prevailing through contempt I

Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913, in a family of French settlers in Algiers. In his youth, he played soccer and studied philosophy. He realized his maturity in popular essays that treated disturbing themes in a soothing fashion. He wrote about resisting suicide and living in insensibility. He engaged the demons of personal and social negativity, ranging from debilitating guilt to random terror. He endorsed personal rebellion as the pathway to solidarity in the face of absurd existence. Camus stood on the left, apart from all parties. He published clandestine polemics in the French Resistance and disassociated himself from the Communist Party after the Soviets suppressed the Hungarian rebellion. He declared himself against the capital punishment and declined to declare himself against colonialism, refusing to take sides in the Algerian revolt. His novels and plays rehearsed and amplified his concerns. They became wildly popular in France and abroad. The Nobel Prize consecrated his ambivalent reputation. His writing earned popular acclaim and supercilious condescension. He was killed on January 4th, 1960, when his friend Michel Gallimard spun out of control his Facel Vega, advertised as the fastest four-seat coupé in the world, its refined French chassis overwhelmed by a brutish American engine. The car veered off a country road and rammed into a tree. Camus was the only casualty of this accident. He was 46 years old. Ever since, his stature has grown, even as his critics declined into odium and hysteria.

Continue reading prevailing through contempt I

10. survivor of suicide

     Le suicide est le plus grand des crimes. Quel courage peut avoir celui qui tremble devant un revers de fortune ? Le véritable héroïsme consiste à être supérieur aux maux de la vie.
— Napoléon I, Maximes de guerre et pensées
Suicide is the greatest of crimes. What courage could possess he who trembles before a reversal of fortune? True heroism consists in being above the ills of life.
— Napoleon I, Maxims of War and Thoughts
     L’orgueil est toujours plus près du suicide que du repentir.
— Antoine de Rivarol, Maximes, pensées et paradoxes
Pride is always closer to suicide than to repentance.
— Antoine de Rivarol, Maxims, thoughts, and Paradoxes
     On a, relativement à la gravité du sujet, écrit très peu sur le suicide, on ne l’a pas observé. Peut-être cette maladie est-elle inobservable. Le suicide est l’effet d’un sentiment que nous nommerons, si vous voulez, l’estime de soi-même, pour ne pas le confondre avec le mot honneur. Le jour où l’homme se méprise, le jour où il se voit méprisé, le moment où la réalité de la vie est en désaccord avec ses espérances, il se tue et rend ainsi hommage à la société devant laquelle il ne veut pas rester déshabillé de ses vertus ou de sa splendeur. Quoi qu’on en dise, parmi les athées (il faut excepter le chrétien du suicide), les lâches seuls acceptent une vie déshonorée. Le suicide est de trois natures : il y a d’abord le suicide qui n’est que le dernier accès d’une longue maladie et qui certes appartient à la pathologie ; puis le suicide par désespoir, enfin le suicide par raisonnement. Lucien voulait se tuer par désespoir et par raisonnement, les deux suicides dont on peut revenir ; car il n’y a d’irrévocable que le suicide pathologique : mais souvent les trois causes se réunissent, comme chez Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
— Honoré de Balzac, Illusions perdues
Considering the gravity of the subject, very little has been written about suicide; it has not been studied. Perhaps this malady cannot be studied. Suicide results from a feeling that if you like we will call self-esteem, so as not to confuse it with the word “honor”. The day when a man despises himself, the day when he sees himself despised, the moment when the reality of life is at odds with his hopes, he kills himself and thus pays homage to society, before which he does not wish to stand stripped of his virtues or his splendor. Whatever one may say of it, among atheists (exception must be made for the Christian suicide) cowards alone accept a life dishonored. There are three kinds of suicide: firstly the kind that is but the final bout of a prolonged sickness, and which surely belongs to the domain of pathology; secondly the suicide arrived at through despair; thirdly the suicide arrived at through reasoning. Lucien wanted to kill himself through despair and through reasoning, the two kinds of suicide from which one may retreat; for the only irrevocable kind is the pathological suicide; but often the three causes come together, as in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
— Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions
     SUICIDE. Preuve de lâcheté.
— Gustave Flaubert, Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues
SUICIDE. Proof of cowardice.
— Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas[0]

Born on 9 April 1821, Charles Baudelaire made several attempts on his life before realizing himself as a poet. At the age of 24, he sent his mistress Jeanne Duval with a letter to the court-appointed guardian of his paternal inheritance:[1]

Je me tue ― sans chagrin. ― Je n’éprouve aucune de ces perturbations que les hommes appellent chagrin. ― Mes dettes n’ont jamais été un chagrin. Rien n’est plus facile que de dominer ces choses-là. Je me tue parce que je ne puis plus vivre, que la fatigue de m’endormir et la fatigue de me réveiller me sont insupportables. Je me tue parce que je suis inutile aux autres ― et dangereux à moi-même. Je me tue, parce que je me crois immortel et que j’espère.
― Lettre à Narcisse Ancelle, Paris, le 30 juin 1845
I kill myself ― without sorrow. ― I feel none of those disturbances that men call sorrow. ― My debts never have been a sorrow. Nothing is easier than mastering these things. I kill myself because I could no longer live, because the weariness of falling asleep and the weariness of awakening are unbearable to me. I kill myself because I am useless to others ― and dangerous to myself. I kill myself, because I believe myself to be immortal and because I hope.
― Letter to Narcisse Ancelle, Paris, 30 June 1845

As with every other melodramatic gesture commemorated in the poet’s correspondence, the suicide attempt resonated with concern among his intimates, without realizing the threatened consequence in its author’s life. Its concerns recur, in the images of death and decay, self-loathing and self-immolation, which play a crucial part in his art.[2] Continue reading 10. survivor of suicide

bad company III

    Harvard would not consider his application without letters of recommendation from his teachers. But as an emigrant, and a troublemaking one at that, Michael had nothing but scorn coming to him from the Soviet authorities. Even under the aegis of glasnost and perestroika, turncoats were not to expect testimonials. Upon his return to Los Angeles, Michael wormed himself into U.C.L.A. by way of summer school and extension courses. Almost immediately his academic course was bifurcated by his intention to read Les fleurs du mal in the original, standing at odds with his interest in formal logic. Michael’s curriculum comprised studies of French language and literature and the foundations of mathematics and intensionalities with Alonzo Church. Unconcerned with degree requirements, he haunted the Philosophy Department’s library day and night, writing out term papers in a single longhand take, with a fountain pen. He distracted himself by weightlifting and sword exercises at the school gym. The handling of his loud Italian motorcycles inspired confidence that reached unto their scuffed tire sidewalls, his toes dragging on innumerable canyon roads. His black leather outfit drew volunteers for bitch perch duty. As he pulled away from the pub at 2 a.m., his hair was likely blowing in the wind, his crash helmet gallantly adorning the head of a freshly bagged bimbo. Not that he was averse to finding true love. But such attachments were not to be found by looking. His father often regretted having once inspired him in a moment of candor compelled by a cognac fumes, to follow a time-tested recipe: «Всякую тварь на хуй пяль ― бог увидит, пожалеет, и хорошую пошлëт.» If he crammed every creature on his cock, God would take note of his diligence, take pity on him, and send him a good one. Continue reading bad company III

bad company II

    Eugene engaged Michael’s friends like a shark takes to a flock of dolphins. He fashioned himself into a stealth fornicator, confounding the first impressions that relegated him to the status of an inconsequential clown. He might have been that, but for the remarkable glibness of his dealings with women. His heterosexual charm was perfectly complemented in addressing men by his non-threatening demeanor. A less refined personage trying to pull the same stunts would surely have ended up perforated in some dark alley by the mates of innumerable wenches whom Eugene casually serviced in the course of a single week. Instead, he was lauded by both genders for his wit and manners. The perfect party guest, his entourage ranging from shop girls to society ladies, Eugene lavished equal though discreet attention on all women present. His discretion vanished once Adrienne, his breadwinning live-in mate, inevitably passed out on a stack of coats in the closet. At that point, all bets were off. On the occasion of Michael’s twenty-fifth birthday, Eugene’s company included a lanky blonde in spike heels propping up her six foot frame in an equilibrium mediated by tilting and clenching a pair of buttocks proudly sheathed in a white cocktail dress. Transfixed by this lascivious display, Michael connected it to the Japanese image familiar from his dojo mates, of Western women walking like dogs, upheld on their toes, heels afloat. As soon as Adrienne was out of commission, the sallow sylph boasted of going commando to commemorate the occasion of her own birthday. Eugene knelt down and lapped at her nude crotch, unfazed by the disparity of height straining his neck to a grotesque angle. In his conjugal loyalty, he excused himself as soon as his woozy mistress awakened and asked to be escorted home. Eugene scarcely absented himself for a half hour, which allegedly sufficed to traverse two blocks, exchange bodily fluids, and hurry back towards further excitement. Continue reading bad company II