Monday, August 31, 2009

The Little-Ease

Outside of the Bible, the best depiction of the natural state of man that I have ever read comes from the French existentialist Albert Camus and his brilliant novel called The Fall.


Through the main character of Jean-Baptiste, Camus explores the effect of guilt on man. “The idea that comes most naturally to man, as if from his very nature,” he writes, “is the idea of his own innocence.” The implication being that every man is guilty, while only seeking to continually convey a state of innocence.


For a while, Jean-Baptiste “succeeds” in his life as most other men–being popular, learned, athletic and handsome. Until he fails to save a drowning girl one late night on the Seine, his life is “bursting with vanity” and “satisfied with nothing.“ Camus writes, “a single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.”


After “the fall” on that late night, Jean-Baptiste is overcome by an irrepressible admission of guilt. In failing to do what he knows he should, his awakened conscience is so flooded with guilt that despair overtakes his entire existence.


The admitting of his guilt is an admission into the little-ease.


The little-ease was a unique torture device that was devised in the Middle Ages. In a cell “not high enough to stand up in, nor yet wide enough to lie down in,” explains Camus, “one had to take on an awkward manner and live on the diagonal; sleep was a collapse, and waking a squatting.” As one’s body would stiffen, “the condemned man learned that he was guilty and that innocence consists in stretching joyously.” Therefore, if the little-ease produced any certain effect on its occupant it was an inescapable and unbearable awareness of guilt.


Sadly, Camus’ Jean-Baptiste only confirms the sentence of guilt in the little-ease while offering no way of escape. Men “merely wish to be pitied and encouraged in the course we had chosen,” and any escape from the little-ease is for him only a temporal distraction from an eternal condition. At the end of the novel his character admits, “I haven’t changed my way of life; I continue to love myself and make use of others.” Only now, his motivation and life’s work is to quench the guilt within, to quiet his screaming conscience, to forget (if only momentarily) that he can neither fully rise nor lie without being aware of his trapped and desperate condition.


Imagine, for yourself, life in the little-ease.


Inescapable…

Uncomfortable…

Horrifying…

Dark…

Isolated…

Quiet…

Frightened…

Painful…

Alone…

Hopelessness…

Insanity…


Death.


Have you ever been to the little-ease?


If so, if you’ve ever really felt the crippling, damning effect of the little-ease and then by some strange miracle, some extraordinary occurrence, some unforeseen moment, the door to your little-ease were opened for you and blinding light shown in, and you were delivered, set free and allowed to “stretch joyously”…just imagine that.


Then why, freed soul, to the little-ease would you ever return?

2 comments:

Hal Brunson said...

Beautiful, powerful, and heart-touching. Thank you.

The Militant Pacifist said...

Why indeed...