Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cohelo and Camus

I have recently finished two books, (something I am not accustomed to doing,) and, though I enjoyed them both, they could not have been more different. The first, and my favorite, I might add, was The Alchemist, by Paulo Cohelo. The book follows the adventures of Santiago the shepherd boy as he goes on a quest across Egypt to find his “personal legend” and along the way he runs into an Alchemist who helps him. The boy discovers alchemy to be the unique process of turning lead into gold, something that can only be done by master alchemists; but the idea of alchemy is something he finds applicable to everyday life, that is, the process of turning something ordinary, dull, or worthless into something full of value, dynamic, and worthwhile. That is the spirit of alchemy, he concludes. This idea of a practical alchemy that we can perform in any situation struck me as quite a beautiful concept, the weight of which I am still trying to realize.

The second book was The Stranger, by Camus. This book stands as a monument to existentialism, and an in-depth look at what Camus sees as the reality of absurdism. The book is simple and short, telling the story of Meursault, a man living in France who kills a man simply because the sun was shining too brightly in his eyes, and goes on to live, and eventually die, a completely unreflective and unsympathetic individual who is completely content with letting life run its unaltered course. Halfway through this book I realized that I simply could not relate in any way to the protagonist. Throughout the book things happen to him, such as his mother dying, and he doesn’t bat an eye or feel anything. He doesn’t even try. As his trial proceeds he doesn’t care about his possible fate, and even as he is sentenced to death by the guillotine he seems unfazed. Not to spoil it, but the book ends with this haunting line, "As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself — so like a brother, really — I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.” Yikes. It amazes and frightens me that this book is widely considered one of the best of the twentieth century. I believe its very essence to be endemic of our current social climate, with its heavy message of relativism, existentialism, and absurdism. It’s quite sad really. So, what did I learn from these books? 1) Existentialism and any belief that involves me creating life’s meaning is frightening and hopeless 2) The concept of Alchemy is something that is quite beautiful, really, and can and must be applied to life everyday 3) It is healthy for me to read and try to understand things I don’t agree with 4) There is something fundamentally different between myself and Camus, and that difference for me is everything that matters.

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Anonymous said...


I'm a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He's the first best-selling
author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:

Have a nice day!


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