With execution only hours away, and having angrily refused the chaplain’s last rites in his Algiers prison cell, Outsider antagonist Meursault declares “… my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.” Having followed Meursault through his frank admissions of indifference, his trial for murder, his joy in pursuing truth and his unmoving commitment to honesty, Meursault’s last words were Camus’s treatise on how a philosopher ought to live, and ultimately, how it is one should die – that the goal of philosophy itself, as the ancient Cicero said, “is to learn how to die.”
Meursault’s vindication is not the accidental mutterings of alcoholics like Dylan Thomas’s “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record,” the delusional finalities like Napoleon’s “France! Army! Head of the Army! Josephine …” or Victor Hugo’s ominous “I see a dark light.” Rather, gazing out the lone cell window, Meursault’s paradoxical lament is more akin to Socrates’s “Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget,” telling us that death was merely transformation, or Darwin’s “I have no fear of death.” But this is only part of Meursault’s reclamation of philosophy from the elite tangle of scientific method into the words of earthlings. Surely we can see a coupling in Aldous Huxley’s final words, a request on paper to his wife, “100 milligrams LSD, I.M.” – which she obligingly injected – and Australian outlaw hero Ned Kelly’s “such is life” with Meursault’s experience of finality as an anticlimactic absurd bore. Che’s hopeful provocation “I know you have come to kill me. Shoot coward, you are only going to kill a man,” might reckon otherwise with Camus’s absurdity, but Che’s blood bled into the ground all the same. The heartache of Vincent van Gogh’s “the sadness will last forever,” a day after shooting himself in the chest, might likewise cause Meursault’s conclusion pause, save for the fact the painters death was the ill-conceived opus of a genius. Ludwig Wittgenstein said that if you want to be a good philosopher, you should become a car mechanic. That learning to live, and consequently to die, is not found in books and platitudes but in the “such is life” of our lives. The secret is not in the grandeur but in the anonymity. In this search it could be considered that if you want to learn something new about how to die today, something about the mundane in solitude, the anonymous anthology of final testaments on Texas’s death row might have something to show.
Is the mic on?
I done lost my voice.
My heart goes, is going, ba bump ba bump ba bump.
Nothing I can say can change the past.
Man, there is a lot of people here.
I came here today to die, not make speeches.
To my sweet Claudia, I love you.
I’m ready, Warden.