August 18, 2006

Even More On Bush And Camus

The Daily Show's John Stewart on Bush and Camus (YouTube video).

And more commentary compiled by Adam Christian at Slate. One reader speculates that W.'s choice may have been inspired by mention of the novel in Talladega Nights, a new NASCAR comedy.

This interpretation is good:
The most interesting aspect of the novel is why Mersault is put to death. It isn't because he killed Arabs, which was rarely met with the death penalty. Rather it was his lack of compassion and explanation of his motives to the demanding public. Ultimately he was killed because he showed no sadness for the death of his mother. The public viewed him as inhuman. Bush is persecuted like Mersault not because he is a "remorseless killer of Arabs", but because he doesn't engage the public to explain himself. Bill Clinton also killed Arabs (e.g. bombing a "chemical weapons" plant/hospital in the Sudan) during his last year in office. However, he was an excellent communicator of emotions- he felt my pain. Of course, Bill would find more literary parallels with Willy Loman than Mersault.

Mersault is perhaps one of the most complex characters in modern literature, but to the mob that shouted for his death he would have been viewed as a Bush-like moron.
But then the writer suggests that MAYBE "behind Bush's façade is a deeper, stoic intellectual who connects with a character publicly persecuted for his taciturn nature." Naahhh! Sorry, dude - you haven't been paying attention!

Also at Slate, John Dickerson urges Tony Snow to be more forthcoming about Bush's reading matter:
This is no time to be vague. The president uttered the word "crusade" a single time when talking about fighting terrorists and critics in Europe and the Middle East still use it as proof that his war aims are motivated by 11th-century wide-eyed religious zealotry. Surely someone is going to think that Bush read the book because he identifies with Meursault. There's got to be another explanation. Does his experience in Iraq push him to read works replete with themes of angst, anxiety, and dread? Was the president trying to gain insight into the thinking of Europeans who are skeptical of his plan for democracy in the Middle East, founded as it is on the idea of a universal rational essence that existentialists reject? Did he just want to read something short for his truncated vacation? This may be the first time that national security demands an official version of literary criticism. We want a book report!
See my original prize-winning post here.

UPDATE: Here is the angle on the Talladega Nights connection:
In short, [Ricky Bobby is] a blown-up version of NASCAR’s mentality, and, by extension, red-state America’s, and the movie manages to point out his foibles without losing its affection for him. Satire like this is hard to do without coming off as shrill or mean. This movie pulls it off in style, with Ferrell’s brilliance and charm leading the way.

Nowhere is this clearer than when Ricky Bobby is brought low by Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Ali G), a gay French driver who has made the switch from Formula One racing to NASCAR for the express purpose of beating the American, which he proceeds to do in humiliating fashion. Everything about Jean is calculated to affront Ricky Bobby and what he stands for; the Frenchman listens to opera, drinks espresso macchiato, and reads Albert Camus — all while he’s racing! Ridiculous and effeminate, Jean is nevertheless a worthy match for Ricky Bobby, both as a driver and a trash-talker. “What has America given ze world besides George Bush and Cheerios?” he sniffs. “[The French] have given ze world democracy, existentialism, and ze ménage à trois.”


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