Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Camus' strange translations
If ever there was a book that changed my perspective on life it was Albert Camus' "The Stranger."
It caught my eye on a roommate's bookshelf while I was down with the flu at college in 1979 for no other reasons than it having been thin and had the appearance of being really easy to read.
The novel first published in 1942 ended up being so fascinating that I finished it within the course of a day. At first, I was mortified that the title character, Meursault, was tried and executed in France in a murder for reasons that had more to do with his seemingly emotionless existence than the circumstances surrounding the revenge killing.
The author also had me romanticizing about wanting live out my life as an existentialist without having to conform and react to drama in the normal patterns accepted by society.
Little did I know then that this book was considered a classic by academia. That revelation would soon follow after I heard student after student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania complain about how much they hated the book.
Suddenly I felt as if I belonged to a secret society whose members understood that great literature was being ignored for no other reason than it having been required reading for a college class.
Years later, I decided to read the book again, only to find a much different modern translation, which was supposed to be closer to the words Camus originally penned in the book also known as "L’Étranger"
Meursault had suddenly been transformed from a likable character into a cold-blooded killer who, at the end, exhibited emotions that would have made a Roman Catholic priest cringe with pain.
Yet, I was able to forgive the earlier translator who had given America a sanitized version of the book. It still had enough of Camus in it then to reawaken in me a passion for reading that might have otherwise died with those damned, dull books I had to read that summer in a civics class.