Jean-Paul Sartre on Camus’ Stranger as Mental vs. Physical Being

If we are able to refuse the misleading aid of religion or of existential philosophies, we then possess certain basic, obvious facts: the world is chaos, a “divine equivalence born of anarchy”; tomorrow does not exist, since we all die. “In a universe suddenly deprived of light and illusions, man feels himself an outsider. This exile is irrevocable, since he has no memories of a lost homeland and no hope of a promised land.” The reason is that man is not the world. “If I were a tree among other trees . . . this life would have a meaning, or rather this problem would have none, for I would be part of this world. I would be this world against which I set myself with my entire mind . . . It is preposterous reason which sets me against all creation.” This explains, in part, the title of our novel; the outsider is man confronting the world. M. Camus might as well have chosen the title of one of George Gissing’s works, Born in Exile. The outsider is also man among men. “There are days when . . . you find that the person you’ve loved has become a stranger.” The stranger is, finally, myself in relation to myself, that is, natural man in relation to mind: “The stranger who, at certain moments, confronts us in a mirror.”

SOURCE: Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Camus’ The Outsider” (February 1943), in Literary and Philosophical Essays, translated by Annette Michelson (New York: Collier Books, 1962 [1955]), pp. 26-44. This quotation, p. 29. Quotes in text from The Myth of Sisyphus. The novel is known in the USA as The Stranger.

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