19 Feb Don Juanism (ALBERT CAMUS) | Part C’
To a conscious man old age and what it portends are not a surprise. Indeed, he is conscious only in so far as he does not conceal its horror from himself.
There was in Athens a temple dedicated to old age. Children were taken there.
As for Don Juan, the more people laugh at him, the more his figure stands out. Thereby he rejects the one the romantics lent him. No one wants to laugh at that tormented, pitiful Don Juan. He is pitied; heaven itself will redeem him? But that’s not it.
In the universe of which Don Juan has a glimpse, ridicule too is included. He would consider it normal to be chastised. That is the rule of the game. And, indeed, it is typical of his nobility to have accepted all the rules of the game. Yet he knows he is right and that there can be no question of punishment. A fate is not a punishment.
That is his crime, and how easy it is to understand why the men of God call down punishment on his head. He achieves a knowledge without illusions which negates everything they profess. Loving and possessing, conquering and consuming—that is his way of knowing. (There is significance in that favorite Scriptural word that calls the carnal act “knowing.”)
He is their worst enemy to the extent that he is ignorant of them. A chronicler relates that the true Burlador died assassinated by Fransciscans who wanted “to put an end to the excesses and blasphemies of Don Juan, whose birth assured him impunity.” Then they proclaimed that heaven had struck him down. No one has proved that strange end. Nor has anyone proved the contrary.
But without wondering if it is probable, I can say that it is logical.
I want merely to single out at this point the word “birth” and to play on words: it was the fact of living that assured his innocence. It was from death alone that he derived a guilt now become legendary.
What else does that stone Commander signify, that cold statue set in motion to punish the blood and courage that dared to think?
All the powers of eternal Reason, of order, of universal morality, all the foreign grandeur of a God open to wrath are summed up in him.
That gigantic and soulless stone merely symbolizes the forces that Don Juan negated forever. But the Commander’s mission stops there. The thunder and lightning can return to the imitation heaven whence they were called forth.
The real tragedy takes place quite apart from them. No, it was not under a stone hand that Don Juan met his death. I am inclined to believe in the legendary bravado, in that mad laughter of the healthy man provoking a nonexistent God.
But, above all, I believe that on that evening when Don Juan was waiting at Anna’s the Commander didn’t come, and that after midnight the blasphemer must have felt the dreadful bitterness of those who have been right.
I accept even more readily the account of his life that has him eventually burying himself in a monastery. Not that the edifying aspect of the story can he considered probable.
What refuge can he go ask of God? But this symbolizes rather the logical outcome of a life completely imbued with the absurd, the grim ending of an existence turned toward short lived joys. At this point sensual pleasure winds up in asceticism.
It is essential to realize that they may be, as it were, the two aspects of the same destitution.
What more ghastly image can be called up than that of a man betrayed by his body who, simply because he did not die in time, lives out the comedy while awaiting the end, face to face with that God he does not adore, serving him as he served life, kneeling before a void and arms outstretched toward a heaven without eloquence that he knows to he also without depth?
I see Don Juan in a cell of one of those Spanish monasteries lost on a hilltop. And if he contemplates anything at all, it is not the ghosts of past loves, but perhaps, through a narrow slit in the sunbaked wall, some silent Spanish plain, a noble, soulless land in which he recognizes himself. Yes, it is on this melancholy and radiant image that the curtain must be rung down.
The ultimate end, awaited but never desired, the ultimate end is negligible.
The Myth of Sysiphus