L'Etranger

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Reading Simone de Beauvoir’s memoir, Force of Circumstance, I see Camus and I have a lot in common. The idea that L'Etranger not crying at his mother’s funeral made him suspect … Camus seems to be celebrating stoicism among other qualities. Beauvoir is suspicious of him, because he seems to identify, at times, as a colonial, rather than as a true leftist. Beauvoir especially doesn’t like the pieds-noirs, which of course she is right to dislike. They are naturally opposed to her feminism. I have experienced similar opposition. She is sufficiently detached from their cultural milieu to find the obnoxious behavior amusing, whereas I was never so removed.

I think the reason why emotions are considered manipulative is because in a setting of relative affluence and not much objective hardship, emotions are cheaply expressed. Perhaps one does stand to risk much, objectively, by giving full rein to one’s emotions.

In my case, there was much more at stake. The colonial order is very rigid, and is kept in place by an embargo on emotions, male and female. To express an emotion is to destroy the whole social order — if not externally, then at least in one’s head. I had learned to keep it all inside and walk around rigid and stiff.

Because of this, I can’t understand the relationship Western people have with their emotions. Certainly, I would love them tone it down rather than create unnecessary disputes. I take communication very seriously and never dismiss anything as “merely an outburst of emotion”.

At the same time, I also wonder how much of what I’ve said over the years has been to various degrees misinterpreted because of Western (not just American) norms. If emotions are cheap, and the more so the more they are expressed, perhaps my increasing assertions about the urgency of my situation were ignored the more I turned the volume up.

It seems everything works in the reverse way to how one would expect. Communication rarely works at all, but different sorts of gesture, if already part of the cultural milieu, can be effective.
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