Do you think with your head or with your heart?
Well, you can have both with the English Romantic or the Absurd philosopher. These two gentlemen turned the world upside-down with the magic of words and language. This week, please have to hand an English tea pot and a scone or a cigarette and a trilby as these literary gods guide us through the deepest darkest depths of our minds…or do they?
A century apart, yet side-by-side on my bookshelf. At a first glance Keats and Camus seem to be positioned at opposite ends of the emotion spectrum, however, if you squint a little bit you will find an exploration of mythology, the love of discovery and a witty sense of individualism still alive in their works (but don’t squint too much otherwise you won’t be able to read my blog).
“Oh what a mad endeavour”
May I present to you John Keats (1795-1821); a quintessentially, born and bred son of England. He grew up in the London of status and titles where you had to know somebody to be somebody. Originally destined as a surgeon, yet the gloves did not fit. However much he tried to ignore it, there was always an ultimatum between using the heart for surgery or for words. He decided to use his hands for a different chemin: the one and only love of poetry. In 1814 Keats started to write and write but as any genius will tell you the crowd didn’t get it (just ask Einstein). In retrospect I just don’t know why…wouldn’t we all write a Sonnet to a cat if we had the chance?
“That ye may love in spite of beaver hats”
Keats held the keys to the Romantic era; they were just snatched away from him too soon at the young age of 25. On return from a walk in the British Isles he contracted tuberculosis and left behind his prophetic master pieces. Keats had and still has the skill to take the reader into another world. From the “roots of relish sweet” to the “throne of gold/Among the Gods, upon Olympus old” we are tossed and turned in a faery world. Vraiment, chapeau to monsieur Keats as he saves us from the dreaded world of the kindle…
I forgot to mention a little element, his lover Fanny Brawne…so much ambiguity revolves around their relationship that I think a clip will suffice.
Warning: it is rather dry at the beginning but wait for the CASSE at the end…
“Le monde n'est plus qu’un paysage inconnu”
Albert Camus (1913-1960): a man of wisdom. Ok, so technically pied-noir but I do believe this man has more French culture running through his veins than the receptionist at the Louvre. Similarly to Keats, a change of path was imminent…this time from the goal keeper gloves to the fountain pen. Yes that’s right, our man Camus was on the road to football success until…tuberculosis in 1930. This turned any emotion he wrote about into a journey of the Absurd and even an exploration of the word itself.
“J'étais toujours pris par ce qui allait arriver, par aujourd’hui ou par demain”
Jumping from Marxism to Anarchism to Neo-Platonism, Camus’ anti-label method allowed him to form a finding of his own: the Absurd. Best summed up in his own words: “If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has a meaning” (1943)...(Sorry, it doesn’t sound as philosophical in English). You and I know that however many times we read L’Étranger we still come to a different conclusion of our friend Meursault. But maybe that is what the Absurd is, judging the life of a person, even though he is a character… I’m starting to sound like a certain roman emperor in Caligula so I better stop…Overall, Camus taught us the “individuality of experience” and we must thank him by exploring what has not yet been found.
“And what is love?”
Well the resemblance of these two is just uncanny. Both dipped their toes in Roman and Greek mythology. One performed surgery on love, the other planned team tactics for philosophy. The French/English labels are mixed as the English had the romance whilst the French had the logic…all I have to say is, was Keats the last of the English roses?
and was Camus the last to save our vie en rose?
Next week we revisit our childhood: Jean de La Fontaine vs. Rudyard Kipling