Dignity of individualistic human soul – II

Mohammad Khabir Uddin | Published: 00:00, Sep 01,2019


The Outsider. — Variety.com

AS A result, with this new conceptual knot of existentialism, their subjective and idealist response begins to contemplate the world in abstract philosophical terms and ensures a strong position. It usually ends up accepting meaninglessness, loneliness and disintegration as the deep rooted condition of human existence itself. If we go through their thoughts and experiences gathered from the last part of the 19th century to the last part of the 20th century, we would observe that all these writers have undergone psychoanalysis and historical interpretations of the human conditions and their thinking implies an image of man, not as a social being, but as ‘by nature solitary, asocial, unable to enter into relationships with other human beings’ (Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism, London: Merlin Press, 1963, p 19)

Actually, the literary works like the Trial (Der Prozess), Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot), the Bald Soprano (La Cantatrice Chauve) the Stranger/the Outsider (L’étranger), the Soldier in an Attic (Chilekothār Sepāi) and the Place of the Star (La place de l’étoile) have contained some fundamental traits of modern individualism, the determination to trust one’s own experience while distrusting the many and varied forms of authority, the attempt to face the absence of transcendence and to enjoy this life.

Kafka’s The Trial throws light on Joseph K’s subconscious ideas, instincts and desires, his career, his affairs with woman and his problem of guilt. However, we observe that the first chapter of The Trial begins with the unexpected arrest of Joseph K. So, K charges into his first courtroom appearance full of indignation, and why not? No one has told him why or on what evidence he has been arrested. The court itself appears to be not so serious because it is stuck in an attic in a rundown apartment complex. When his speech appears to entertain the audience, the examining magistrate informs him that he has irreparably damaged his case. Here consciousness is rendered powerless. Faith has to be substituted for knowledge and knowledge has to be submitted to fate, but not to rebel or become angry and this is what K refuses to do. He does not follow his instincts. The lawyer’s illness is symbolic of others’ sufferings. Dog-like submission is the only answer to religious hope. Here Kafka presents a frightening world where conscious life is going out of control.

Kafka has presented many absurd traits in the Trial. Clearly, Joseph K has failed to have faith in his life and also to live an absurd life. The ending also brings up the question as to what K could possibly have done to deserve such an extreme punishment, particularly since K’s only failing in the novel seems to be either arrogance or sexual promiscuity. K’s final act of defiance — his refusal to kill himself, thus sparing the executioners the labour involved in killing a man — suggests that, perhaps, he is being punished for not completely submitting to the will of the court, which seeks to eliminate any and all expressions of individuality. K’s last words, ‘Wie ein Hund!’ sagte er, es war, als sollte die Scham ihn überleben.’ (‘Like a dog!’ he said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him) (Franz Kafka, Der Prozess, Berlin: Die Schmiede, 1925, Kapitel 10, p 92.) voice his protest over his utterly inhumane end.

Albert Camus’ the Stranger also deals with absurdity inherent within the individuality of Joseph K and the beginning with unexpected and absurd events. In the novel, it can be observed that Meursault’s self-explanation about the exact time of his mother’s death, just after getting the telegram, has indicated his indifference from the very beginning:

« Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J’ai reçu un télégramme de l’asile: « Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. » Cela ne veut rien dire. C’était peut-être hier. » (Mother died today. Or may be yesterday, I don’t know. I had a telegram from the home: ‘Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.’ That doesn’t mean anything. It may have been yesterday.) (Albert Camus, L’Étranger, ed, Ray Davison, London: Taylor & Francis, e-library, 2005.)

The figure of Meursault, who shuns introspection and is devoted to sensuous experience, reminds us of Joseph K’s promiscuity. Obviously Albert Camus has deepened the concept of indifference, which in Meursault is an unexplained mixture of inability to feel and protest against inauthentic emotion as visualised in the following thought of the last moment:

« Comme si cette grande colère m’avait purge du mal, vidé d’espoir, devant cette nuit chargée de signes et d’étoiles, je m’ouvrais pour la première fois à la tendre indifference du monde. De l’éprouver si pareil à moi, si fraternel enfin, j’ai senti que j’avais été heureux, et que je l’étais encore. » (As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And fmding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy.) (ibid, 2.5.98)

Camus’s concept of absurdity may be regarded as the reminiscent of the Stranger: the daily routine of work, which is rendered tolerable by habit, can trigger an onrush of futility; man lives for the future but ahead of him lies nothing but death; a landscape may by its very beauty indicate its indifference to man.

Now, let us turn to another absurdist literary piece Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett whose prime concern is absurdity of human existence and experience: it is realised that Godot cannot be made to represent any one idea, ideal or person, precisely because he represents an absence. Beckett perceives him to be the void at the centre of human existence. Even the tramps who wait for Godot as well as the wayfaring couple whom they encounter have no fixed individual identities, barring a few biological, temperamental and situational traits. They are perceived not as four distinct personalities but as two radically truncated and grossly generalised images of all ‘mankind’, which is expressed in an important portion of Lucky’s mad holocaust of phrases:

«— l’homme en bref enfin malgré les progrès de l’alimentation et de l’élimination des déchets est en train de maigrir—» (—man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine—) (Samuel Beckett, En Attendant Godot. 1.60, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1952)

Unable to take any significant action or initiative, they (the tramps) imply a pessimistic view of man as a helpless victim of his fate. The entire play woven with repetitions offers the same sequence: the tramps reunite, wait, contrive ways of passing time, encounter Pozzo and Lucky, receive Godot’s disappointing message, contemplate suicide, decide to leave and do not move; besides, it contains a variety of verbal repetitions, the most important of which are — ‘Rien à faire’ (‘Nothing to be done’) (ibid, 1.9) and ‘On attend Godot/Ah!’ (‘We are waiting for Godot/Ah!’) (ibid, 1.16)

Ultimately this nothingness and boredom shown by Estragon and Vladimir leads us to such an absurd state of mind, seen to be possessed by the persons like Joseph K and Meursault, in which human beings feel and sense many unexpected matters in their subdued minds to express and to protest but find nothing to be done. This sort of frustration and depressive mood has also been found to be prominent in Akhteruzzaman Elias’ the Soldier in an Attic in which Osman Gani alias Ranju has been seen to be so much engrossed in the nuances happening in his introvert life impounded by the four walls of a prison-like attic. He observes what is happening around; listens, joins the processions and the meetings; but does not do anything sincerely. His frustrated and obsessed mind finds no ideal place other than that attic. That is why, it is to be noted that in his dream he has expressed his sensuality even at his father’s funeral as he says in the first chapter:

‘—cold rainfall is happening on the thickened thighs of Sicilian miss world. Keeping it in the front masturbation can easily be done between the thighs under the blanket.’ (Translated in English by Mohammad Khabir Uddin, Aktheruzzaman Elias, Chilekothar Sepai/The Soldier in an Attic, Ch 1, p 1, Dhaka: The University Press Limited, 1986)

This absurd act of Osman reminds us of the promiscuity of Joseph K and Meursault’s obsession with the thinking of the women in the prison. However, through this novel, it is to be realised that Elias’ insight into the subtle aspects of human character, his use of physical and psychological details, his sarcastic treatment of hypocrisy are the indications of the latest consequences derived from the cumulative ideas and concepts piled up centuries after centuries into the minds of the intelligentsia of world literature.

In spite of being in the genre of absurdity these two exceptional masterminds like Eugène Ionesco and Patrick Modiano play their literary role breaking through the traditions of the absurdist mindset developed by their predecessors. If our attention is drawn to Ionesco we would observe that absurdist themes are pervasive in the Bald Soprano. In fact, the work is often critically mined to illustrate absurdist ideas and motifs. Chief among them in Ionesco’s play is the concept of entropy, or the tendency of order to decay into chaos. This collapse is reflected in the speech of the characters, which, in the course of the play, becomes increasingly dysfunctional, resulting in the total breakdown of language as a viable tool of human communication. That is why it has been observed that in the beginning of the play the speeches of different characters bearing whatever absurd meanings have at least been expressed in a complete structure; but the speeches of the same characters have been seen to be gradually turning into a small unit –a word, even a letter!—as reflected in the following comparison between the speech of Madame Smith in Scene I and the word pronounced by both Mr Martin and Mrs Smith in Scene XI:



Mme SMITH: Tiens, il est neuf heures. Nous avons mangé de la soupe, du poisson, des pommes de terre au lard, de la salade anglaise. Les enfants ont bu de l’eau anglaise. Nous avons bien mangé, ce soir. C’est parce que nous habitons dans les environs de Londres et que notre nom est Smith.

(Look, it is nine o’clock. We have eaten soup, fish, potatoes with lard, English salad. The children drank English water. This evening we have eaten well. This is because we live in the vicinity of London and our name is Smith.) (Ionesco, p 11)



M MARTIN: I! (around!)

Mme SMITH: Ci! (here!)

In one way or another, all significant examples of modern European literature, particularly since the First World War, respond to a world that seemed to be falling apart and becoming increasingly meaningless in the wake of the brutal advance of capitalism, rampant individualism and the consequent loss of community, large-scale devastations of the world wars, threat of a nuclear holocaust, and the destruction of the liberal traditions of hope and faith in man’s innate goodness, rationality and progress. In Ionesco’s literary work like the Bald Soprano a subjective and idealist response that contemplates the world in abstract philosophical terms and finds it not only unchanging but also unchangeable. It usually ends up accepting meaninglessness, loneliness and disintegration as the permanent and universal condition of human existence itself reflected in the concept of Le Pompier (the firefighter) in Scene X:

« Écoutez, c’est vrai… tout ça c’est très subjectif… mais ça c’est ma conception du monde. Mon rêve. Mon idéal… et puis ça me rappelle que je dois partir. Puisque vous n’avez pas l’heure, moi, dans trois quarts d’heure et seize minutes exactement j’ai un incendie, á l’autre bout de la ville. Il faut que je me dépêche. Bien que ce ne soit pas grand-chose. »

(Listen, it is true…all this, this is very subjective…but this, this is my conception of the world. My dream. My ideal…and then that reminds me that I have to leave. As you have no time I have to go within three quarters of an hour and sixteen minutes exactly to the other end of the city set on fire. I need to hurry. Though not much) (Ionesco, p 70)

Incapable of any significant action or initiative, they (the Smiths) imply an utterly pessimistic view of a human being as a helpless victim of his fate. The entire play woven with repetitions offers basically the same sequence: the smiths talking about silly matters, sitting in the same room, contriving ways of passing time, meaningless conversation between them and the Martins invited by them, the Martins start talking about the same things as mentioned by the Smiths in the first scene.

However, like many plays in the theatre of the absurd genre, the underlying theme of the Bald Soprano is not immediately apparent. Many suggest that it expresses the futility of meaningful communication in modern society. The script is charged with non sequiturs that give the impression that the characters are not even listening to each other in their frantic efforts to make their own voices heard. For a literary mastermind like Ionesco it is possible to create some sort of ultimate absurd feeling from the very title of the play the Bald Soprano as this title reflects nothing but absurdity throughout the subject-matter. The Bald Soprano in person exists nowhere; just it is mentioned in scene-X by the fire chief at the time of his turning to leave. But such mention has a very unsettling effect on the others. Mrs Smith replies that she always styles her hair the same way. After the Fire Chief’s exit, the play turns into such a series of complete non-sequiturs with no resemblance to normal conversation as having been observed throughout Scene XI:



Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès,

Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès, Kakatoès…

(Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo

Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo, Cockatoo)

(Ionesco, p75)



Quelle cacade,quelle cacade, quelle cacade, quelle cacade,

quelle cacade, quelle cacade, quelle cacade, quelle cacade,

quelle cacade…

(What a mess what a mess what a mess what a mess

what a mess what a mess what a mess what a mess what a mess)

(Ionesco, p 75)



Quelle cascade de cacades,quelle cascade de cacades,

quelle cascade de cacades, quelle cascade de cacades,

quelle cascade de cacades, quelle cascade de cacades,

quelle cascade de cacades, quelle cascade de cacades…

(peals of mess, peals of mess, peals of mess, peals of mess,

peals of mess, peals of mess, peals of mess, peals of mess)

(Ionesco, p 75)



Les cacaoyers des cacaoyrèes donnent pas des cacahuètes,

donnent du cacao! Les cacaoyers des cacaoyrèes donnent

pas des cacahuètes,donnent du cacao! Les cacaoyers

des cacaoyrèes donnent pas des cacahuètes,donnent du cacao!

(The cacao-trees of the cacao-plantations do not give any peanuts, give cacao!

the cacao-trees of the cacao-plantations do not give any peanuts, give cacao!

the cacao-trees of the cacao-plantations do not give any peanuts, give cacao!)

(Ionesco, p 76)

Such anomalies started getting prominent in literary form and style saturated with the ideas and visions of absurdity. That is why, in spite of Patrick Modiano’s being first novel, The place of the Star (La place de l’étoile) underlies the careful nonconformity and the nonchalant disposition that give also in some sort of abnormal way a deeper reverberation into the world of absurdity. Being one of Modiano’s trio in connection with L’Occupation, The place of the star has turned out to be the most frenetic. The novel in autobiographic manner recounts the story of Raphaël Schlemilovitch, a French Jew haunted by the war and thoughts of persecution just after the war, playing the role of the hero as well as the narrator telling the story in a hallucinatory manner. In his way of surviving or not surviving the holocaust Raphaël Schlemilovitch meets many famous European Jews and gentiles who have made history. Through his observing many lives in different places and provoking different personalities Raphaël Schlemilovitch has shown always a sarcastic attitude, resulting from accumulated pangs of paranoia, towards the characters as has been observed in the very beginning paragraph of the first part in which he himself shows how the others evaluate him.

« Je relis une dernière fois l’article que me consacra Léon Rabatête, dans un numéro special d’Ici la France: …Jusqu’à quand devrons-nous assister aux frasques de Raphaël Schlemilovitch? Jusqu’à quand ce Juif promènera-t-il impunément ses névroses et ses épilepsies, du Touquet au cap d’Antibes. de La Baule à Aix-les-Bains?Je pose une dernière fois la question:Jusqu’à quand les métèques de son espèce insulteront-ils les fils de France? Jusqu’à quand faudra-t-il se laver perpétuellement les mains, à cause de la poisse juive?… » Dans le même journal, le docteur Bardamu éructait sur mon compte: «…Schlemilovitch? … Ah! la moisissure de ghettos terriblement puante!… pâmoison chiotte!… Foutriquet prépuce!… arsouille libano-ganaque!… rantanplan… Vlan!… Contemplez donc ce gigolo Yiddish… cet effréné empaffeur de petites Aryennes!… avorton infiniment négroïde!… cet Abyssin frénétique jeune nabab!… A l’aide!… qu’on l’étripe… le châtre!… Délivrez le docteur d’un pareil spectacle… qu’on le crucifie, nom de Dieu!… Rastaquouère des cocktails infâmes… youtre des palaces internationaux!… des partouzes made in Haifa!… Cannes!… Davos!… Capri et tutti quanti!… grands bordels extrêmement hébraïques!… Délivrez-nous de ce circoncis muscadin!… ses Maserati rose salomon!… ses yachts façon Tibériade!… Ses cravats Sinaï!… que les Aryennes ses esclaves lui arrachent le gland!… avec leurs belles quenottes de chez nous… leurs mains mignonnes… lui crèvent les yeux!… sus au calife!… Révolte du harem chértien!… Vite!… Viite… refus de lui lécher les testicules!… lui faire des mignardises contre des dollars!… Libérez-vous!… du cran, Madelon!… autrement, le docteur, il va pleurer!… se consumer!… affreuse injustice!… Complot du Sanhédrin!… On en veut à la vie du Docteur!… Croyez-moi!… le Consistoire!… la Banque Rothschild!… Cahen d’Anvers!… Schlemilovitch… aidez Bardamu, fillettes!… au secours!…»    

(Rereading an article about me written by Léon Rabatête in a special edition of Ici la France: ‘…how long do we have to suffer the antics of Raphäel Schlemilovitch? How long can this Jew brazenly flaunt his neuroses and his paroxysms with impunity from le Touquet to Cap d’Antibes, from le Baule to Aix-les-Bains? Once again, I ask: how long can dagos of his ilk be allowed to insult the sons of France? How long must we go on washing our hands of this Jewish scum…?’ Writing about me in the same newspaper, Doctor Bardamu spluttered: ‘…Schlemilovitch?… Ah, the foul-smelling mould of the ghettos!… that shithouse lothario!… runt of a foreskin!… Lebano-ganaque scumbag!… rat-a-tat… wham!… Consider this the Yiddish gigolo…this rampant arsefucker of Aryan girls!… this brazenly Negroid abortion!… frenzied Abyssinian young nabob!… Help!… La-di-da-di-da!… rip his guts out… hack his balls off!… Preserve the doctor from this spectacle!… in the name of God, crucify him!… this foreign trash with his filthy cocktails… this Jewboy with his international palaces!… his orgies made in Haifa!… Cannes!…Davos!… Capri e tutti quanti!… vast devoutly Hebrew brothels!… Preserve us from this circumcised fop!… from his salmon-pink Maserati!… his Sea of Galilee yachts!… his Sinai neckties!… may his Aryan slave girls rip off his prick!… with their perfect French teeth… their delicate little hands… gorge out his eyes!… death to the caliph!… Revolution in the Christian harem!… Quick!… Quick!… refuse to lick his balls!… to pander to him for his dollars!… Free yourselves!… stay strong, Madelon… otherwise you’ll have the Doctor sobbing!… wasting away!… oh hideous injustice!… It’s a plot by the Sanhedrin!… They want the Doctor dead! Take my word for it!… the Israelite Central Consisttory!… the Rothschild Bank!… Cahen d; Anvers… Schlemilovitch!… help doctor Bardamu, my little girls!…save me!…’)

(Modiano,1968, Ch I: p 13–15) 

Therefore, observing the literary works either created or simulated partially or translated from the pre-Christian era up to the twentieth century, it is truly felt that all these special literary works produced either orally or in written form tend to analyse the aspects of the human race enlivened and stirred up by the essence of religions, mythologies, stories and legends of heroism to uphold ultimately the soul of the whole humanity. In order to do that massive analysis on their literary works it is urgent to fathom the depth of the origin hidden into the unseen past, though the whole mankind has been so far able to feel just the heartbeats of the generations left five thousand years back, let alone reach the origin. Yet the least portion of that massive analysis done for generations after generations may be regarded as a great achievement of the literary genius of world literature. Willing to enjoy the vastness of that achievement, I do try to engage myself in tracing at least a thread-like link that may have been able to connect some interrelated common ideas prevailing into religions, mythologies, pantheism, heroism, individualism, absurdity borne in the minds of different generations from that oral past to the last decade of the twentieth century with the vast canopy of world literature.

It is true that all these literary elements of religions, mythologies, pantheistic views, heroism, individualism and absurdity could not partake of an entity of the same generation as the mind-set of one generation, influenced by the changing lifestyles and thinking levels, led naturally the next generations to another level of mind-set. So, it is realised that the literary mind-set of the pre-Christian era to the pre-medieval era with its changing effects led itself to the literary mind-set of the medieval era to the era of 18th century, thus leading ultimately the whole previous generation to the ultramodern literary mind-set where even absurdity is allowed for the literary genius to disseminate whatever they can see, feel and sense through their literary works. Although the absurdists are conscious of the knowledge of religions, mythologies, pantheism, heroism, they are prone to maintain the balance between the reality and the imagination based on their own neutral analyses to trace the dignified position of the humanity in this world. Finally, it is to say that if literary elements of such concepts as religions, mythologies, pantheism, heroism, individualism, absurdity, prevailing in some literary works of different times, are intermingled, it would be quite possible to trace a common thread — upholding the dignified and individualistic position of human beings — worthy to be woven into the expandable canopy of world literature.



Mohammad Khabir Uddin is an instructor of English and French and a researcher.

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