Gnosco: A Book That Has Made A Difference To You
(Ta-Da! Took my own picture this time! My abused copy)
Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth
I’m naturally a book hound, so I usually take to just about every book. It’s not hard finding a book I like, because I’ll read anything – from picture books to the Taber’s medical dictionary (I used to actually take it to middle school to read it, how weird). However, really bonding with a book is different. I’ll refer you to the image above, one of the most abused books in my collection. It’s also highlighted inside, a crime I would now consider punishable by death or at least a severe staring-at in a disappointed fashion.
I’ve had this since I was just a little kid, no idea how old but it was probably early elementary. I fell in love with it the first time I read it, and I read it again. And again. And again. The novelty never seemed to wear off. I loved the idea that someone could be suddenly enlightened by knowledge, words, and thoughts in such a… literal way. The representation of everything how it was delighted me, unsurprisingly, and I always seemed to find something new every time I read it. I would understand the existence of new words the next time around, and something new would make sense – “Aha! It isn’t just a made up thing!” But of course, just about everything in the book has a real-world counterpart. So the development began; first was the terrible Dynne and the awful Rauw (just noise), the Doldrums and Lethargians (who knew they were named for real things), and many more.
In the end, the story was captivating due to the idea of a world of words and letters as tangible things, watchdogs with real clocks, food that made you hungrier, and machines powered by unusual means such as silence (rather, it goes without saying). It was a kind of wonderful I couldn’t explain… and I can’t anymore either. The last time I read it, or tried, I put it down in the first few chapters, chalked it up to over-tiredness, and shelved it away. Perhaps its era is gone. However, it made a difference to me, that long ago.
“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”
-Albert Camus, L’Étranger
This week, I will be discussing a book that has made a difference to me. One of the first ones that come to mind is Albert Camus’ The Stranger, or L’Étranger. Reading this book in High School was one of the main provocations that got me into philosophy (and made me appreciate literature a little more), and then put me on the path of determining whether or not the lives that we lead really mean anything, and if we should even care. I care a little a bit, but I mean, we really shouldn’t. Things simply are, and “so it goes.” The Stranger was the pebble on the poorly constructed rock path in backwoods that led to rabbit hole where I got lost in Kierkegaard, Sartre, Nietzsche, and all the other big existential players. With The Stranger Albert Camus presents us with a short novel on the basics of nihilism and existentialism. I could talk about this book all day, probably ramble on for 20+ pages, but here is a short, brief, ambiguous write up that probably wont do anything justice. The main theme is the fact that since every one of us dies, it should be obvious that when and how don’t matter at all. Live your life accordingly.
The book follows the character Meursault, whose mother dies in the beginning of the book. Being the nihilist that Meursault turns out to be, he shrugs off the incident, as it is just that, and nothing more. He meets a young lady named Marie. They hit it off. Soon enough, Marie asks to Meursault if he would like to get married. Since nothing means anything, Meursault doesn’t see what the difference is, and he goes along with it. In comes Raymond. Raymond befriends Meursault, and later Raymond gets arrested for smacking around his girlfriend, who he found out was acting rather scandalously behind his back. With Meursault’s help, Raymond gets off free. Once out, Raymond’s girlfriend’s brother is looking for justice, and the brother and his group stab Raymond. Later at the beach, Meursault, carrying a gun, happens to run into one of the fellows that stabbed Raymond. He decides that whether or not he shoots this man, it doesn’t make a difference. So he shoots him. Meursault gets arrested and thrown in prison. He’s given the death penalty, of sorts. Before he goes to die, a chaplain visits him giving him the chance to accept salvation from God. With this, Meursault snaps to an extent, and shares his view of life- the truth that everything is meaningless, he did some things, he didn’t do others things, and none of it means anything, a kind of “fuck you, don’t try and save me now, I only have a little bit longer to live and I’m not going to waste it on your god” to the chaplain. Right before Meursault dies, he finds peace in the fact that it’s all about to end for him, and the universe will truly, not even notice.
Life is meaningless, and that should be an obvious truth. What you have done in your life, and what you haven’t done, really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of everything. Technically there isn’t “bad” or “good,” there are simply things and events. When you realize this and use your meaty paws and wrestle it to the ground and come to terms with it, you become as Meursault, who was “The Stranger.” He was different than everyone he came into contact with; his philosophy and views were unfamiliar to those around him and that made him a stranger to his immediate society.