Many scholars have studied Albert Camus’ works to analyze his philosophy of the absurd; however, no other scholars have critiqued and examined Camus’ works like George Heffernan has. Instead of just analyzing the philosophy of absurdity that Camus is famous for, He looks into what affects his philosophy has on his characters and his thoughts. In the first essay Heffernan speculates about whether or not Camus was sexist, racist, and colonialist. In his second essay, he shows the reader why Meursault is a good way of showing people that Atheism does not imply nihilism. In the final essay, Heffernan analyzes the critique that Camus did on Husserl’s philosophy called phenomenology. Heffernan delves into each of these topics in a fashion that makes them very believable to the reader.
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In his first essay A Hermeneutical Approach to Sexism, Racism, and Colonialism in Albert Camus’ L’Étranger/The Stranger Heffernan provides from The Stranger to support his thought that Camus may have been racist, sexist, and colionalist. The first part of the essay delves into viewing Meursault’s actions and thoughts without a colonial view and purely as they are In the second part of the essay he then analyzes Meursault in today's post-colonial point of view. Now that we have seen the effects of colonialism firsthand. Then in his conclusion he explores the parallels in ideas and thoughts between Camus and Meursault. His first part of the essay delves into the understanding and misunderstanding of Meursault.
Throughout the novel The Stranger Meursault personifies exactly what the title of the book is. That is a stranger. Whether that be a stranger to society or a stranger to his town. One aspect of this is his understanding of people and their actions. Heffernan goes through the entire book and lays out every moment where Meursault does understand people and also every moment where he misunderstands people. As stated by Heffernan, “When the prosecutor accuses him of burying his mother with a criminal heart, Meursault then finally understands the mortal danger in which he finds himself” (Heffernan 69). In this moment Meursault finally understands that he is truly in danger of receiving a serious sentence. Before he never really thought too much about the trial and never considered that he is in trouble since the evidence is stacked against him. This pattern of not understanding people ultimately led to him being the stranger. Heffernan states it best, “For, if he had spent more time trying to understand others and less crying about not being understood by them, not to mention he's not trying to understand himself, then he would not have fallen into the fateful failure of communication and the vicious pattern of subalternation that are depicted by the novel” (Heffernan 64) That vicious cycle ultimately led to his death since the prosecutor was able to use the combination of his response at his mother’s funeral and the murder itself to build a solid case against him. The second part of the essay delves into examining both parts of the novel independently and comparing them.
During the first half of the novel we are introduced to Meursault's life as a frenchmen living in Arab Algeria. Heffernan explains that he is the stranger in his community since it is comprised mostly of Arabs. This is because Algeria is mostly comprised Arabs; however, France colonized Algeria and know more French people are settling in algeria for various reasons In the second half Meursault experiences being a stranger to his own race, the French. During his trial the French prosecutor, jury, and judge are seeking to punish him for his crimes. Meursault is truly a stranger to humanity in this regard. He belongs to no certain group since he can not understand nor get along with the either the Arabs or the French people. Meursault does not think in the same way that the French do and he holds prejudices against the Arabs. Heffernan states, “In this regard, it is worth noting the evident fact that Camus cleanly divides the novel into two parts, and that each one neatly determines the otherness of“the stranger’ Meursault in a substantially different way” (Heffernan 72). Meursault is a french colonialist living in french controlled Algeria. Meursault does not want to live with the french considering his refusal of the job offer in Paris. So he decides to live in a dominantly Arab Algeria. This topic leads into Heffernan’s last point on the connection between Meursault and Camus.
Camus grew up in Algeria and experience the same environment that is described in The Stranger. Heffernan brings up the point of discrimination that Arabs face in Camus works. He states, “Why do Arab Algerians fail to emerge fully as individual characters with names, lives, and identities in his literary work?” (Heffernan 82). This is a good point. Every character that is not Arab is given a name and identity. Throughout Camus works he never gives the Arab character a name. Camus while not being consciously racist, may have been subconsciously racist or colonialist against Arabs. Not giving his Arab characters names speaks volumes on his opinion of them. He may have seen the mas less than human and not worthy of an identity. Camus may have thought of the Arabs as less than human or of a lesser intelligence. Camus may have stereotyped Arabs by not giving them names. It is also worth pointing that in the The Fall and The Stranger the Arab characters are either a criminal or someone with malicious intent. Camus may have the stereotype of Arabs being criminals and that is represented in his works. Just as Meursault may have been a representation of Camus’ thoughts, they both share interesting religious views.
In his second essay, The World According to Meursault—or A Critical Attempt to Understand the Absurdist Philosophy of the Protagonist of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Heffernan discusses his view that Meursault is a person that shows that atheism does not imply nihilism. In other words just because Meursault does not believe in a god, that does not imply that he believes life is meaningless. On the contrary after rejecting religion he undergoes a realization regarding the meaning of life. First, Heffernan provides evidence during Meursault’s trial to further his point about Meursault's philosophy and thought process. Then, he examines how Meursault reflects on his actions and their impact in more depth as the novel goes on. Finally, he discusses Camus’ supposed philosophy and how it relates to Meursault. Throughout the essay Heffernan explores Meursault's philosophy and how it affects his actions.
During Meursault's trial he starts to become more understanding of others opinions and understands that his moral compass is not valid. Heffernan says this in reference to the prosecutors claims, “he is right in describing his crime as a reflective act, arguably even a premeditated act. After all, Meursault is reflective enough to know the difference between right and wrong, but not resolute enough to conform his actions to right, and so he does wrong” (Heffernan 111) This statement explains why the prosecutor did not have a hard time pinning Meursault as “an inhuman monster” (Camus 60). Meursault knew that it was not right to kill the Arab in cold blood as he did; however, he did not care enough to not go through with the murder. A jury would see this a clear sign of evil and would perceive Meursault to not only be evil ,but also as irrational in thought. Heffernan explains that as Meursault spends more time imprisoned he starts to come to the realization that his knowing about what is right and wrong is what hurt the most in the trial, not the murder itself. This is why the prosecutor hounds Meursault about his reaction during his mother’s funeral. With this evidence the prosecutor could prove that Meursault was indeed evil and did not act under external forces. As stated by the prosecutor, ‘I accuse the prisoner of behaving at his mother’s funeral in a way that showed he was already a criminal at heart’ (Camus 60)
Heffernan gives examples of Meursault reflecting on his life and his motives as the novel goes. One of the causes of this increase in reflection is because Meursault is imprisoned and does not have much else to do. Nevertheless, during the beginning of the novel Meursault puts little to no thought into the actions of himself and others; however during his incarceration Meursault, faced with his death, is forced to reflect on his trial. Heffernan then states, “Meursault testifies that he killed the Arab ‘because of the sun’, leaving the explanans as much in need of an explanation as the explanandum. Yet this ‘explanation’ is not totally absurd but partially rational, at least in the world according to Meursault” (Heffernan 113). Meursault realizes that his rationalization of the sun beating down on him is not sufficient to justify his action. Before it was rational to him; however, once he finally sat down and put thought into it he comes to the conclusion that while he thinks it is fine, the jury and judge will not. Heffernan also mentions that during Meursault’s reflection in prison, he reflects on his past for once. Dilek Başkaya states Meursault’s mindset best, “Another peculiarity of Meursault that makes him absurd is that he perceives and lives in only the present time whereas in a society people are expected to have the concept of all three phases of time “(Başkaya 11). For the first time Meursault starts to reflect on his past such as his time with Marie and Raymond. During his time in prison Meursault faces the same situation that Camus proposes in The Myth of Sisyphus. This being whether to search for the meaning of life or to give up and concede to death.
Heffernan ends the essay with his conclusion regarding how Meursault compares Camus. Heffernan states, “In general, it is clear that, because Camus argues from the absurd, whereas Meursault argues to the absurd, the author does not use the character as a spokesman for his own philosophy” (Heffernan 116). Heffernan is saying that Camus tries his best to differentiate Meursault from himself to not force his philosophy of the absurd down the reader’s throat. Instead Camus intends Meursault to be an example of an absurd man. This serves as a way to more gently show the reader the absurd that Camus is trying to display for the reader. Another example of an absurd man that compares to Camus would be Jean-Baptiste Clamence. The narrator and main character of The Fall is a more realistic absurd man compared to Meursault. During a monologue by Clamence, estates, “that cry which had sounded over the Seine behind me years before had never cease” (Camus 334). This statement provides context for how absurdly the suicide of the woman at the bridge affected Clamence. Clamence is what a real life absurd man would be like. Meursault being an absurd man serves to show what an absolutely absurd man would look like in real life. They both share some similarities; however, it is false to assume that Meursault is a carbon copy of Camus.
Heffernan in his third essay, Absurdity, Creativity and Constitution: Critical Observations on Camus’s Critique of Husserl’s Phenomenology in The Myth of Sisyphus. Examines Camus’ critique of another philosopher instead of viewing Meursault. Heffernan critiques Camus’ critique on Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines phenomenology as, “Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view” (Smith). Heffernan discusses the critique in four parts. The first being the section of Camus critique regarding essences. The second part is Heffernan laying out the basic points of Camus’ critique. In the third part the methodological limits of Camus argument are exhibited. Finally, in the last part Heffernan assesses the philosophical value of the critique. Overall the critique is fairly aggressive calling out Camus with evidence from The Myth of Sisyphus.
During the first part of this essay Heffernan focuses on the essence side of his critique since the critique mentions essences frequently. Heffernan puts it like this, “it is clear that Camus’ critique of Husserl's phenomenology involves a thematic, indeed, systematic, analysis of an essential element of that philosophy, namely, its resolute commitment to determinate essences” (Heffernan 75). Heffernan is correct in stating that philosophy aims to explain essences since religion is a major part of philosophy. Hefferan later in his essay summarizes one of Camus’ argument against Husserl regarding essences, “In other words, if the world does not make sense, then consciousness makes sense of it by bestowing meaning on it. But this approach only yields ‘comprehension’ at the cost of consolation” (Heffernan 77). Heffernan is saying that Camus believes that the consolation of the idea is not worth the understanding of it. Also the reason the world makes sense contradicts his philosophy of the absurd. Heffernan is pointing out an contradiction in Camus’ statement. Where there is no meaning to life and life is essentially a journey to find said meaning. Heffernan then goes on to lay out every point of Camus’ argument.
The first point is the intentionality of the argument. In this section Heffernan states, “If the theme of the intentional claims to illustrate merely a psychological attitude, by which reality is drained instead of being explained, nothing in fact separates it from the absurd spirit” (Heffernan 80). Here Heffernan critiques Camus’ claim of intentionality by pointing out that if what Camus is saying is true then his absurd spirit is no different from Husserl’s phenomenology. This observation is true since the absurd spirit is one where the person has to constantly create their meaning of life to continue on. The next point that Heffernan describes tis the essentialism that is present. Camus is known for avidly avoiding essentialis if at all possible since he does not believe in it at all. The third point that Heffernan lays out is the logicism of Camus’ critique. Heffernan estates, “In any case, the dispute between the claims of absurdity and the claims of rationality cannot be adjudicated by a dogmatic proclamation from either the one side or the other” (Heffernan 84). Heffernan is trying to say that no matter what side is right, Husserl nor Camus can believe that their thinking absolutely right regarding absurdity and rationality. There must be some leeway or middle ground to reach that will prove to be the best answer. Heffernan believes that neither of the philosophers are entirely correct. The next point of the essay is in regard to intellectualism. In here Heffernan points out intellectual flaws in Camus’ argument such as considering the abstract concrete. The fifth point that Heffernan lays out is the rationalism of the argument. Heffernan points out in this section that although Camus rationalizes most of his own points, there are mistakes and inconsistencies present in some of them. Finally, the last point that Heffernan explores is the evidence of the argument that Camus uses against Husserl’s phenomenology. In this section Heffernan does an excellent job of analyzing the value of the evidence and giving his own opinion on whether or not it is relevant or useful. In the third part of the critique Heffernan examines the methodological limits of the argument.
During this section Heffernan states, “ it is also possible and necessary to judge Camus’ critique of Husserl's Phenomenology based solely on the evidence that he presents in The Myth of Sisyphus” (Heffernan 95). This is true since the Myth of Sisyphus is the most concrete and fleshed out work on Camus’ philosophy of the absurd. Camus may provide new points and reasoning for his thinking; however, the Myth of Sisyphus is the base of all his philosophical thought on the absurd. For example, Camus states, “He belongs to time, and by the horror that seizes him, he recognizes his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it” (Camus 503). This statement regarding man’s relation to time is powerful and Camus can not just switch between stances since The Myth of Sisyphus is his most influential work. Heffernan also is true in saying we must look at The Myth of Sisyphus since Camus is not alive and able to respond to criticism at the time that Heffernan wrote his essay. Also during this section Heffernan mentions that Camus does not consider himself a philosopher, but rather as an artist. This may be due to Camus’ odd way of defining certain ideas and thoughts. As well as examining the methodological limit of Camus’ argument, Heffernan also discusses the philosophical value that is present in the article.
Overall Heffernan believes there is not much philosophical value in the argument and he explains why. Heffernan starts with, “First and foremost, for example, Camus fails to do justice to Husserl’s essential, indispensable concept of constitution” (Heffernan 98). Heffernan starts the section with a well deserved critique of Camus’ argument. Camus did not take into account Husserl’s concept of constitution when he was arguing against phenomenology. This concept of constitution is essential to understand and take into account to truly understand phenomenology. However, Heffernan does give credit to Camus with his statement regarding the fault that phenomenology contains. This being that phenomenology is easily perceived as an ideology that fails to look at concrete facts and focuses too much on spirits or essences. The study of more concrete and empirical subjects is important in any philosophical ideas. That is because we live in an empirical world. Heffernan provides a breath of fresh air with essentially ripping apart Camus’ critique, pointing out errors he has made, and giving insightful thought as a sort of mediator.
George Heffernan has done an amazing job with all three of these essays. In the first essay Heffernan explores the topics of racism, sexism, and colonialism in Albert Camus’ The Stranger and in Camus himself. In Heffernan’s second essay explored the world through Meursault's’ mind and how he rationalizes his actions and learns from them later in the novel. Finally, in the third essay of George Heffernan he discusses and critiques Camus’ critique of Edmund husserl's phenomenology. George Heffernan is an outstanding scholar who has definitely lifted the standard for being a scholar of Albert Camus.