This paper will explore the pathologies of pride in the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence—his tragic flaw, his Janus aspect, and in Aristole’s designation of the tragic flaw (hamartia) how even lofty characters are just like us—tragic despite their virtues, not because of their vices, and whether the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” merely exposes his hypocrisy or reveals how his “fall” can happen to all of us. First duplicity as revealed in The Fall will be examined, as shown through the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clamence (the Janus aspect of Clamence, how choice is the moment of actualization, and whether there are two worlds/two truths). Then the duality of experience and reflection will be discussed (how this relates to why Camus decided to write The Fall the way he did, the distinction between truth and falsehood, and if this distinction is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories). Finally, the merging of appearance and reality into the same thing will be explored (the fact the painting of “The Just Judges” is real, the symbolism of the location of Amsterdam and the doves, and how sometimes these meanings can be illusive yet complement each other).

The character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence definitely has a Janus aspect. In his jaded confession to the reader (in this case an unknown listener over the period of five days at a bar in Amsterdam) he reflects on his prior self-confident life as a prominent lawyer in Paris, and now his subsequent life as a “judge-penitent”, displaying a different kind of self-confidence—a rather dubious reinterpretation of his prior life. In Paris as a defense lawyer he is neither judge nor judged, and he’s a success. Clamence is not unreflective of this fact (he clearly knows what he’s doing), and that is the nature of his pride, but he maintains his innocence and doesn’t foresee his possible failure and vulnerability. He doesn’t take seriously the palpable presence of jealousy. Nor does he understand that eventually he will be judged, by others and himself.

In Amsterdam, he gives himself up wholly to self-condemnation, and in a sense through this mechanism still tries to define his superiority over others. His experiences and reflections of this are not complementary. Instead they contradict.   Despite references to where he is now he is rather oblivious to his surroundings, living heavily on gloomy reflection and embittered thinking. Far from him, as Solomon points out (200-201) is Queen Jocasta’s philosophy—“Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly.”   His reflections in Amsterdam see his former seemingly innocent and noble life in Paris as a sham, and he uses metaphors to display this “double” life. He tells us if he had a business card it would be Janus-faced, with the slogan “Don’t rely on it.” In other words, on one side is the apparent face of innocence and nobility, the other side is the Amsterdam devil. After his revelations in Paris he tells us he looked in the mirror and his smile was “double”, the duplicity referring to his hypocrisy, that he is guilty while claiming innocence, and his selflessness is really motivated by self-interest and vanity. Perhaps Camus is pointing out to his reader, and to himself, we all have this image in the mirror.

What Clamence realizes and as he confesses to his listener is we do have a choice, and this choice defines us. We must look into this mirror and we never stop looking. Each time we look we might see something else we didn’t see before, but this reflection is already in the past, and instead of forever chasing it (as Clamence does—Camus ends the novel quite brilliantly: Brr…! The water’s so cold! But let’s not worry! It’s too late now. It will always be too late. Fortunately!) one must face this abyss of self-knowledge and laugh at oneself—something Clamence unfortunately is really unable to do. Udoff in his introduction to the collection of essays on Kafka’s contextuality, “Abysssus Abyssum Invocat” (roughly translated the deep calls the deep or hell calls hell) illuminates this form of exile and points out referencing Kierkegaard’s Either-Or the depiction of choice as a moment of self-actualization, the interplay of self and word, play and oath (xxviii):

… the experience of choosing imparts to a man’s nature a solemnity, a quiet dignity, which never is entirely lost… So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and the I chooses itself—or rather, receives itself. Then has the soul beheld the loftiest sight that mortal eye can see and which never can be forgotten… the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.

What one sees in this moment of self-actualization, however, is the dual nature of this choice how there are two worlds/two truths. The duality of Nature (and human nature) is present all around us. We would not be able to define day if we did not have night. We would not know hot if we didn’t know cold. Sometimes the lines are clearly divided and distinct, and we know black and white. Other times a sense of discernment is needed, for in things such as love and hate, pride and humility, these lines can easily be crossed and stepped back over again (in the blink of an eye one can see a reflection of love and just as quickly fear and doubt what is seen, look again and see hate, take another look and come back to love), and in this process of self-reflection and perception of the outside world gray areas appear. While one is innocent this infection of self-doubt is not evident—the truth is the simple goodness of life—but with age and experience this naiveté dissipates, and this is what Clamence resents and pities. It’s an old philosophical game. The innocent act can be seen as a self-serving one. Generosity and heroism can contain the motivations of greed and cowardice. What Clamence condemns in himself (hoping his listener will agree) is not seeing this is an act of self-deception, and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

So why does Camus write The Fall the way he did? In many ways when one is faced with this moment of self-actualization and begins to realize the duplicity and dualities all around us it’s a matter of exorcising the demons of what we now see in the mirror and sublimating it as a means of catharsis. Apparently Camus took stock after the publication of The Rebel and decided to write anything which came to mind, write what he felt, and out of this came the self-confessional tone in The Fall. As Tarrow researches in his journals and articles, this profound duplicity of humanity is explored and echoed by the text of The Fall itself, the fact that truth and falsehood are hard to distinguish and the distinction may even become irrelevant (156-158):

… The intellectual may speak, in a hesitant voice, but in vain. It is not a response that will greet him, but curses and idiotic polemics. According to what he says, his topic and his mood, he will indirectly help the shopkeepers, or unwittingly encourage the policeman. He will thus have rendered a disservice to those he loves, and as sole recompense will have to endure the fact of having enemies, even though it goes against his nature. In preference to such sorrow, should he not opt for silence, and that irony that helps him live his life? Thus the man with scabies tosses in his bed, scratching his sores.

In the writing of The Fall Clamence learns the same truth: First I needed this perpetual laughter, and those laughing, to teach me to see clearly inside myself, to discover that I was not simple. Certainly the text of The Fall stresses autobiographical aspects to the life of Camus, but as those who knew him point out (Sartre among them) The Fall constitutes a parody of existentialist man though the psychology of its hero is profoundly an existentialist work. It’s Camus speaking of his pain.

So is there a distinction between truth and falsehood? In every sincere act one can question its sincerity. Out of this confusion arises. In trying to be understood one can find oneself misunderstood. Just as one looks in a mirror and the right hand becomes the left the language we use to express truth and falsehood inherently leads us farther away from it, and though we can laugh at a dog chasing his tail, in essence we are in the same predicament. And so we distance ourselves from it, as Camus did (for he said the creative writer expresses in his work not so much his personal experience as his desires and temptations), and in many respects in the writing of The Fall he didn’t clear away all the inner conflict. In his reaction to receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957 he exclaimed, “I’m castrated.”

The distinction between truth and falsehood, as seen in the duality of experience and reflection, doesn’t become relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. He can’t swallow his pride, and the laughter he feels projected on him he now projects on others. Pichova in her book on Nabakov and Kundera approaches their texts through the art of memory, and this relates to how Clamence remembers. In particular the chapter, Variations on Letters and Bowler Hats, discusses how Kundera returns to the problem of personal memory in exile. Once again duplicity is noted in the character of Sabina in her search of “unintelligible truth” for in her struggle for artistic freedom she betrays her homeland and must live in exile. The use of the metaphor “a semantic river” and the meanings behind dualities come into play as much with Sabina’s bowler hat as it does with Clamence’s stolen painting. The theme once again of experience and reflection is seen in how each new experience resounds, each time enriching the harmony, referring to Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return and Parmenide’s view of the world consisting of opposites (56):

It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. I might call it Heraclitus’ (“You can’t step twice into the same river”) riverbed: the bowler hat was a bed through which each time Sabina saw another river flow, another semantic river: each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one. Each new experience would resound, each time enriching the harmony. (ULB 88)

Clamence in his confession at a bar in Amsterdam is in many ways a reflection of this semantic river. He’s trying to justify and reinterpret his prior life in Paris. He’s looking in the river’s mirror like a confused Narcissus on the edge of drowning as what flows is the changing reflections in the current, and just as a river has a source and eventually pours out into the sea Clamence is attempting to understand what he sees now: One plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn`t even know whether or not he can hang on until the next day. Unfortunately, as Camus points out in the style of the text, he can only see his own experiences reflected all around him, and there’s really nobody there despite his sometimes lyrical sometimes sarcastic perspective of where he is now and from where he came. It’s just Clamence talking in a monologue, and we are tricked into reading it like these memories didn’t happen and mean nothing.

Another writer put it a different way. All things merge into one, and a river runs through it. Clamence is haunted by waters. What one realizes (as Camus surely did) is the duplicity, the dual nature of reality (this is seen even in the study of sciences in the nature of light acting both as particle and wave), and you can look and it seems to collapse into one thing, but it’s really both. Appearance and reality merge into the same thing. A man can be both good and evil, and depending on when you look and how you look a judgment can be made which in a sense is temporary and illusive, yet still fixed on its course. As soon as one speaks and says: this is so… he is altering what he observes and what he’s speaking about. This goes on in our perceptions of the outside world, and also in self-reflection. The Bible speaks of it in the book of James as a man looking at his reflection in the mirror and then forgetting what he looks like, and in essence being cast about in a sea (for really a river can only flow one way). Knowledge of good and evil truly does leave us naked. We become invisible to the secrets we try to conceal. The celebration of this the clothes we wear, which what Clamence (and Camus) confess can employ the magic of misdirection—to fool others, and ourselves.

Time is funny, however, and what Clamence can’t see in his confession of: You’re just as evil as I am… is the humility to accept the very things which lead to his downfall are the virtues which cause his vices. We are not meant to judge (because as soon as we do those judgments are reflected back upon us), but we have to in our everyday lives. We have to make choices, some on a small scale some on a grand scale (the terrifying realization Clamence confronts is that both are happening at once), and these choices determine who we are and we have to live with that responsibility. The irony that our knowledge frees us, but also defines our prison. The more you know the more you suffer because you can no longer claim ignorance. Clamence in a sense embraces this fact, but holds on to it too tightly. He can’t let go of his pride and just let it be, and he thinks he’s alone in his suffering, but he’s not. Misery loves company, and one of the best ways to dispel guilt is to be around others who share in your guilt and say: You can be just as good as I am evil. It just depends how you want to look at it, and we will always be looking, always be dipping our toes in that semantic river—fearing it’s cold to the point of being frozen, or joyfully jumping in and going with the flow.

It’s interesting that the painting Clamence admits stealing is actually real. Camus, perhaps like Kafka, envisioned literature as having no place in the real world, but it equally has no place in the world it creates. The same can be said of the stolen panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, which in the text of The Fall Clamence confesses stealing from a bar called “Mexico City”. The actual historical references to the theft of “The Just Judges” and the creation of the altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers are not in the scope of this paper, but the fact that Camus relates its theft to the character of Clamence plays into what Kafka was referring to, how the lies in the narrative of a work of fiction (in any work of art for that matter) can still reveal profound truths. It’s by telling these stories to ourselves, even if embedded with falsehood, that we find a deeper understanding of ourselves.

The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves throughout the text of The Fall also show how metaphors merge in the duplicity Clamence has come to resent and pity in himself. He admits without desire he might be closer to the truth, but the truth is a colossal bore. He has come to confess in a place where others share in his weakness, as Amsterdam in its construction and culture practices as a way of life. And yet the doves are there. As the stolen painting, part of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, has the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, so to Camus bows in with the lyrical expressions Clamence gives to them. He admits: …the obligation I felt to conceal the vicious part of my life gave me a cold look that was confused with the look of virtue; my indifference made me loved; my selfishness wound up in my generosities. I stop there, for too great a symmetry would upset my argument.

Parker’s essay on Eco’s The Name of the Rose responds in similar fashion to this question of symmetry in signs and symbols, and whether they can be interpreted as having meaning. She challenges some of Eco’s statement on semiotics and his refusal to designate his novel open or closed whether there’s little freedom for interpretation or rather inexhaustible interpretations. Signs which can mislead or inform are seen again as a duality, a duplicity, and how following them toward some enduring thread of meaning, some permanent truth, is illusive. Parker shows, however, the tension to whether these signs or symbols (once again referring to Clamence’s stolen painting) have an open or closed meaning don’t serve to cancel one another out, but merely complement one another. What counts is your relation to these meanings, not what you are. Referencing the text, William espouses this relation in The Name of the Rose in the significance of leprosy and heretical beliefs (150):

“How can I discover the universal bond that orders all things if I cannot lift a finger without creating an infinity of new entities? For with such a movement all the relations of position between my finger and all other objects change. The relations are the ways in which my mind perceives the connections between single entities, but what is the guarantee that this is universal and stable? (243)

So how does this go back to what this paper explores as the pathologies of pride as seen in the character of Jean-Baptiste Clamence? He reveals to us his duplicity, his Janus aspect, how we are constantly making a choice between two worlds/two truths. Camus, in the writing of The Fall, also expresses the duality of experience and reflection in how he decided to write the text and what he felt, how the distinction between truth and falsehood is relevant when Clamence reflects on his own memories. Then we see how appearance and reality merge into the same thing through metaphor and meaning flowing like a semantic river. The painting of “The Just Judges” is real. The location of Clamence’s confession in Amsterdam and the symbolism of the doves provides a symmetry hard to argue against, the interpretation of these meanings both fixed and inexhaustible, but they don’t serve to cancel one another out—they merely complement one another. In essence, the stolen painting of “The Just Judges” both exposes Clamence’s hypocrisy and reveals how his “fall” happens to all of us. The beauty in it rests that the pride which bedevils all of us is a painting we can steal and sing about, and by this story we tell ourselves come to a deeper understanding of who we are.

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