Phi Fic #10 “The Fall” by Albert Camus

Camus writes about similarities in Amsterdam and Dante’s “Hell” in The Fall.

We discuss the novel about what you do when you’re “called” and how you live afterward. You can listen along while Cezary, Daniel, Laura, Mary, and Nathan discuss The Fall by Albert Camus, which Sartre claimed was “perhaps the most beautiful and the least understood” of Camus’s books.

We get to know Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a renowned and successful Parisian attorney, as he tells his life story to a stranger in a cafe in Amsterdam. Clamence’s tale reveals the wrenching horror of his “fall” from grace, precipitated by an egregious act of neglect.

Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.

Camus forces us to consider complex questions about absolution and forgiveness within the existential landscape, which Cezary moans is grueling, while Daniel wonders, if we look in the mirror and confess our own fallibility, does that give us the right to judge others? Laura coyly follows with her sentiment: So, if we say we suck, we can tell others they suck? Mary laments that most people don’t seem to give themselves a break for their own animal natures while Nathan highlights Clamence’s struggle with survivor’s guilt. There is also a stolen masterpiece, existential crises, allusions to Dante’s infernal rings of hell in Amsterdam, an enchanting narration, and a surprise purpose behind Jean-Baptiste’s confession.

I choose the features we have in common, the experiences we have endured together, the failings we share—good form, in other words, the man of the hour as he is rife in me and in others. With all that I construct a portrait which is the image of all and of no one. A mask, in short, rather like those carnival masks which are both lifelike and stylized, so that they make people say: ‘Why, surely I’ve met him!’ When the portrait is finished, as it is this evening I show it with great sorrow: ‘This alas is what I am!’ The prosecutor’s charge is finished. But at the same time the portrait I hold out to my contemporaries becomes a mirror.

Here are a few takeaways: chill out in traffic jams, call your friends more often, and maybe reach out to a sad stranger because you might be able to help. Or, failing all that, head to the bar.

If you have any recommendations for books, comments, or questions, we’d like to hear from you, our email is We hope you enjoy the talk.

Thanks to Christopher Nolen for our music.

If you have thoughts, recommendations, or questions that you want to send our way, please do via

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