Author Topic: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)  (Read 5300 times)

Retinend

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Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« on: December 10, 2020, 12:50:49 PM »
So first off, let the working definition of "pseud" be a deliberately vague and decidedly subjective one: a writer with more style than substance

That is to deliberately exclude the "Private Eye" definition of "pseud", which is someone, usually a popular entertainer, who goes on record with poorly-worded attempts at profundity. Let's ignore these and stick to real writers.

Now, to anticipate a criticism of this thread, I don't think "pseud" is merely an insult, akin to asking "Which writers are dumbasses?". If you had a time machine and a cloning machine, and you resurrected both the early- and the later Wittgenstein, you can be sure that both would accuse the other of being a "pseud!" It wouldn't change the fact they were two of the smartest men who ever lived. What I'm saying is that "to pseud" is only human, and most people who even qualify for pseudery have put a lot of intellectual work into their ideas or their literary style, as the case may be.

On that note, hopefully there will be no need to rudely accuse one another of "missing the point" of a work or "not getting" something, because this is all very subjective stuff. I feel slightly guilty for coming up with such a negative idea for a thread[1]. I feel I should bear in mind that one man's trash is another man's treasure... and in the best case this thread might give an opportunity for fans to clear up what they like about authors that miss others completely, because they haven't experienced the same things or simply don't have the same disposition.

OK so let's get to the negative! I'll try to get the ball rolling, though I would prefer to just hear what people have on their lists, rather than have to defend my own choices. That said I'll try to justify myself as I go:


  • Albert Camus - I think he's a pseud because I've never seen a good reason why Meursault - taken to be a matyr by most interpretations, including Camus's - is anything other than a monster. I think the central statement of the book, to paraphrase "in these modern times a man who does not cry at this mother's funeral will be condemned to death" is pure pseudery in that it takes a normal moral reaction to the Mersault character and tries to make one feel bad about having it. Mersault is a creepy motherfucker and that he doesn't cry at his mother's funeral is not the only reason why.
*
  • William Burroughs - I willed myself very hard to like this author when I learned that my favourite band was named after one of his turns of phrase[2]. I even named a blog I created after his writings, trying to be cool. For this recognition of my own pseudery I feel pretty confident calling him a pseud. I won't say I didn't enjoy reading him, or that he wasn't an unique literary stylist, but going back to the definition above - at the end of the day what did this evil man have to say about the world in its infinite richness? He was too busy looking down the stem of a pipe to pay attention to any of that.
*
  • Peter Sotos - since we are decent people here, on the whole, here is one that I don't think anyone will argue with. He is the guy who writes violent child pornography from the first person of child serial killers and rapists and tries to justify it as an attack on media sensationalism. He essentially says that without the sensational media (which he gets off to), he wouldn't have the artistic impulse to create what he creates, using those materials as a basis. The rest of the world has moved on since the days of Ted Bundy, where reporting was almost as sadistic as the crimes. But he hasn't moved on, which seems to indicate it's not just about social criticism for him. There's lots of info and reviews of his this obscure author's work on Goodreads
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  • Henry James - His sentences are perhaps the most unnecessarily difficult in the literary canon. Take away the torturous grammar and all you have are upper-class twits with first world problems (they aren't marrying their mother's preferred girl, or something). I also think he is pseudy in the way he drip feeds information that a less "experimental" writer would issue in the first chapter. If you're making the poor reader work harder just to understand some basic information about the characters, it's not the same as crafting a well-woven tale.


Those are off the top of my head, and I'm not quite happy with them as being archetypal "pseuds"... but I'll hand over to the rest of you now, looking forward to feeding off all of your negativity 🧛😋
 1. which is why I will here blame the germ of the idea on Bernice's passing comment on Camus in the Millwall thread (of all places!)
 2. In the scrappy, drugged-up phantasmagoria, "Naked Lunch", the dildo named "Steely Dan III" was "Chewed to bits by a famished candiru in the Upper Baboonsasshole" so I named my blog "Famished Candiru"
« Last Edit: December 10, 2020, 01:01:16 PM by Retinend »

Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2020, 01:15:39 AM »
Really interesting stuff.
I really like Henry James, and following on from your stuff about the Eton teacher/ J.Peterson fan last week, I think you'd enjoy his novel "The Bostonians", about the complicated relationship between a charismatic feminist speaker, (whose speaking engagements make her resemble a public intellectual from our time) and a reactionary Southerner. I wrote about it before here:
https://www.cookdandbombd.co.uk/forums/index.php/topic,62777.msg3523276.html#msg3523276

I think your point about his work taking place in a very privileged world is a fair one, but I would say that he uses it well- for example, the plot of his excellent, well-crafted and mysterious short story "The Pattern in the Carpet" could really only have taken place within the comfortable world of literary criticism.
 I have a lot of sympathy for people who are suspicious about just how much of the literary canon involves the lives of the wealthy, but as with George Eliot and Thomas Mann, the pleasure in James' best bits is the pleasure of thinking about the dilemmas that would face us even if out material problems were solved. As for the example you pick- well surely marrying the wrong person is one of the worst mistakes a person can possibly make, regardless of their social class.
His later books like The Ambassadors are really difficult to read, but I did get the sense, as I struggled through that one, that he was trying to show something about the way the culture around him was starting to decay a bit, and that the main character Strether's weakness and indecisiveness was mirrored in the torturous sentence structure- but maybe the book is a much a symptom as it is a diagnosis of the problems he was talking about it.

I also went through a Burroughs phase when I was younger, which I'm not particularly embarrassed by. "Naked Lunch" is inessential, and not to be taken seriously as a novel at all, but it is funny- it always struck me a being a really horrible cousin of the Monty Python TV series. The freeform nature does not come from a pretentious/pseudy/arty attempt to transcend regular literary forms, I just think he had no idea how to write a novel and so put together a bunch of amusing/disturbing sketches and was lucky to find an audience with it.
"Junky" is very good at introducing the reader to the weird language and ritual of the mid-century US smackhead sub-culture- and a lot of the phrases from it. have stuck in my head for years. I'm down to my cottons, so I've got to get a croaker to write me a script for some yellow jerseys, or I'll have to go out lush-working again.etc. I don't know if it's realistic, mind you, but I can't fault it as world-building.
Your moral condemnation of his lifestyle is totally appropriate, but I doubt there was anything pseudy or pretentious going on there, if anything I suspect he was stunted and adolescent in his worldview.

I had almost exactly the same reaction to the Camus novel as you did, but I suspect that his motivations were genuine in writing it- my guess is that the world Camus was raised in was much, much more conformist than the world we live in now, and what seem very sensible and appropriate conventions to us may have seemed arbitary to him because there was more of them.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2020, 01:41:41 AM »
I think your point about his work taking place in a very privileged world is a fair one, but I would say that he uses it well- for example, the plot of his excellent, well-crafted and mysterious short story "The Pattern in the Carpet" could really only have taken place within the comfortable world of literary criticism.
 I have a lot of sympathy for people who are suspicious about just how much of the literary canon involves the lives of the wealthy, but as with George Eliot and Thomas Mann, the pleasure in James' best bits is the pleasure of thinking about the dilemmas that would face us even if out material problems were solved. As for the example you pick- well surely marrying the wrong person is one of the worst mistakes a person can possibly make, regardless of their social class.
His later books like The Ambassadors are really difficult to read, but I did get the sense, as I struggled through that one, that he was trying to show something about the way the culture around him was starting to decay a bit, and that the main character Strether's weakness and indecisiveness was mirrored in the torturous sentence structure- but maybe the book is a much a symptom as it is a diagnosis of the problems he was talking about it.

I was going to 'defend' James (he's one of my favourites) but you did a pretty good job.

the slow-dripping of information and the esotericism you find in his books are a very clever way to make the reader follow very closely the characters' psychological process. I see his later novels (The Golden Bowl for instance) as Hegel's Phenomenology of the Spirit in literary form: the style is quite different obviously but you still have those very convoluted sentences that intend to describe accurately the way the conscience miss its objects, and the various stages of self awareness (pushing the bildungsroman model to a limit). there's obviously a lot sociological content regarding the relationship between of the old Europe and the fresh America, marriage as an institution (which is basically the subject of most novels of the time), but I think the most fascinating thing about James are those highly detailed psychological explorations. and despite (or maybe thanks to) all that, some of his stories still manage to be really devastating (The Altar of the Dead, What Maisie Knew etc.).

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2020, 08:09:42 AM »
Very good defenses of James. I am not totally indifferent to him, and I certainly like other authors similar to him such as Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh, who tend to portray upper-middle or plain upper class characters... I suppose I have more faith in them as storytellers, and if I can forego James's prose and still get the same sense of milieu and epoch, I will. One of my all time favourites, Maugham's "The Razor's Edge" is, in these respects, very much like "The Ambassadors" (the snobbish character of Elliot seems to be a Henry James-type figure, loving, if critically, portrayed).

Chad (the archetypal American) and Madame de Vionnet (the archetypal European) in "the Ambassadors" are indeed interesting characters and the structure of the novel does pay off towards the end from the point that Strether discovers Chad in his deceit on that boating trip: without such a long deceit of Strether and the reader, the payoff would not have been so great. I wrote more on the book here.

I think I will probably read more of him because, as you say, Chveik, there is something worthwhile in decoding those long sentences for how they evoke a stream of consciousness, or something even more essential. I will certainly give James that he understood people, even if those people were somewhat pseudy themselves.

I am happy that I had an opportunity to go into all that, but do you two have any nominations yourselves?

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2020, 12:31:42 PM »
Sidebar: here is footage of William Burroughs in person, promoting "Naked Lunch", and making a rather pseudy summation of Wittgenstein in the process (go to 57 minutes and 30 seconds exactly): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzdW7Fo0eB4&t=57m30s

I feel compelled to say it again: I'm not saying he wasn't an unusually intelligent man, far more intelligent than myself. I am just saying he doesn't quite justify the comparison of Wittgenstein's ideas with his "Cut-up technique", there.

buttgammon

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2020, 01:26:36 PM »
Sidebar: here is footage of William Burroughs in person, promoting "Naked Lunch", and making a rather pseudy summation of Wittgenstein in the process (go to 57 minutes and 30 seconds exactly): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzdW7Fo0eB4&t=57m30s

I feel compelled to say it again: I'm not saying he wasn't an unusually intelligent man, far more intelligent than myself. I am just saying he doesn't quite justify the comparison of Wittgenstein's ideas with his "Cut-up technique", there.

Yeah, I'm not buying that comparison to be honest. If anything, I'd be more inclined to link the cut-ups with the first seeds of pop art, things like Richard Hamilton's collages. Some similar techniques are fascinating and brilliant - particularly in the hands of people like Raymond Queneau - but that's normally using much more complicated methods and with more pleasing results. A writer I really like, Ann Quin experimented with cut-ups and even in her hands, I'm not a fan.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #6 on: December 11, 2020, 03:52:54 PM »
Ezra Pound was definitely a pseud: he's undeniably one of the most important writers of the 20th Century, but his need to present himself as a dazzling genius with a profound understanding of world literature often obscures his actual poetic talent, and a lot of his literary criticism is pseudery of the highest order (most obviously his pontifications about Chinese literature, despite being unable to competently read or speak any Chinese languages and having to rely on secondary sources). Also his politics are a prime example of an intellectual poseur adopting an ideology for mainly-aesthetic reasons without caring a jot about its real-world implications.

Can't really comment on Burroughs as I've only read the obvious stuff, but I think the cut-up/experimental style does lend itself to the author being able to imply there's a deep hidden meaning in the text that doesn't really exist (much like Pound's later soup-of-literary-allusions style) - so whether or not he's a pseud, he's certainly a very tempting writer for pseuds to imitate.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2020, 03:58:22 PM »
Pound didn’t really know his onions with Latin and Greek either, as Robert Frost, who did, pointed out.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #8 on: December 11, 2020, 06:41:57 PM »
Pound gets a yes from me. As someone who has learned several languages I know that each of the ones you know is always in some degree of disrepair, and you are always repairing them. Yet Ezra Pound would snatch the most obscure snippets of, say, Spanish and shove them into his poems as if they were well-known phrases. I can speak Spanish and I don't know what he's trying to say with those instances. With Chinese I couldn't tell you, but no doubt he believed he spoke them all without knowing much more than a tourist's version of the language.

A good counterpoint is Eliot:

Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.


Here the German is conversational and implies an international atmosphere.

Bin gar           keine Russin,      stamm’ aus  Litauen,      echt deutsch.
I'm absolutely no     Russian(f)  hale     from Lithuania    very German

"No I'm not a russian I'm from Lithuania actually - with German family roots"

The use of this kind of sentence (which might also be translated in other ways depending on what the tag "echt deutsch" could mean) shows that Eliot isn't just wagging his dick in our face, but is trying to describe a scene that only exists half in English, half in German: the final lines identify this part of the poem with a place: certainly the "south" refers to the alps. The "mountains" connect with the alps. The final sentence describes a spontaneous desire to recapture a childhood wish.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #9 on: December 11, 2020, 06:47:35 PM »
So I think the fact Pound edited the Wasteland (very effectively) shows that he was the sort of person who could entrance superior creative talents and make them feel wanted. He was certainly ...ahem... "a character", in addition to being a born fascist. Privately he might have had the most ugly ideology about the "whiteness" of the literary inheritance, but among his friends he was well loved as an enabler of wild ideas in literature. Funny legacy.

Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #10 on: December 11, 2020, 07:37:10 PM »
How does Meursault not feeling a lot of emotion make him a monster?

Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2020, 07:48:44 PM »
Camus is arguably one of the most original philosophers of the twentieth century. He is quite literally the polar opposite of "style over substance." Viewing Meursault as a "martyr" would be entirely inconsistent with the intended point of the novel, as does your condemnation of him as immoral.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2020, 08:44:08 PM »
How does Meursault not feeling a lot of emotion make him a monster?

To me it’s a kind of a human monster: someone totally unfeeling to anyone, and starting with coldness towards the mother.

Camus is arguably one of the most original philosophers of the twentieth century. He is quite literally the polar opposite of "style over substance." Viewing Meursault as a "martyr" would be entirely inconsistent with the intended point of the novel, as does your condemnation of him as immoral.

What is the point of the novel? I admit it has eluded me, though I read it twice, once in the original French. I paraphrased Camus’s own words, which paint his Meursault as a martyr to the modern spirit of the age.

Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #13 on: December 11, 2020, 09:39:29 PM »
What is the point of the novel? I admit it has eluded me, though I read it twice, once in the original French. I paraphrased Camus’s own words, which paint his Meursault as a martyr to the modern spirit of the age.

It's meant to illustrate Camus's philosophy of absurdism, and the protagonist's progressive awareness of the absurd. That includes the arbitrariness of the premises on which you (or the other characters in the novel) base the claim that Meursault is immoral. I think, definitionally, Camus would never call Meursault a martyr. A martyr implies having died for one's beliefs.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #14 on: December 11, 2020, 09:48:05 PM »
I guess that deeper meaning comes out if you read Myth of Sisyphus, which I haven't. I'm still not entirely sure how "absurdism" differs from "existentialism" in general. So that all went over my head.

But did Meursault not die for his beliefs? All he had to say was "we all grieve in our own ways. I loved my dear mother but we had our differences and I'm not the type to show my emotions readily". He didn't need to come across as such a prick in court merely to demonstrate the arbitrariness of the premises with which the court based its claim that he be immoral.

He could have said anything relatable to help his case on a subjective level, but he was guilty of the crime of excessive force in objective terms. He didn't need to kill that fellow. And he didn't need to die himself. Our system of justice strongly rewards mere recognition of one's crime, which Meursault, because he was arrogant, eschewed.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2020, 09:58:47 PM »
Meursault is the paradigm of his philosophy. Camus' real critique is of society. A society that judges somebody so harshly that sentences somebody to death because they didn't cry at their mother's funeral. It wasn't that Meursault shot and killed a man. It was that Meursault shot and killed an Arab in self-defence- something he would've got a slap on the wrist for. Society gives meaning to where there is none to create it's rules. But for Camus there is meaning in a life which society does not do because it still permits the death penalty. This is why he was a critic of the death penalty.

Existentialism = you can search for meaning in life
Absurdism = you can search for meaning in life as long as you realise it is ultimately meaningless or absurd.



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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #16 on: December 12, 2020, 02:46:11 AM »
So I think the fact Pound edited the Wasteland (very effectively) shows that he was the sort of person who could entrance superior creative talents and make them feel wanted.

The irony is that if an an equally-gifted writer did the same merciless hatchet-job edit to the Cantos as Pound did to The Waste Land then it could've been one of the great poems of the century. As it is we have to wade through endless tiresome wank to get to the dazzlingly brilliant bits.

(I'm aware that there's some controversy over how much of the original Waste Land mansucript was cut by Eliot rather than Pound, but it's late and I'm a bit drunk so leave it.)

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #17 on: December 12, 2020, 10:02:00 AM »
I regard Camus and Sartre as ‘fake existentialists’, and Sartre as a particularly egregious charlatan. I’m not inclined to explain why, though.

buttgammon

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #18 on: December 12, 2020, 10:48:11 AM »
It's years since I read anything by Camus but I quite strongly dislike Sartre; as someone who teaches theory on a literature course, I've made it my mission to take people who read Nausea when they were fifteen, and introduce them to Nietzsche.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2020, 11:36:23 AM »
Clive James gives Sartre a good kicking in Cultural Amnesia

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #20 on: December 12, 2020, 01:02:01 PM »
I'm very fond of Sartre. Being and Nothingness isn't an easy read but there's some fantastic stuff in there.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #21 on: December 12, 2020, 04:18:14 PM »
I'm half deaf in one ear (too many Japanese noise rock concerts?) so once when my aunt asked me if I was a fan of Satie, I replied: "Oh yeah, he's the guy who said that hell is other people, right?" and looked like a prize plum.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #22 on: December 12, 2020, 04:21:43 PM »
Dp
« Last Edit: December 12, 2020, 04:54:34 PM by Twit 2 »

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #23 on: December 12, 2020, 04:50:18 PM »





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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #24 on: December 12, 2020, 04:53:04 PM »
don't see how this is relevant, unless you're nomimating Cioran for this thread

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #25 on: December 12, 2020, 04:57:51 PM »
don't see how this is relevant

Cioran and the other a Parisian existentialists as rivals, Camus regarding Cioran as not the real deal and vice versa. Seems relevant to me. And in any case, thought it might be interesting reading in itself for some people (though not you, evidently).

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #26 on: December 12, 2020, 05:00:42 PM »
fair enough

I'd guess this 'rivalry' was politically motivated, Cioran having dabbled with fascism before becoming somewhat apolitical, and the others being members of the communist party.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2020, 05:12:13 PM by chveik »

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #27 on: December 12, 2020, 05:43:48 PM »
fair enough

I'd guess this 'rivalry' was politically motivated, Cioran having dabbled with fascism before becoming somewhat apolitical, and the others being members of the communist party.

Hmm, not sure. IIRC he had disavowed fascism by then. Plenty of stuff dissing tyrants in a ‘Short History of Decay.’ After WW2 he was intensely apolitical; this was one of the reasons cited by Beckett for them drifting apart as friends.

Why rivalry in scare quotes? They were both quoted as not liking each other’s work. Seems a fair enough description.

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #28 on: December 13, 2020, 11:29:20 AM »
Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume they stopped being friends because of said previous fascist allegiances, rather than because he became apolitical?

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Re: Which writers are pseuds? (Was Camus a pseud?)
« Reply #29 on: December 13, 2020, 11:54:59 AM »
Good idea for a thread and an interesting opener.

Camus (with the disclaimer that it's been a while since I've read any of this): I don't think Meursault is either martyr or monster[1] - I think the novel is less clearly didactic than either of these readings will allow. Meursault is apathetic and indifferent, a response to the fundamental absurdity of existence and one which leaves him passive, entirely given over to fate and to the present ('the trigger gave', 'Today, maman died'). His character arc, inasmuch as he has one, is a movement from this indifferent surrender to an absurd existence to amor fati, and a recognition that it is not just his own being that lacks meaning, but the entirety of existence itself.

At issue is the hypocrisy of those who judge him for his apathy and his indifference. Their judgment comes from a place of refusing the absurdity of being as even a proposition to be wrestled with. Their need to justify their own existence leads them to execute Meursault - not because of his guilt or otherwise, but because his indifference threatens to tear the veil from that illusory self-justification.

I agree that it's an unpleasant novel (which is something I'm inferring rather than something you've said), but I don't think it's devoid of substance. You might get on better with The Fall - the central 'creepy fucker' of which we are invited to judge harshly, as well as sympathise with. Or The Plague, which speaks a lot more to the prospect of hope in an absurd universe.

My nomination for pseud is Jonathan Safran Foer, an exemplar of what I always think of as 'writerliness': precocious, smart-arsed, vapid pseudo-poiesis. The words "SERIOUS NOVEL" in flashing WordArt. Although, to be fair, I've never finished anything by him.
 1. Camus did refer to him as "The only Christ we deserve" - I think this is more an attack on the notion of martyrdom than an identification of Meursault with it.

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