A fall with no sight of recovery | Sunday Observer

A fall with no sight of recovery

20 May, 2018

The works of French-Algerian writer Albert Camus have been seminal in shaping existentialist and nihilist philosophy. A writer of fiction and essays, Camus is perhaps best known for his novel written in French titled, L’Étranger which has been translated into English as The Stranger and also as The Outsider. From among Camus’s nonfiction, perhaps the best known work is his celebrated essay The Myth of Sisyphus.

His last completed novel was The Fall which carries its original French title as La Chute. Genre wise it is considered a philosophical novel and was first published in 1956.

Narrated in the ‘first person monologue style’, this novella provides a very good example of the ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative style that marked the advent of modernist fiction; the forerunner of this narrative style being the Norwegian novel Sult written by Nobel prize winner Knut Hamsun, which carries its English translation as Hunger.

The Fall unfolds in the city of Amsterdam, and is a narrative spoken by its protagonist (and in effect only ‘character’) Jean-Baptiste Clamence. The Frenchman who claims to be a defence lawyer, reflects upon his life with words spoken to persons who are not fully defined and described to be established in the traditional mould of a ‘proper character’ in a novel.

The reader is thus given a ‘view’ of the setting and the scenario purely from the monologue of Clamence which takes on discursiveness that has the sense of nonlinearity which is meant to reflect the nature of human consciousness.

The way our thoughts flit and jump from one subject to another in the privacy of our inner head is what is meant to be captured from the stream of consciousness style. However, one may even contend that The Fall is a ‘verbal monologue’ as opposed to being the textual presentation of Clamence’s inner thoughts.

It is his spoken words that the reader is meant to ‘hear’ so to say, (when reading the book) and not his ‘thoughts’ per se. It is quite essentially a ‘one way conversation’ the reader is presented. How much of an ‘interior monologue’ is The Fall? is a matter for debate since the stream of consciousness is firstly meant to be posited as a literary device to present a character’s ‘inner thoughts’ and not an ‘oral outflow’ .

The Fall is a monologue that appears to be delivered in the course of interaction with other ‘personae’ who do not gain the full substance of characters. Any person other than Clamence is essentially understood to exist because the monologue indicates speech addressed to others with whom the speaker indicates to be in conversation.

Given the nature of the setting in which Clamence, the speaker whose words show him as something of a one sided conversationalist, unfolds his narrative, one may even further contend how apt is The Fall as a stream of consciousness novel since it may not perhaps be seen as ‘an interior monologue’? It is in this regard worth noting that The Fall is also called a ‘confession’ which reflects that its nature must be seen as an oral narrative of the protagonist.

The ‘scenario’ Camus presents his reader is a man who is in crisis. A crisis caused by his self loathing and realization of the hollowness in his life.

Although Clamence enjoys the modern comforts and pleasures of Amsterdam which include services that cater to carnal desires, there is the feeling of emptiness and lack of lasting fulfilment that cannot be negated. This shows the core of the philosophical beliefs that Camus sought to bring out through his writings, which is ‘the existential crisis of the modern man’.

The Fall is unlikely to appeal to the fiction reader who seeks plot and storyline that is meant to ‘entertain’ the reader. When reading The Fall one finds the text has a strong vein of irony and absurdity in the outlook of the speaker.

There is in Clamence’s sweeping statements a dose of arrogance in viewing the world as perhaps a place with no purpose and thereby being mired in a state of purposeless existence having no recourse to redemption.

Perhaps, one of the notably significant junctures in the narrative is found where Clamence compares the canal constructions of Amsterdam to the concentric enclosures that structure ‘hell’. It is by no means a compliment to the host city of the speaker / narrator, especially, seeing that he is a French man, a Parisian, who is a foreigner in Amsterdam.

The symbolic comparison of the canal structure with hell is found in the following excerpt of the text:

“Have you noticed that Amsterdam’s concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life - and hence its crimes - becomes denser, darker. Here, we are in the last circle.”

The whole basis of the narrative is that they are monologues spoken to some ‘acquaintance’ over drinks at a bar. One may even ask if this is a ‘confession’ caused by drink? But, there is no indication in the text to suggest that the narrator is delivering his confession purely in a state of inebriation. But, the ‘need to’ tell his story is clear. And in a rather socially compatible manner, ‘his story’ comes out to a ‘listener’ over drinks.

The sociable nature of Clamence comes out at the start of the narrative where he offers to act as a translator to a patron who cannot speak Dutch and thus cannot communicate with the bartender who only speaks Dutch. A happy coincidence is soon discovered that the patron to whom Clamence offers his assistance is a compatriot. And thus the ‘story’ takes speedy flight.

There is a clear dramatic vein in which the speaker delivers his monologue and what is noteworthy perhaps to the young avant-garde theatre practitioners here in Sri Lanka is that this novella of Camus has been adapted to theatre in the west. To digress for a moment from the main focus of the article, may I say that a dramatization of The Fall seem a feasible experiment that may be devised as a non-proscenium work at an establishment that carries the setting of a bar or cafe. Surely, a venture of that nature would add new artistic diversity to the robust theatre scene in Colombo.

From being a successful Parisian lawyer, the confessed degeneration that Clamence views of his surrounding world of which he is very much a part, and the loathing that comes out is symbolic in one way of the fall of man from grace. It is in that sense a story that subtly contains a nuance of the Biblical allegory of fall from paradise.

Camus contests western civilization in the modern age and therefore, the great advancement in knowledge (which was what cast man from Eden) has caused an eventual ‘fall’ from which there seems to be no redemption.

Clamence may not be the typical ‘Everyman’ of the western world, but perhaps, his confessed ‘fall’ is symbolic of the direction the modern world is headed.