Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reading and misreading Camus

You might think this is yet another post about the shocking reports that George W. Bush read Camus' The Stranger on his recent vacation.

You'd be wrong. Been there, done that.

Coincidentally (it seems), this very week Nicholas Blincoe, writing in the Telegraph (U.K.), uses The Stranger and one of the Cure's earliest singles, "Killing an Arab," to develop a semi-interesting point:

It is easier to misread any literary form than the novel. Give me a poem, song, play or film and, with low cunning and some wit, I guarantee I can make a coherent argument that it means the opposite of what it appears to say.

Each assumes a performance--or, at least, an idealised reader--and what can be said one way, can be said another: with winks and nudges. With a novel, there is no one but oneself and the text, and to read against the grain becomes more difficult. In part, it is an insult to the good faith all novels demand. But, chiefly, it is simply masochistic: who but a pain junkie would enjoy performing the mental contortions a misreading requires?

Blincoe goes on to point out that when Camus wrote, "Arab" had a broader meaning than it does today, and the man Meursault kills on the beach in Camus' novel could well have been a Berber, Kurd, or even a Middle-Eastern Jew.

Click here to read the brief article that spells it all out.

--Marshal Zeringue