17 Feb Don Juanism (ALBERT CAMUS) | Part A’
f it were sufficient to love, things would be too easy. The more one loves, the stronger the absurd grows. It is not through lack of love that Don Juan goes from woman to woman. It is ridiculous to represent him as a mystic in quest of total love. But it is indeed because he loves them with the same passion and each time with his whole self that he must repeat his gift and his profound quest. Whence each woman hopes to give him what no one has ever given him. Each time they are utterly wrong and merely manage to make him feel the need of that repetition. “At last,” exclaims one of them, “I have given you love.” Can we be surprised that Don Juan laughs at this? “At last? No,” he says, “but once more.” Why should it be essential to love rarely in order to love much?
Is Don Juan melancholy? This is not likely. I shall barely have recourse to the legend. That laugh, the conquering insolence, that playfulness and love of the theater are all clear and joyous.
Every healthy creature tends to multiply himself. So it is with Don Juan. But, furthermore, melancholy people have two reasons for being so: they don’t know or they hope.
Don Juan knows and does not hope. He reminds one of those artists who know their limits, never go beyond them, and in that precarious interval in which they take their spiritual stand enjoy all the wonderful ease of masters.
And that is indeed genius: the intelligence that knows its frontiers. Up to the frontier of physical death Don Juan is ignorant of melancholy. The moment he knows, his laugh bursts forth and makes one forgive everything. He was melancholy at the time when he hoped.
Today, on the mouth of that woman he recognizes the bitter and comforting taste of the only knowledge. Bitter? Barely: that necessary imperfection that makes happiness perceptible!
It is quite false to try to see in Don Juan a man brought up on Ecclesiastes. For nothing is vanity to him except the hope of another life. He proves this because he gambles that other life against heaven itself.
Longing for desire killed by satisfaction, that commonplace of the impotent man, does not belong to him. That is all right for Faust, who believed in God enough to sell himself to the devil. For Don Juan the thing is simpler.
Molina’s Burlador ever replies to the threats of hell: “What a long respite you give me!”
What comes after death is futile, and what a long succession of days for whoever knows how to be alive!
Faust craved worldly goods; the poor man had only to stretch out his hand. It already amounted to selling his soul when he was unable to gladden it.
As for satiety, Don Juan insists upon it, on the contrary. If he leaves a woman it is not absolutely because he has ceased to desire her. A beautiful woman is always desirable. But he desires another, and no, this is not the same thing.
This life gratifies his every wish, and nothing is worse than losing it.
This madman is a great wise man.
But men who live on hope do not thrive in this universe where kindness yields to generosity, affection to virile silence, and communion to solitary courage. And all hasten to say: “He was a weakling, an idealist or a saint.” One has to disparage the greatness that insults.
People are sufficiently annoyed (or that smile of complicity that debases what it admires) by Don Juan’s speeches and by that same remark that he uses on all women. But to anyone who seeks quantity in his joys, the only thing that matters is efficacy. What is the use of complicating the passwords that have stood the test? No one, neither the woman nor the man, listens to them, but rather to the voice that pronounces them. They are the rule, the convention, and the courtesy.
After they are spoken the most important still remains to be done. Don Juan is already getting ready for it. Why should he give himself a problem in morality? He is not like Milosz’s Manara, who damns himself through a desire to be a saint. Hell for him is a thing to be provoked. He has but one reply to divine wrath, and that is human honor: “I have honor,” he says to the Commander, “and I am keeping my promise because I am a knight.”
But it would be just as great an error to make an immoralist of him.
In this regard, he is “like everyone else”: he has the moral code of his likes and dislikes. Don Juan can be properly understood only by constant reference to what he commonly symbolizes: the ordinary seducer and the sexual athlete. He is an ordinary seducer. Except for the difference that he is conscious, and that is why he is absurd.
The Myth of Sysiphus