Saturday, February 23, 2013

Caligula & Cross Purpose - Albert Camus

Reading Camu almost after 20 years has been a new experience. This time, reading his plays. These are written in the early days of his literary career, before the celebrated novels and his raise to stardom. As I understand from the introduction, Camus was deeply involved in the theater movements in Algeria, and played a prominent part in founding the so called Theater du Travail, in Algiers. This collection of two plays brought together by Penguin are my introduction to this aspect of the writer.

Caius Caesar Caligula, the third of the 12 Caesars, ruled Rome from AD 37 to AD 41, from the age of 25 until his assassination. He was known as a cruel ruler, He was known to have incestuous relationship with his sister Drusilla, and was intended to marry her. An untimely death of her prevented this, but he was a changed man after that. Often absconding from the palace for days, spending sleepless nights in the streets and in the open, he planned and plotted his cruel actions against the citizens. He killed and tortured many of his subjects so that the patricians finally came out in open rebellion and assassinated him.

Camus intend was not to present the 'monster in human form' the the audience, but to examine the nihilistic response of individual and its not so obvious reasons. One do not see a bad character here, but a Ruler carried by his own actions trying to find a logical conclusion of his misdeeds, knowing the repercussions could be his own death, even manipulating the events that leads to his own death.
" I'm the only man on earth to know the secret - that power can never be complete without a total self - surrender to the dark impulse of one's destiny. No there's no return. I must go on and on, until the consummation."
Despite the knowledge of the conspirator among his men, his close friends, Caligula is unperturbed. As the plot thickens and the eventual end of his life
"Then there must be two kind of happiness, and I've chosen the murderous kind. For I am happy. There was a time when I thought I'd reached the extremity of pain. Bu,no, one can go farther yet. Beyond, the frontier of pain lies a splendid, sterile happiness. Look at me."
Even as the dagger thrust and gasping for his last breath, he goes down with a shriek "I'm still alive".

Originally written in 1938 , as a similar nihilistic ruler was gaining control over large part of Europe, his play seemed to be having a prophetic outlook. Unlike his novels that came out later, these do not seems to have the existentialist overdose. Mostly going by the French and European absurdist style, Camus too presented his plays as expression of ideas, of moral dilemma rather than the judgmental and morally decisive.

Cross Purpose , written in 1943 ( as The Misunderstanding ) is Camus idea of the absurd. Jan, the prodigal son, who had been living abroad for more than 20 years, returns home to his mother and sister. Widowed mother and sister, now making a living by providing lodging to travellers and then murdering them, taking away all their processions. Not recognizing Jan as their son and brother, they continue their act, as usual. Jan, on his hand deliberate the idea of announcing himself first, but decide to surprise them later. Having realised their mistake of killing their own family member in a rather cold manner sans any emotions, mother commit suicide by drowning in the river and the daughter followed her by hanging herself only after advising Maria, the wife of Jan, " to pray God turns her to stone or kill herself too". Maria cries to the heavens for help and in what is supposed to be an incarnation of the power of the world, the old man servant appears and conclude the play with an emphatic 'NO".

Camus once remarking that this play "resembles me the most", While not reflecting on the philosophical nature of the human, Camus seems to have written this during his time as a propaganda agent for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation. It must have influenced by his own live in distant land leaving behind his wife and family in Algeria. Cross Purpose, interestingly is the reversal of the classical prodigal son's story of the bible.
Caligula & Cross Purpose ( 1938)

Albert Camus

Penguin Plays

156 Pages
Caligula, Cross Purpose

No comments: