The Benign Indifference of the Universe

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


The Anchoress does what she does best and calls like she sees it.

And The New Yorker is pettiness defined as it struggles to come to grips with the fact that President Bush is reading Camus - so taken aback are they by the president’s climbing gall in reading Camus that they feel they must lecture him about it.

Nonetheless, it is hard not to brood, in old-fashioned Kremlinological style, on the meanings of George W. Bush’s syllabus for this particular summer. Where in summers past he has read fiction by Tom Wolfe, or a comprehensive history of salt—both very good things in the right seasonal doses—this summer, perhaps under the pressure of events, he has embarked on a more strenuous list. An amazingly strenuous list, actually. It includes Albert Camus’s novel “The Stranger”; Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s book about Robert Oppenheimer and the invention of the atomic bomb; and Richard Carwardine’s new biography of Abraham Lincoln.

Already, it seems, the President has polished off the Camus and had a debate with his new press secretary, Tony Snow, on the origins of existentialism. Now, it’s possible to feel misgivings about the President’s ranch reading…But it is the sunny optimism of humanism to imagine that books change lives, and that no one can come away from “The Stranger” entirely unaffected, particularly one who is, as he reminds us, a wartime President.

The writer, Adam Gopnik, does manage to toss a small and almost-not-condescending dono toward Dubya: It sounds almost like the beginnings of wisdom, or, at least, a compulsory fall reading list for us all.


What a foppish snot. What disagreeable, nauseating snobs. These folk don’t take themselves too, too seriously, do they? I wonder how they can reproduce with their noses so high in the air?

Last year, of course, it was that self-revealingly prejudiced snob Mark Kurlansky who couldn’t believe that moron Bush was reading his book
:

In fairness, Kurlansky does admit: “What I find fascinating, and it’s probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don’t seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books.”

Think about that for a second. Basically what Kurlansky, the “liberal” is saying is that he is suprised and fascinated that the guy he hates is…umm…not prejudiced…as he himself apparently is. Sounds like projection to me, anyway. Like Kurlansky is admitting that he would research someone before he deigned to read their book.

Such sophisticates, they are. They know and understand all things. And all that they hate, they are become.



Why did I choose that title? Showing off. I read it in a Camus novel at the age of 18. But then again I had been reading Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Camus, Kafka, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bronte, Jules Verne, Bradbury, HG Wells, Dickens, DH Lawrence, Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, Shakespeare, Austin, Poe, Hersey, Orwell, and Faulkner to mention a few since I was 15 years old. Fancy that. A hick kid from Oklahoma who could read.

18 comments:

loner said...

So what you're saying is that you read The Stranger when you were 18.

I like the theory of one (or more) of those commenting at Wretchard's site that Snow's announcement that Bush had read The Stranger was some signal to the French regarding something (it was late in the final week of maneuvering in and over The Lebanon) because the very idea that Bush would read Camus is, well, absurd.

Pastorius said...

Terrye,
Doesn't it seem that The Stranger is not at all what this New Yorker writer thinks it is. I found The Stranger to be a sad meditation on a life without meaning, a life in which events and people do not form themselves into a narrative. In other words I found the Stranger to be a book about a guy who can not see the importance of the things and people in his life. The outcome of his problem is that he ends up killing a man for no good reason, goes to jail, and then when in jail.

The final section seemed to me to be a rather shallow vamp on Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning.

I would love to know how this New Yorker writer feels his life was "changed" by The Stranger.

I believe Bush is reading the book as a way of brushing up on dealing with anomic, postmodernist humans in order to prepare for upcoming negotiations with the Europeans.

Of course, I'm kind of joking. Kind of.

terrye said...

loner:

No I read The Plague.

Pastorius:

I think the point here is that Bush has a wider range of interests than people give him credit for.

Pastorius said...

Absolutely, I get that point. But, beyond that, from the New Yorker writers comment, I get the feeling he didn't even understand The Stranger.

so, in other words, the guy is analyzing Bush here as he is some sort of simpleton, and yet, the guy doesn't even seem to understand the book himself.

The Stranger is not a complicated book, for God's sake. It isn't Ulysses.

Rick Ballard said...

Pastorius,

Why would you expect a level of understanding beyond a misreading of Cliff Notes from the New Yorker? It's been a "credentials" publication for more than fifty years. The writer had a template to fill, the quality of the writing and reasoning used to fill the template is immaterial.

terrye said...

pastorius:

Ah yes, but the writer has this Frenchie sounding name so it must be deep.

I did not really think Camus was that hard to get. I liked Kafka better by far.

Pastorius said...

Rick Ballard,

Agreed.


Terrye,

I don't like Kafka, but that isn't to say I don't recognize his genius.


I'm much more a Paul Bowles, Brodkey, Melville, Dostoevsky fan

Luther McLeod said...

Camus was good, Kafka better. But the meat was Russia. If you are into that kind of thing. I write sparse, do not ask me to remember details, please

Rick Ballard said...

Pastorius,

I think that the president should have said that he was going to undertake "L'insostenibile leggerezza dell'essere" by Kundera (in the Italian translation). Toss in a line stating "I feel a need to understand nihilism within the Nietzschean construct." and he would have snapped necks around the world.

It's a giggle to watch a Texas MBA make a good joke.

Especially to a crew that would site an outhouse above the well for esthetic purposes.

loner said...

terrye—

...the benign indifference of the universe is from The Stranger.

Pastorius said...

Rick,

That would be hilarious. Dang, I wish he would do that.

Pastorius said...

Rick,

That would be hilarious. Dang, I wish he would do that.

Rick Ballard said...

Pastorius,

He has done it. The commentariat doesn't get the joke. Camus belongs on the same shelf as Sartre - that high (or low) shelf that no one in the world looks at anymore. He might as well have said that he wanted to read L'Anoia - the most perfectly titled book ever published.

Luther McLeod said...

"L'Anoia"

OK Rick, a clue to us less read, and deficient in the languages. A rare case when a multi pronged search has no conclusion.

CF said...

Yes, reading The Stranger is probably the best way to get inside the modern European mind.
I am very fond of the Anchoress, BTW.

Rick Ballard said...

Luther,

Sorry, I elided improperly - it's La Noia (the boredom). Moravia is very well known in Italy but not half as well known as Camus in the US. To me, Camus reads much like Moravia. It's as if they were paid by the word (like Dickens or Trollope) but without regard to Dicken's or Trollope's ability to communicate anything of interest.

It's sort of "if you loved Heny James, then you'll find Moravia fascinating". Writers who have never actually been involved in any form of productivity aside from picking up a pen tend to bore me quite quickly. That may be my fault rather than theirs but "a life of the mind" is conducted in a rather confining space.

terrye said...

loner:

Yes but I read the Plague when I was 18, then I moved on. To be truthful it was so long ago and I was reading so much that I really can not remember anything but the story of the plague. I do reemmber that line and for some reason it stayed with me far more than the story itself.

Luther McLeod said...

Thanks Rick.