Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading Notes: The Rebel: an Essay on Man in Revolt

Bataille's The Absence of Myth renewed my interest in Camus. Have been reading The Rebel again after many many years. Must have been 1965 or '66, while or shortly after spending nine months at Pendle Hill (a Quaker adult study center across Crum Creek from Swarthmore) where I arrived from Wichita, Kansas (I had been a student at Wichita State). Took almost a month, driving north from Kansas City (where my parents lived) across Iowa, down to Chicago to visit my uncle, up into Michigan to Bass Lake, just north of Pentwater--home of my grandparents, and where I'd spent all my summers from 1944 to 1961. This was on a Vespa 150 motor scooter packed with camping gear and my wife on the back. Absorbed with the writings of Martin Buber, I'd come to take courses with Maurice Friedman, his principle traslator and interpreter at the time. How I came to Philadelphia--never left.

Marx and Nietzsche:
"For Marx, nature is to be subjugated in order to obey history; for Nietzsche, nature is to be obeyed in order to subjugate history." 79

On Rimbaud's silence (which Camus laments):
"His metamorphosis is undoubtedly mysterious. But there is also a mystery attached to the banality achieved by brilliant young girls whom marriage transforms into adding or knitting machines." 89

On the banality of genius:
" Every genious is at once extraordinary and banal. He is nothing if he is only one or the other."

Quoted by intself, this reads like a self-contained aphorism (if any aphorism worth remembering is ever 'self-contained'), disintegrates into something more open and difficult in the context of what preceeds it.
Of course (?), genius cannot be separated from banality. But it is not a question of the banality of others--the banality we vainly try to capture and which itself captures the creative writer, where necessary, with the help of the censors (what does that mean ??) For the creative writer, it is a question of his own form of banality, which must be completely created. Every genius is at once extraordinary and...

From the chapter: Metaphysical Rebellion. Alfred A. Knopf, 1961 edition, translation by Anthony Bower


  1. In my current rereading of The Plague I am encountering examples of "banality" and other of Camus' thoughts as expressed in The Rebel. Thanks for your insights.

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  3. If Dr. Rieux represents what Camus means by 'banality and genius;' it would be as one whose refusal to abandon his practice as a physician in the face of evidence that his medical knowledge is useless, reduces his efforts to the appearance of a banal dedication to routine), but this very refusal is his "genius," what makes him, not so much in his actions, but in his character, "heroic," though I don't think Camus would like that word. He is more the personification of the Rebel in his ability to act without hope in the face of the absurd, and to challenge reality unburdened by romantic illusions (why "hero" is the wrong label here... )