My Summer Reading Journal

August 4: For my summer vacation, I decided to read The Stranger by Albert Camus (in American). I decided this for a couple reasons. For one, there was this other book Terror and Liberalism I was listening to while I was jogging a while back, where it says Sayyid Qutb and that Zawahiri fella are like the evil bearded Mirror Universe versions of Albert here, who's big on freedom. Even turns out I already quoted him once about how democracy's a "long distance race." And the war on terror? That's a war of ideas. So we need to know what kind of philosophy we should be dropping on the bad guys' caves.

Another reason, salt of the earth folk like me who never read any Camus or Jacques Derrida or Gerard Depardieu, we're always getting our noses rubbed in it by all these snooty elites. This should show them. At least maybe they'll shut up about the goddamn goat book.

Anyways, I was going to start it in bed last night, but Laura had been going on about how she loved L'Etranger, which got me so worked up I forgot it. Except then she came in just wearing that frumpy cotton nightgown. Go figure. So I'll start tomorrow.

August 5: The Stranger is narrated by Mister Meursault. At the start of the book, his mother dies. That made me sad at first, but he didn't seem so sad. Maybe he was cheesed off at her for something. Like, maybe her best friend and former national security adviser was going around criticizing Meursault's foreign policy in The Wall Street Journal, when Meursault is supposed to be the decider! But he doesn't say anything about that. Actually, he doesn't seem to be much of a decider-type. So maybe it's something else. Nothing yet about spreading democracy.

August 6: Meursault seems to spend lots of time hanging around drinking and smoking, making friends with this pimp Raymond, and taking his new girl Marie to bed. Which normally I'd frown on, but a guy's entitled to his youthful indiscretions. What impressed me, though, was how he was all ready to marry Marie even though he didn't think he loved her. Need to get someone to look into the marriage promotion initiative they must've had running in Algiers.

August 7: Here comes the action! Meursault has a fight with some Arab guys, and then shoots one of them on this beach just because, and then everyone turns against him -- boy howdy, tell me about it! It was sort of a preemptive strike, but the guy he shot even had a knife out. But at the trial, they don't even talk about that, just about how cold he was at Mom's funeral, and some activist judge sentences him to death. Then at the end he flips out at this padre and gives this rambling speech I need to think some more about.

August 8: I have a talk with Tony Snow about the "origins of existentialism." He says it all really started with this fella Kierkegaard, who talked about there being a great chasm between God and man. That's dumb. Then how could he tell me what to do? Or ask for my advice?

August 9: The book's coming clearer to me with a little thinking. Through a lot of it, I sympathized some with Meursault, but plenty about him I didn't cotton to -- how he just seemed to sleepwalk through everything, not much caring about other people, or even himself. Now I think maybe I wasn't supposed to like him. At the end, he says he feels like the universe -- indifferent. It's like him and the world, they're both a blank coloring book, with no numbers to tell you what to color where, and he's not ready to take responsibility for putting in the colors himself. And maybe we're supposed to see how a really human life means seeing there's no numbers there and breaking out the crayons anyway. I like that. Maybe I'll pick up some more of Albert's stuff, and maybe some more of these French guys while I'm at it. Camus might be my new favorite philosopher. (Don't tell Jesus!)

August 10: I'm having some second thoughts about switching from "stay the course" to this "adapt and win" talking point. See, I was out clearing brush and got to thinking: The brush -- it's just going to keep on growing back. Can't really win the fight; it's futile. Absurd, you might say. Yet isn't there a kind of nobility in facing up to this and persevering, without illusions or false hope? Now I see Baghdad kind of the same. I see a soldier going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. At each of those moments when he leaves the Green Zone and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the insurgents, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than Iraq.

August 11: My anger at The New York Times subsides somewhat as I skim Foucault and Sartre. Surveillance serves its disciplinary function only if the populace is conscious of it. And if Americans aren't wrenched from being-pour-soi to being-en-soi (at least in relation to an observer who is Other) by the objectifying gaze of the state -- well, then the terrorists have won.

August 12: I begin to suspect that God is merely a way of coping with our fundamentally absurd condition, an act of bad faith, a desperate attempt to deny our own responsibility for creating meaning in a disenchanted world by locating it outside ourselves, in a fabricated transcendent will we then refuse to recognize as our own creation -- bastard offspring we confusedly call "father". I relate my epiphany to Karl with the excitement of a man beginning life anew. He says the message is unlikely to resonate with the base.

August 14: Back in Washington. Dick exults that the foiled London terror plot and the tightened airport security should keep voters' minds focused on national security through the midterms. Naturally, I think of Cottard, the shady entrepreneur in La Peste who comes into his own only when the city of Oran is under plague quarantine, and say so. Dick seems nonplussed.

August 17: Dick and Condi and Don and Karl all sat me down yesterday. An intervention, I guess you could call it. Karl did a quick focus group, seems "hell is other people" doesn't poll well. Same for most of what I've been thinking about these last couple weeks, frankly. And the beret was starting to make people talk. Perhaps it's as just as well. This way of being I had chosen, this "cowboy," is as good as any other in the end. And for those few of my fellows who are prepared to embrace the burden of their radical freedom, perhaps I can better midwife a new consciousness by playing Meursault for them: A model not to emulate, but to react against. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, eh Albert? All that remains to hope is that on the day of my next State of the Union, there should be a huge crowd of spectators, and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

Julian Sanchez is a writer in Washington, D.C., and a contributing editor for Reason. George W. Bush is president of the United States.

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