Do I exist? How do I know I exist? Does it matter whether I exist? What is existence? To be or not to be, that is the question. Except it’s been asked before. And I expect it will be again. There is no answer.
But I‘ve been given a word – ontology – to write about and so, write about it, in a roundabout way, I will.
I am not a philosopher by nature and I find it very hard to differentiate between different types of thinking. But I do like to ask a lot of questions in order to try and understand people’s points of view; the more I do this, however, the more alike I think most people’s thinking is. It’s a difficulty.
As you know, I like reading, and recently a new book received quite a lot of press because it purported to be a sort of answer to Camus’s L’Etranger which I had studied for my French A Level. At the time I thought L’Etranger was the easiest of the four works of literature which we had to study because it was relatively short, modern and available in English. The Outsider was a popular, even trendy, novel in the late sixties, early seventies, and Camus’s portrayal of existentialist man, who lived honestly in the moment of being, was in itself very direct, very powerful and very shocking.
So – I wrote essays, discussed with my teacher and classmates the very essence of his thinking. I read around the subject, I read Camus’s other novels, and passed my A level with flying colours. And yet the meaning went completely over the top of my head. (I see that now; I suspected it then!)
Then a couple of weeks ago I discovered The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud , which retells Camus’s Outsider through Arab eyes, specifically from an Algerian point of view.,
I bought both and decided to read them in English this time – and what a difference a day makes. In this case 45 years. The Outsider is fascinating. I don’t usually like to reread things if I know the story. But he book I read last week was a very different book from the one I read at school. Much better. So much more profound. So much more shocking.
The one thing I had remembered correctly was the description of the heat and now as I write all the French words are coming back to me. Strange. I can almost hear Mademoiselle talking about it in our little sixth form classroom, with the rain outside and not having any concept of what 45 degrees in the shade might be like. But as she would say – revenons a nos moutons – the book is well worth getting hold of.
Now I have started reading The Meursault Investigation – it’s had good reviews, but so far I am finding it less than gripping. A nice idea – the story is told from the point of view of the victim’s brother, and informs the reader of the history of Algeria – colonialism and liberation – in quite a heavy handed way, I feel. But the heat is equally oppressive and I have yet to see what happens.
Perhaps I’ll let you know.