Hemingway and Camus: Construction of Meaning and Truth
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Hemingway and Camus: Construction
of Meaning and Truth
Once we knew that literature was about
life and criticism was about fiction--and everything was simple. Now we
know that fiction is about other fiction, is criticism in fact, or metaphor.
And we know that criticism is about the impossibility of anything being
about life, really, or even about fiction, or finally about anything. Criticism
has taken the very idea of "aboutness" away from us. It has taught us that
language is tautological, if it is not nonsense, and to the extent that
it is about anything it is about itself.
One of the fascinations of reading literature
comes when we discover in a work patterns that have heretofore been overlooked.
We are the pattern finders who get deep enjoyment from the discovery of
patterns in a text. And true to the calling we have noticed a pattern in
and around A Farewell to Arms which, to our knowledge, no one has seen
before. Although there are many editions of the novel, and as a result
the pagination is slightly different in various editions, it is the case
that all editions have forty-one chapters to be found in five books. Here
is what we have discovered: if you multiply 41 by 5 you get 205. And now
if you take the number of letters in Frederic's name (8) and add that to
the number of letters in Catherine's name (9) you get 17. 205 + 17 = 222.
And if you grant that the time of the events in the novel, counted properly,
is three years, then the pattern we have discovered starts to emerge as
figure on ground or as lemon juice ink on a secret message when held over
a candle. For what is the product of 222 and 3 but the infamous 666 of
Imagine now our delight when we discovered
a similar 666 pattern in The Outsider. If you multiply the number of letters
in Meursault's name times the number of letters in 'Albert' times the number
of letters in 'Arab' you get 216. Add to that the 6 of 'Albert' and multiply
by 3 (which is the number one gets when dividing the number of chapters
in Part one (6) by the number of books (2) that make up The Outsider) and
surprise of surprises: the meaning revealing number '666' once again emerges!
Clearly, when seen in this light, these
two novels take on new meaning, and this pattern discovery provides a conclusive
way to counter all earlier critics who have failed to see this talisman
of interpretation, this key to understanding the complexities of Hemingway's
A Farewell to Arms and Camus's The Outsider. '666' offers a key to understanding
in that it clearly refers us back to the text which these texts are "playing"
with and are in some way about, if "aboutness" is a viable concept and
if they are about anything at all. "Wait a minute, here!" shouts Bickford
Sylvester, "there is some nonsense even Hemingway scholars will not condone."
And of course this pattern of 666 is a bit of nonsense which could be discovered
almost anywhere by someone forcing the facts into the pattern. Good 666
sleuths can find that devilish number anywhere; if you don't believe us
just ask the soap company. But what are the legitimate limits to interpretations?
Does anything count? How can we know when the interpretation we are working
on or reading has slipped into the realm of nonsense?
There are facts to be observed by the act
of looking at the text and then there are interpretations to be deduced
using those facts plus everything else one knows about what counts as a
fact and what is to be counted as important in producing a coherent and
consistent reading. Just as there are different interpretations of quantum
theory which must deal with the same facts (taking a fact to be what is)
there are different interpretations of A Farewell to Arms and The Outsider.
In fact, the difference between science and art may be teased out just
here: when a scientific interpretation becomes the accepted one it achieves
a privileged status (e.g., evolution), but in art it seems that the more
interpretations a work inspires and grounds the more privileged its status.
Gerry Brenner argues that "a masterwork is a text that generates a wide
array of divergent readings" and certainly on that criterion both of these
novels are to