Chestertown, Camus and Otherness with Alice Kaplan


If it were not for the fact that Chestertown’s very own James M. Cain had penned The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1934, Albert Camus’s classic novel, L’Étranger (The Stranger), would never have been written. That is one of the conclusions that Alice Kaplan, professor and former chair of the Department of French at Yale University, shared with Washington College students earlier this week during her brief stay on the Mid-Shore.

And also one of many insights that Kaplan provides in her latest book, Looking for The Stranger, on Camus, and the power and influence the novel has had on generations of young people around the world since it was published in 1942.

The novel tells the story of Meursault, an indifferent and remote French Algerian, who returns home to attend his mother’s funeral, only to find himself a few days later killing an Arab man during an unanticipated fight with a friend. The main character is then placed on trial, where he is regarded as a dangerous stranger to society, not becuae of his crime, but due to his perceived lack of grief over his mother’s passing.

While there has been an ongoing academic debate about Camus’ philosophy of the absurd with The Stranger, what Kaplan zeros in on is the intentional lack of interest or compassion Camus provides for the dead Arab, by never giving him a name nor a personal history. It is this sense of “otherness” that holds such a contemporary interest for her, even seventy-four years since it was published, as American politics and policies must deal directly with issues related to outsiders.

The Spy sat down with Professor Kaplan at the Custom House in Chestertown this week to discuss Albert Camus, The Stranger, and the true meaning of being on the outside.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. Alice Kaplan’s book can be found at local bookstores or on Amazon here

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