L’Étranger

Having just read L’Étranger (the Stranger) by Albert Camus, and “La Cantatrice Chauve” by Ionesco – both which deal with man in the face of the absurd – I mercilessly fall upon the question, how will I face death when it comes upon me? Death is very much an absurd thing. We always unconsciously know it is coming to us, or at least we like to pretend that we know, but we have never experienced it or have any hint to what it might really be. We know what the external signs of death are: no pulse, a cessation in breath, no response, and eventual decomposing of the body, but not really what it means to the person that has died since they can no longer tell us. We know it means a termination of living, all that we know how to do, but other than that, does it really mean anything? In Christian tradition, it means that you start with your “next life”, while in Buddhist tradition it means that you are reincarnated. But for us, the living, that does not really matter to us since there is no way to know what happens after death, nor does it really concern us.

This is the point that Albert Camus makes, Death has absolutely no meaning to us since it is not something we can physically grapple with. It is the undefined endpoint to our lives. What really matters is the time we spend before death, because it is all we really have and all we can be sure to have. Knowing and understanding the absurdity but certainty of death makes us free because it forces us out of the self-constructed vicious cycles we create. Vicious cycles such as what Mr. Meursault calls “the machinery of justice” (108) in L’Étranger or the absurdity of language as demonstrated in “La Cantatrice Chauve”. Life at its most basic, the line between the start point of birth and the endpoint of death, is not a vicious cycle. If we are not obsessed with death and remain true to the reality of the present, then we can be free even moments before our death. The eventual coming of death does not have to steal our freedom.

As I think to my death, I cannot understand it. But what I do understand is that I do not need to understand it. I do not need to waste my time thinking about it, because it will come eventually, it will certainly come. Worrying about it just makes me live like a ‘dead man.’ What I should waste my time on is living my life, whatever that may be, and not wishing it were something else. Because as Mr. Meursault reminds us, “a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison” (79), that is how rich life is.