An imbecile death.
While describing the aftermath of her father’s probable suicide, Bechdel repeats the phrase «Une mort imbécile.» Translated into English, it reads: «An imbecile death.» This choice of phrase is curious, as its significance to the story is somewhat unclear. The main point of this phrase, is that one of her father’s favourite authors, Albert Camus, described dying in a car accident as «une mort imbécile.» Coincidentally, both Albert Camus and later Bruce Bechdel die in car accidents.
Seeking the significance of this phrase and its speaker, I decided to investigate Albert Camus and find some meaning. To Wikipedia I go.
Albert Camus is from Algeria. He escaped extreme poverty to attend university, where he got not only Tuberculosis but also degrees in Philosophy. He was a registered Communist and involved with a nationalist group (like fascism). Due to this political infidelity, the communists denounced him a Trotskyite and divorced him. Camus was not only a two-timer in political life, oh no, he also had a marriage which ended due to infidelity. He later remarried, loudly claimed that he despised marriage, had two children, and then proclaimed his hatred for family even louder. In the meantime, he wrote for a socialist newspaper and had affairs with exotic women. He died in a car accident with his close friend after bailing on travelling with his wife and two children. I think it notable that his book: A Happy Death, which Bruce Bechdel is said to have read, was published posthumously by Camus’s family.
I will now attempt to contrast Albert Camus with Bruce Bechdel in an attempt to find some significance in Camus’s inclusion in the novel.
Bruce Allen Bechdel is from Beech Creek Pennsylvania. He attempted to escape the small town through the Army (Camus attempted to join the Algerian army but was rejected due to his TB, but I count this as a fun fact and not an important one). He is in an apparently loveless marriage, preoccupied by his art and his hobbies, with little regard for family and often uses his children like little slaves.
All along the story, Bechdel reminds the reader of her father’s love for literature. She frequently depicts him reading and quotes sections of books that he’s highlighted. Daedalus and Icarus, “The Myth of Sisyphus” (Camus), A Happy Death (Camus) and a smattering of other novels drawn into his hands. Bechdel gives these metabooks significance by paralleling them with her story, like she did with her father as both Daedalus and Icarus. However, Bechdel makes it a point to discuss Albert Camus’s presence as an author in her father’s life. From what we know of Bruce Bechdel, I doubt that he would read many of a man’s works and know nothing of the man himself.
Camus was a frontrunner in the world of absurd philosophy. He contemplated the dichotomies of life and the fleeting nature of happiness. To Camus, the finiteness of life should give cause to celebrate and enjoy happiness while it lasts. Camus believes that absurdity lives in the life of human beings. However, there is no more meaning in death than there is in life, so suicide of man is not helpful. He states in the end of “The Myth of Sisyphus” that the only way to kill absurdity is to balance death and life.
1) Bechdel admits that she isn’t sure if her father read the end of “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Given the probable cause of Bruce Bechdel’s death, do you believe that he did?
2) This novel is a graphic memoir, so we can believe its events to be more or less truthful. We know that Bechdel didn’t choose to include Camus for some unknown reason, and that it was Bruce Bechdel who drew himself to the author. What links between Bruce and Camus can you draw? Why do you think Camus was one of Bruce’s favourite authors?