My Situation (A List of Eleven)

Note: I haven’t done a list post for quite a while–it’s a form that allowed me to find a way into using this space creatively again about six months ago, after a long break from writing, so I’m partial to it. It occurred to me while writing the last post that I might have avoided some of the semantic circling with a list, but rather than recase that piece, I think I’ll just start fresh.

  1. My situation is that I have been diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer that they tell you up front does not have a cure.
  2. But they also tell you that you can have an extended period of health with treatment.
  3. I am undergoing treatment. This consists of taking a particular drug for three months with two weeks off the drug twice during the period of treatment. The side-effects are not bad. At the moment, sleepiness when I’d like to be awake & insomnia (sometimes) when I’d like to be asleep.
  4. Because the tumor spread into my left hip, I have trouble walking without support, so I use a walker. I would like to graduate to a cane, which would give me a lot more mobility. I also spend most of my time sitting up in bed & though it is no longer very difficult to get up & down, I am slow & being slow when one is used to being fast is frustrating.
  5. I have to the best of my ability taken care of financial & other arrangements so as to make, when the time comes, a responsible exit from this life.
  6. I increasingly find myself entertaining notions of rebirth that I would have rejected as infantile wish-fulfilment only a few months ago.
  7. I am not really afraid of death, but I fear the loss of autonomy that accompanies modern, technological medical care; at the same time, I am grateful that I have access to that care. I have does as much as possible to insure my wishes are observed when I can no longer express myself.
  8. But I have been feeling a good deal of regret lately over things I had wanted to do that have been moved off the board. I have to use the markers that remain on the board & that has engendered some resentment.
  9. I am not much interested in distractions & entertainment, but I am deeply attached to my ability to continue to work at making poems & engaging the world through writing. Reading still feels worthwhile–both as a higher form of distraction & as education.
  10. The only other things that interest me deeply these days is talking to people–close friends I’ve had for a long time, mere acquaintances & everyone in between. I find people’s conversation endlessly worthwhile. The most worthwhile of all, though, is the conversation of friends. I am fortunate to have friends & to have them close enough that they can drop by to talk.
  11. No list, by its very nature, can be exhaustive; yet anyone’s situation contains an infinite number of potential items. This list, like any list, is a kind of snapshot of my situation. I apologize to any friends reading this who might be bothered by a certain frankness in some of the items, but this is where I am now. I have been feeling a little depressed & frustrated & resentful & regretful over the last few days. One way I deal with these states of mind / body is to write about them.


The Red and the Black & The Stranger?

Did Albert Camus find inspiration for his most famous character, Meursault, in the figure of that errant nincompoop Julien Sorel from Stendhal’s The Red and the Black? 1 I cannot be the first to notice this genealogical line of descent, but I can’t remember ever having seen it remarked upon. (Not that I am anything like a scholar of the French novel.) Camus wrote in 1955, “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.” 2 Julien’s problem is that he sees the nature of the game but cannot keep himself from being caught up in it. In any case, both characters face execution by the guillotine with courage, both have been read as modern Christ figures (Sorel is the son of a carpenter!) Both commit their crimes with a pistol & in a state of what we would now I think call derealization.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Looking around the web after writing this, I find that John Leonard, reviewing a biography of Camus in the NY Times in 1979, compared Camus to Sorel, but not to Camus’ character Meursault.
  2. Carroll, David. Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Pragmatists and Existentialists

The pragmatists’ emphasis on human agency, even in realms of epistemology, melds pretty easily with the existentialists’ emphasis — thinking mostly of Camus here — on individual moral choice. Both philosophies might at first appear to put all the emphasis on the individual, but that’s not in fact true when one looks more closely. For the pragmatists, the world is built up from many individuals’ experience; for the existentialists, individual moral choice must serve the general good: What we wish for ourselves we must wish for others, Camus tells us.