[L. 62 | 69] 25 August 1963

You ask whether the cover should be glossy or dull. The answer is that it should be a dull matt black. A glossy cover has a meretricious look and leads the reader to expect that the book will be glossy all the way through, like the American magazines. When he opens the book and finds only dull cyclostyled philosophy instead of glossy blondes he is likely to be disappointed. Besides, a glossy black reminds one of the shiny seat of too-long-worn black serge trousers, an unsightly affliction, common enough in Europe, but in Ceylon confined, I suppose, to the members of the legal profession. The cover should be about as stiff as a playing card.

'The Adulterous Woman' repeats one of Camus's favourite themes: marriage with inanimate Nature, the sea, the sky, the earth. This theme is found in his earliest published essays, which, in fact, are called Noces (nuptials). But here, too, the title (Exile and the Kingdom) is significant. (You will have noticed this theme in the last of the stories, 'The Growing Stone'. D'Arrast, the Frenchman of noble ancestry, is an exile from modern bourgeois France where he has no place, and seeks citizenship in the sweaty kingdom of Iguape.) Camus's conception of man (shared by other existential writers) is that of an exile in search of the kingdom from which he has been expelled (like Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden). But this kingdom does not exist and has never existed (for God does not exist). Man, therefore, ever hopeful, spends his time in a hopeless quest for peace of mind and security from angoisse or anxiety. (A. E. Housman speaks of man as 'alone and afraid in a world he never made'.[1]) Nostalgia, then, is man's natural condition.

So I take this theme of union with Nature as a symbolical attempt at a solution of this insoluble situation. The adulterous woman herself says that 'She wanted to be liberated even if Marcel, even if the others, never were!' (p. 26). Union with Nature ('...the unchanging sky, where life stopped, where no one would ever age or die any more.' [p. 27]) offers itself as a possible solution, even though Camus is aware that it is not a solution ('She knew that this kingdom had been eternally promised her and yet that it would never be hers...' [p. 23]). But I have no doubt that his image had a great deal more significance for Camus, with his strong feeling for landscape, than I have suggested here: indeed, it seems likely that he actually had in his youth some emotional experience, some 'spiritual revelation', on these lines, and that this made a lasting impression on him. But he is too intelligent to be deceived.

His theme in Le Mythe de Sisyphe (quite his best book) is that there is no solution. Man's invincible nostalgia for clarity and reason is opposed by an irrational, unreasonable, world; and from the conjunction of these two the Absurd is born. The Absurd, of course, is simply another name for the essential ambiguity of man's situation in the world; and this ambiguity, this hopeless situation, is lucidly portrayed by Camus in the extract I have made in NIBBĀNA. But in view of the fact that there is no solution (I am not speaking of the Buddhadhamma, of course) what is one to do? 'Face the situation' says Camus 'and do not try to deceive yourself by inventing God—even an evil God'. You will see at once why Camus is interested in Kafka.

In The Castle, K. is engaged in the hopeless task of getting himself recognized as Land Surveyor by the Authorities in the Castle—that is, by God. K. is a stranger in the village (an exile), and he is seeking permission to live permanently in the village (which is, of course, the kingdom—of heaven, if you like). But so long as he is engaged in this hopeless task, he has hope; and Camus maintains (quite rightly, of course) that he is in contradiction with himself. If the situation is hopeless, one has no business to have hope. Camus points out that Amalia, the girl who indignantly rejected God's immoral proposal (the deceitful promise of eternal bliss in heaven, if you like to take it that way—but God, since he made man in his own image, is presumably capable of being immoral in as many ways as man), is the only character in The Castle who is entirely without hope (she has made herself eternally unworthy of God's grace by refusing to lose her honour—her intellectual integrity, if you like—for his sake); and that it is she that K. opposes with the greatest vehemence.

Camus accuses Kafka of deifying The Absurd (which, naturally, produces an Absurd God—but still God, for all that [or rather, because of that; for if God is comprehensible one can no longer believe in him, one understands him and that is an end of the matter]). The Trial, however, commends itself to Camus as a completely successful portrayal of The Absurd (with which, perhaps, to judge from your recent letters, you might agree). In The Trial, K. is not concerned with hope (he is not seeking anything): he lets his hopeful uncle (who is seeking to preserve the family honour) do the talking with the advocate while he himself goes off to amuse himself with the advocate's girls. In The Castle, on the other hand, K. makes love to the barmaid precisely because she is the mistress of one of the Castle officials and offers the hope of a channel of communication with the Castle. It is the Castle that K. wants, not the girl. In The Trial, K. is simply defending himself against the importunities of an irrational and capricious God, whereas in The Castle he is seeking them. In The Trial K. is defending himself against the charge of existing by disclaiming responsibility (but this is not enough to acquit him): in The Castle, K. is trying to convince the Authorities that he is justified in existing (but the Authorities are hard to convince). In the first, K. denies God; in the second, he affirms God. But in both, K. exists; and his existence is Absurd.

I have just been sent a book from England that might interest you. It is Lord Balfour's A Study of the Psychological Aspects of Mrs Willett's Mediumship, and of the Statement of the Communicators Concerning Process. I do not think that you have any doubts about rebirth, but this book seems to me to be quite exceptionally good evidence for it; and the various philosophical problems discussed (between the living and the dead) are themselves of no little interest. There is, in particular, a disagreement between Balfour (living) and Gurney (dead) about the possibility of there being a split within one and the same person. This disagreement can only be resolved when the distinction between the notion of a person (sakkāya, attā) and that of an individual (puggala) becomes clear. (This distinction, as you will remember, is discussed in the Notes.) Balfour denies that a person, a self, can be split without ipso facto becoming two persons, two selves (i.e. two quite different people): Gurney affirms it. Balfour is wrong for the right reason: Gurney is right for the wrong reason.[2]

If you can find no way of getting the Notes duplicated, why not try the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, who might be sympathetic (provided they do not actually read them)? I must, however, confess to a rooted dislike—perhaps you share it?—of seeking the help of Official (particularly Government) Bodies. Whenever anyone addresses me in his official capacity, I am at once filled with a desire to attack the Official Body he represents. I have every sympathy with the Irishman who, on being fined five shillings for Contempt of Court, asked the Magistrate to make it ten shillings; 'Five shillings' he explained 'do not adequately express the Contempt I have for this Court'. I am quite unable to identify myself with any organized body or cause (even if it is a body of opposition or a lost cause). I am a born blackleg. I thoroughly approve of E. M. Forster's declaration, 'If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country'. For me, there is no doubt that the very small word in the centre of the blank canvas at the end of 'The Artist at Work' is solitaire, not solidaire.

Editorial notes:

[62.1] Housman:

And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilments and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.     —Last Poems, XII

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[62.2] Balfour; Gurney: On page 269 of the book the Ven. Ñānavīra noted, in the margin: All the muddle of this chapter comes of the puthujjana's failure to distinguish personality from individuality. Personality as 'self' is indivisible. Individuality is as divisible as you please; that is, within the individual. The word individual does not exclude internal divisions; it simply means that you cannot treat these internal divisions as a collection of individuals. 'Individual' is opposed to 'class'.)
And on page 308 there is the marginal note: From a puthujjana's point of view, Balfour's objections are valid—'self' cannot be divided into separate 'selves'.... This paradox cannot be resolved in the sphere of the puthujjana. If Gurney is right, that is only because he has, in fact, failed to appreciate Balfour's dilemma.... [Back to text]