critique of pure reason is carried out by reason, but from the outside, from a traditional transcendental point of view, the point of view of conditions that are prior and external to the conditioned. Kant never provides an account of the genesis of reason, understanding and its categories. Kant never asks the questions: Who wants this kind of reason? What will wills such a reason? What is the history of this reason? What forces dominate it? Such questions are fundamental to Nietzsche’s genetic and plastic principles, which “give an account of the sense and value of beliefs, interpretations and evaluations” (NP p.93); while in Kant’s critique, reigning values are simply subjectivized, rather than evaluated, heading-off, blocking then creation of new values.

Camus quotes Nietzsche: ““My enemies”, says Nietzsche, “are those who want to destroy without creating their own selves.” He himself destroys but in order to create.” (L’ Homme Revolte p.9) Camus stresses the positive implications of Nietzsche’s notion of authenticity, drawing a parallel between Nietzsche and Descartes: “Instead of methodical doubt, he practiced methodological negation.” Again Camus quotes from Nietzsche: “To raise a new sanctuary, a sanctuary must be destroyed” (L’ Homme Revolte p.66) This new sanctuary, for both writers, is authenticity as self-creation.

Like a theologian, declare Deleuze and Nietzsche, Kant installs the priests and the legislators “in us”, a move that in no way eliminates the positions of subject and object, noumenon and phenomenon, priest and believer, a move that in fact, serves only to justify current knowledge, morality and religion. “When we stop obeying God, the State, our parents, reason appears and persuades us to continue being docile because it says to us: it is you who are giving the orders” (NP p.92) This is why, according to Deleuze, thought must think against reason and oppose reason, and thinkers must oppose all reasonable beings. Becoming a genealogist, the philosopher no longer affirms and incorporates existing values; he/she creates new ones, becoming a philosopher a of the future, Nietzsche’s “relatively superhuman type”, whom Nietzsche also describes as “man, insofar as he wants to be gone beyond, overcome” – insofar as he is overcome in the creation of a different way of feeling, another sensibility – or as Deleuze writes, “the overcome, overtaken man” (NP p.94) Thinking against reason and becoming a genealogist require new principles that enable “man” to be gone beyond. Camus emphasizes the negative power of rebellion against what “is” for the sake of creating authenticity – what is not. This is purely Nietzschean: one becomes what one is when one abstains from being what one is not. The feeling and the notion of the Absurd presume certain inherent values according to which we judge the Absurd to be Absurd. To feel Absurdity is to say “no” out of a spirit of rebellion, and therefore to say “yes” to something not given at present, but sought after. Hence rebellion is simultaneously negation and affirmation.

In trying to define the conceptual landscape of modernity, Deleuze goes back to the classical roots of materialism. In doing so, he gives a genealogical line of thinking that through Lucretius, the empiricists, Spinoza, and Nietzsche, emphasizes activity, joy, affirmation, and dynamic becoming. He stresses the importance of thinking “difference” not as the reactive pole of a binary opposition organized so as to affirm the power and primacy of the same. What Deleuze aims at is the affirmation of difference in terms of a multiplicity of possible differences; difference as the positivity of differences. For Deleuze, thought is made of sense and value: it is the force, or level of intensity, that fixes the value of an idea. Philosophy as critique of negative, reactive values is also a critique of the dogmatic image of thought; it expresses the force, the activity of the thinking process in terms of a typology of forces – Nietzsche – or an ethology of passions – Spinoza. Deleuze’s rhizomatic style brings to the fore the affective foundations of the thinking process. It is as if beyond or behind the prepositional content of an idea there resides another category – the affective force, level of intensity, desire, or affirmation – that conveys the idea and ultimately governs its truth-value.

It is for Camus the authentic rebellion that manifests the inherent human passion for life and self-respect. Just as Nietzsche sought to provide us with deliverance from our frantic need for salvation, Camus thinks that living with contradiction – what is the point of inciting to anything in this pointless world of Absurdity? – is preferable to not living at all, especially as “this basic contradiction...accompanied by a host of others” (L’ Homme Revolte p.8) incites us to rebel, to attempt to overcome them, and to create, thereby ensuring an aesthetically authentic life. The rebel attempt to affirm his/her authentic selfhood in the face of forces that threaten to invade and subjugate it, to re-affirm his/her dignity as a free human-being. Hence rebellion is constructive.

Sartre suggested that Bataille replaces dialectic and revolution with the paralysed revolt of transgression. It is transgression that opens the routes to tragic communication, the euphoria in the utter immolation of order that accomplishes and ruins humanity in a sacrifice without limits. Bataille is a philosopher not of indifference, but of evil, of an evil that will always identify those processes that explicitly violate all human utility, all accumulative reason, all constancy, and all sense. Bataille considers Nietzsche to have thoroughly confirmed that the standards of the good: self-identity, permanence, benevolence and transcendent individuality, are irrefutably grounded in the preservative impulses of a markedly squalid, inert, and craven species of animals. Despite his pseudo-sovereignty, the Occidental God – as the underwriter of the good – has always been the ideal appliance of human reactivity, the anaesthetizing anti-experimental principle of functional calculus. To
rebel against God, in a commemoration of evil, is to terrorize mankind with explorations that they have resolutely outlawed.

“Tragedy is a tonic” (WP p.850); it is a tonic to “ressentiment”. Experiencing tragedy, what it can be in its highest form, is a question of forces and thus of quality. In its highest form, tragedy is the force that Nietzsche evaluates as affirmative and noble. Only when tragedy is illuminated in this way can it be dispensed as a tonic. Deleuze defines “ressentiment” as a feature of a principle upon which our whole psychology depends – that principle s nihilism, the motor and meaning of all history. All the categories of rational thought – identity, causality, and finality – accept a nihilistic interpretation of force as “ressentiment”. To think about tragedy as the tonic for such “ressentiment”, each of us needs to throw a dice and ask as Deleuze does, “What would a man [sic] without “ressentiment” be like?” (NP p.35) What would life be like without law as limit, without denial? This is a different question for each one who throws the dice.

“Ressentiment”, the imprisoned will, the “It was”, fetters even the liberator. Zarathustra concludes that even while “The will is a creator,” still, “[a]ll “It was” is a fragment, a riddle, a dreadful chance – until the creative will says to it: “But I willed it thus!”” (Z p.163) The creative will brings joy, and such joy, such pure and multiple positivity is, says Deleuze, what Nietzsche comes to mean by tragedy. Everything gets referred to a force capable of interpreting it, and every force is referred to what it can do. And such affirmation affirms chance and the necessity of chance. Tragic thinking, in the sense of joyous and multiple affirmation, is a question of experiences. It is this existential basis that distinguishes Nietzsche’s tragic thought from any kind of idealism or dialectic. The question of tragedy becomes, for Deleuze and Camus, a question about what we have experienced, and how we have critiqued this experience. The birth of authenticity is rooted in revolution, or at least in the transfiguration of all prevailing social values and institutions, including those of Judaeo-Christian culture. Congruence – the essence of sincerity – is not viable at such a time. One is left to one’s own devices, to one’s lonely self, and this selfhood must suffice to provide everything previously supplied by various cultural and social institutions. One is obliged to create values and patterns of behaviour from one’s own mental resources.

This needs to be situated in the context of contemporary social life and its territorialization and deterritorializations. None of us will be Zarathustra. Still, we must attend to “how one becomes what one is” (EH p.253), that is how the forces that take hold of us struggle for domination. If tragedy is to overcome out innate pessimism, to throw the dice and affirm each experience, tragedy is the tonic to pessimism. If, since the pre-Socratics, and especially since Socrates, we are all pessimists, because all our evaluations are part of a corrupted way of life, the only cure for this, for Nietzsche, is complete nihilism. Partial or small affirmations do not interest Nietzsche – he sees them as gravely illusory. So read Nietzsche, but read him with no interest at all! This is the “nomadic nomos”, Heraclitean discord, justice, and self-renewing creation. Nietzsche’s cold and iciness, living in the mountains, and his solitariness all have an effect in producing a complete and total nihilism. This stratagem is necessary to Nietzsche since all our interests prior to complete nihilism are interests with corrupt evaluations; only complete nihilism can transmute/transvalue this corrupt evaluation to something noble, bold and forceful. Our evaluations after such transmutation will again be only perspectives, but their point of view will be affirmative and affirming. This is the vitality of the Eternal Return for Nietzsche. Only Eternal Return assures the shift to complete nihilism. Tragedy is the means by which he makes this change.

Is this the manner in which Camus reads Nietzsche? Camus does not deny the necessity of a transmutation of values, but with regard to nihilism and Nietzsche’s method for accomplishing it. Camus remains aware of our contemporary and cultural situatedness, and in his writing another transmutation occurs. We are committed to social and personal affiliations. Unlike Nietzsche, Camus is sure that Zarathustra left the cave and returned to society to incite it to ongoing rebellion for the sake of an authentic “sense of self”.

Camus effectively reveals a rich and complex identity. By virtue of his education he was French, but he liked to think of himself as Spanish, or Latin, or African. He was a rebel, but also a moderate, a nihilist who still believed in a worth for human life, an intellectual who worshipped the sun and the sea. He moved back and forth from France to Algeria, and town to country; although in the end he gravitated to Paris, he claimed to detest it. “neither executioners nor victims” became a famous slogan: his whole life seemed to be determined by such oppositions. He wanted to go beyond atheism, religion, imperialism, and communism; beyond intellectualism, beyond everything.

“Between this sky and the faces turned towards it there is nothing on which to hang a mythology, a literature, an ethic or a superhuman happiness, no eternity outside the curve of days.”

In “L’ Hote” (1957) Camus explicitly subtracts all dignity from the theoretical impulse of his work. There is, in the end, no reason to delay beginning upon one’s death, even though such a delay is reason itself. With such sentiments discourse runs itself into the sand, anticipating an end to all theory that will always come from without. It is because theory only exists as fiction, a unilateral deviation from the blistering, merciless sun, and impenetrable silence of nature that it continues; impotent even to terminate itself. We are simply thrown into the world and the outcome is death. There is only life before and nothing beyond. The Absurd is the pointless quest for meaning in a universe devoid of purpose. “What is absurd is the confrontation between the sense of the irrational and the overwhelming desire for clarity which resounds in the depths of man.” (MS p.12)The feeling of absurdity is the separation between man and his life, an actor walking out on stage and not recognizing the scenery or knowing the lines of the play he is supposed to speak, a sense of permanent displacement and un-belonging. “I speak amongst the dead and the dead are numb” (OC IV p.19) When compared with the dark heart of writing despair is almost a temptation. Yet, even in the face of the black charade of debris that a fate crippled by writing effects of itself, there is something about such a fate that remains constant, or at least, something that survives every vestige of the individual it condemns.

There remains no explanation for Daru’s actions in “L’ Hote”, which is the reverse of Meursault’s, for “no one in this desert, neither he nor his guest mattered” (L’ Exil et le royaume p.74). Daru effects a simple and unique act of absurd liberation, one that is completely unjustified, as is the murder in “L’ Etranger”. Despite the lack of any rational justification, it seems that Daru has performed a highly principled act. Outside the framework of any ethical code or transcendent value-system this is recognisable as the sincere expression of authentic human values. The last pages of the story throw a sharp contrast between Camus’s atheism and Kierkegaard’s faith as portrayed in “Fear and Trembling”. As Abraham led Isaac to Mount Moriah, so Daru leads the Arab prisoner. Here however, no pillar of fire or Kantian ethics is present to provide guidance, just the desert sand and an immanent vacuum. Yet the desert is permeated by a deep sense of honour and respect for our image of man.
While standing “at the foot of the height” (L’ Exil et le royaume p.80) Daru listens to the authentic voice of his conscience cautioning him not to take orders from those who possess no intrinsically valid authority. In conjunction with the implicit critique of Kierkegaard, Camus presents a distinctly Nietzschean conception. When Daru brings the Arab to the crossroads where he must choose, the Arab waits for Daru’s instructions. He seeks some kind of instruction which will alleviate him of the burden of choosing his own life. Following Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Camus indicates that if the “student” does not leave the “master”, the “master” must leave the “student” to choose alone. He indicates to the confused Arab that he can decide upon either prison or liberty but he must decide of his own free will and assume responsibility for his own life.

“He climbed it as fast as he could and stopped, out of breath, at the top. The rock-fields to the south stood out sharply against the blue sky, but on the plain to the east a steamy heat was already rising. And in that slight haze, Daru, with heavy heart, made out the Arab walking slowly on the road to prison.” (L’ Exil et le royaume p.81)

If powerful literature seems frequently to possess an autobiographical quality – as with Camus – this is not principally because a life expresses itself, it is far more a matter of an integrated life being haemorrhaged into the laceration of writing, rhythmically frenzied and coagulated down to an ephemeral clotting in the intense magma-currents of base culture. To depict Camus as a writer is not to lend him a personal veracity as one who writes, but to pitch the ashes of his name into the streams of eloquent textuality which torment all personalities to disintegration, as they bear their extraordinary foam of words downstream towards chaos and death. If there were a transmission death could wait, but dreams break down, there is repetition. Camus’s texts do not foresee death; they fracture under immeasurable tension, shattered by the impact of oblivion. Each of his energy-waves are wrecked memories of the flavour of death. Each opening-out once more – as such and regardless of its innate signification – moves under the influence of an unpredicted dying. Energy-waves have no memory. They respond anew each time to the subterranean receding that undoes them in the shadows, beating to a cadence that evades them. The shiver-spasm whisper of death is discursively manoeuvred into textual uniformity, but this does not obliterate the multiple beginnings again; marking the curve of each retraction into silence.


Bataille, George Oeuvres Completes editors I and II Denis Hollier, III and IV Thadee Klossowski, V Mme Ledue, VI (and following volumes – 12 vols in all) Henri Ronse, and J. –M. Rey, Paris

Camus, Albert The Myth of Sisyphus trans. Justin O’ Brian London: Hamish Hamilton 1955/ Penguin Books 1986

Camus, Albert Selected Essays and Notebooks trans. Philip Thody London: Penguin Books 1979

Camus, Albert The Outsider trans. Joseph Laredo London: Penguin Books 1983

Camus, Albert The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt trans. A. Bower New York: Vintage 1956

Camus, Albert The Plague trans. Stuart Gilbert London: Penguin Books 1960

Camus, Albert Exile and the Kingdom trans. Justin O’ Brian London: Penguin Books 1987

Deleuze, Gilles Difference et repetition Paris: Presses Universitaries de France 1968

Deleuze, Gilles Nietzsche and Philosophy trans. Hugh Tomlinson NewYork: Columbia University Press 1983

Marx, Karl Capital Volume One London 1977

Nietzsche, Friedrich Werke editor Karl Schlechta Frankfurt am Main

Nietzsche, Friedrich On the Genealogy of Morals trans. Walter Kaufmann New York: Vintage Books 1969

Nietzsche, Friedrich Ecce Homo trans. R.J. Hollingdale New York: Penguin Books 1979

Nietzsche, Friedrich The Will to Power trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale New York: Vintage Books 1968

Nietzsche, Friedrich Thus Spoke Zarathustra trans R. J. Hollingdale New York: Penguin Books 1961


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