CULTURE

Fallen lawyer wakes up in a world without laws

Although set on the wet and fog-bound quays of Amsterdam, Albert Camus’s «The Fall» tells the story of a man’s journey through the desert. Like Nietzsche before him, Camus wrestles with the idea of existence in a godless universe, with man’s intrinsic need to feel at home in a meaningless world, a world where all external moral authority and transcendent meaning are lost. «The Fall» traces the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a once top-notch Parisian lawyer, as he plunges into the depths of his «fallen» soul. His ego trip is both painful and revealing. Clamence’s monologue – the whole book is a first-person narrative – to an anonymous stranger in an Amsterdam bar (the reader soon comes to see oneself as the listener) unravels his life as a prominent criminal lawyer who was widely seen as an example of professional and personal success (if a bit odd). Clamence describes how he had a soft spot for defending individuals he had good reason to believe were guilty of murder and then using all possible legal loopholes and his incomparable rhetorical skill to set them free. And so he did. Self-doubt begins to creep in as Clamence gradually realizes that his famous philanthropy and generosity are propelled by his thirst for power – a power that allows him to stand above public judgment («Hell is other people,» wrote Sartre, Camus’s longtime friend until their famous quarrel in 1952). One night in Paris, Clamence’s life crisis comes to a peak. Crossing a bridge over the Seine, the hero hears a splash in the water and a woman’s voice crying for help. He stops and ponders for a moment, but then keeps walking. He avoids reading the papers for a few days to protect himself from news of the drowning woman’s fate. A haunting laugher (self-doubt?) and guilt, push him to reconsider his life up to that day. Clamence has slipped from certainty to doubt. Like the other novels in the trilogy, «The Plague» and «The Outsider,» this one deals with the absurdity of human existence. Clamence realizes that life itself has no rules, nothing is really «right» or «wrong» and the idea of pure innocence does not make sense. He reacts by deconstructing his image of perfection before other people’s eyes. «The Fall» is also a condemnation of bourgeois conformity and moral incompetence – effectively an attack on modern man. His epitaph, the hero says, should read: «He fornicated and read the papers.» Albert Camus’s «The Fall» (La Chute) is published in Greek by Kastaniotis Publishers. 124 pages.