Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Why do so many men of a certain type ...

... like Camus' L'Etranger so much? What is it about Albert Camus' The Outsider? asks Marcel Berlins, who reports that "a whole swathe of English male media types, academics and students" are deeply attached to the book. I think it's the same reason such types are fond of noirish things in general - the vicarious experience of being a tough guy. Genuine tough guys - I've known a few (one of whom is doing life) - are usually quite different in reality from how they are portrayed fictionally. For one thing, they don't tend either to talk or to act tough. They just are tough. Media types, academics, and students take Meurseault as a model for a fashion statement. In real life, Meurseault wouldn't give them the time of day - and they probably would go out of their way to avoid him.

Update: Here's A tale of two genders: men choose novels of alienation, while women go for passion , which has the list of books men found inspiring and a link to the women's list. I must be very weird myself. I greatly admire a number of the books, but only Ulysses has exerted any real influence over me. Not because of its style or literary innovativeness, by the way, but because it teaches one so well how to pay attention to the details of every day life.


  1. I am not sure I understand For one thing, they don't tend either to talk or to act tough. They just are tough. Do you mean they are like Howard Roarke or Ennis del Mar? Perhaps you are saying that their reticence is not a carefully cultivated facade, but a result of genuine angst. Correct me, if I lost you.

  2. What I was trying to get across, Vikram, is that they do not display their toughness by using tough language or striking tough poses. They're pretty indistiguishable from everybody else. They don't go out of their way to signal to everybody around them, "Look at me, I'm a tough guy." And they go about being tough the way a good carpenter goes about building a cabinet - no fuss, just efficiency.

  3. My theory about L'etranger is that it is a "teenage" book. I read it when I was a (later end) teenager and it made a lasting impression (as did "The Age of Reason" by Sartre which I read at about the same time) -- I think because I had not read anything like it before and I was rather inexperienced and impressionable. I think I read it because I was in a film club at the time and they ran a black-and-white movie of the book -- which I still vaguely remember. Was it Marcello Mastrioanni?
    I did not really "get" the movie so I read the book.
    I think if I'd read the book later on in life, I would not have enjoyed it. It was just "different".
    To someone bought up in a rather (in retrosepect) restrictive and narrow English way, Camus and Sartre were hot stuff indeed -- such rebellion! They seemed so brave to me who at that time was pretty "under the thumb" of other people's values.

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