Exile and the Kingdom

Exile and the Kingdom - Albert Camus In "An Experiment in Criticism", Lewis argues that the only way to truly understand a book the reader must surrender to it and to the author's vision. This can be fairly easy when the reader and the author are coming from similar worldviews, but not when they are meeting head on from opposite ends of the spectrum. This is the challenge I face when reading Camus. Our worldviews are so different that reading his work is an exhausting experience. It is a constant struggle to surrender to his vision, which is deeply disturbing.The stories in "Exile and the Kingdom" reflect, as they must, Camus' belief that life and the universe are meaningless, and that the fundamental desire for humankind is to find meaning. The absurdity of life comes from the clash of these two realities. The best one can do in life is to understand and live in this conflict without seeking a way out. The characters that fill the pages of these stories are all in different stages of understanding the absurdity of life, but all of them are caught in the conflict. We meet, among others, a desperately unfulfilled wife, a group of men caught in dead-end careers, a man who nearly dies in his attempt to subvert the religious experiences and commitments of others, all of them arriving at a point where the absurdity is revealed to them clearly for the first time. The circumstances of the revelation are different for each; an encounter with the infinite, indifferent evil, empty labor, but the result is similar. Men and women alike must come to grips with meaninglessness in their particular lives and decide what to do with this knowledge.Camus writes beautifully. His characters (with some exceptions) are tragic heroes and heroines who face his ultimate truth with a stoic dignity and courage. There is no deus ex machina to save them. If we submit to Camus' vision, we must admire them and sympathize with them. To the extent that I can enter into his world, they have my sympathy and I long to comfort them. But there is no comfort in the world of Camus, something he admits readily in his non-fiction, so we must leave the adulterous woman, the artist, the engineer, and the teacher to their despair. Camus would not have it any other way.