The previous post about 8½ mentioned self-satire as an inherently introspective method of discourse. Whether I arrived at this conclusion independently or on the basis of my three entranced readings of The Fall I cannot be sure, but if I failed to support the idea sufficiently in the previous post then I have the whole of Camus’ text to fall back on. The degree to which Jean-Baptiste Clamence relates to Camus may be up for debate, but the character himself confesses his life story, at least to the degree that it is the only life story the character ever offers, for the explicit purpose of precluding the possibility of being judged by others. Or so he says, anyway. Jean-Baptiste outlines a rhetorical trick he used in court to condemn the jury tasked with judging his clients by exposing their guilt, thus subverting their ability to condemn others without first condemning themselves. He takes this further for himself by admitting his guilt from the outset, rendering others’ judgments redundant and forcing others to reflect on their own guilt. This is essentially the trick that Fellini pulls in his own film, a supposed self-chastisement that few would ever be able to make of themselves. What is not required in this rhetorical trick is telling the truth, as long as what is said does not omit known failings or include obvious falsehoods, because it is the appearance of honesty that prevents judgment, not actual honesty – the key is to force others to condemn themselves. In this way it is just as likely that Jean-Baptiste, and Camus and Fellini with him, is playing the role of the matador as the role of the penitent. In fact, that Jean-Baptiste Clamence is able to judge at all seems to imply that he has not really condemned himself at all, or perhaps he simply benefits from getting the self-flagellation out of the way. There is really no reason to believe that he is telling the truth at all, and no reason to believe that he would care to. By compelling others to denounce their own follies with a false facade and leaving them with nothing to replace their past self-assurance Camus leaves only questions and doubts in his wake, a false satirist but an immensely truthful black comic.
Don't lies eventually lead to the truth? And don't all my stories, true or false, tend toward the same conclusion? Don't they all have the same meaning? So what does it matter whether they are true or false if, in both cases, they are significant of what I have been and of what I am? Sometimes it is easier to see clearly into the liar than into the man who tells the truth. Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
And so the deeper one travels into The Fall the closer one comes to the man whose cinematic biography is entitled Fellini: I’m a Born Liar. As Fellini moved farther from the ‘truth’ of his neorealist roots and into the elaborate strings of lies of his later films it becomes clear that he seeks to find a similar sort of beautiful twilight through lies and fiction. After all, it was a lie which propelled Jean-Baptiste into an existential tailspin, the lie of someone laughing at him which he knew to be untrue but could not shake due to the possibility of it being justified. It is in this way that Jean-Baptiste turns an admission that has every reason to be doubted into a piercing weapon, all by the possibility that it could be true. It is an ode to black comedy if there ever was one – the attempt to stifle outright laughter through exposing the painful truths of the fictional absurdities which draw the laughs to begin with. This is not to say that Camus does not revel in comedy tinged in tragedy, sprinkled with irony, and singed by ambiguity, for it is pretty much all he does, yet his character’s central aim is to stamp out that emblem of ‘light comedy’, the untroubled laugh, by having Jean-Baptiste confess to the point where the laugh offers no revelatory insight. It matters not whether the truth is told if the form, that of the confession, achieves all of the effect of telling the truth without having to worry about whether the truth is actually told. Fellini, Guido, Jean-Baptiste, Camus, a quartet of born liars – but who would even be able to tell if it were otherwise?