Camus’ first example of the absurd man is Don Juan, an infamous seducer of women. For Camus, Don Juan rejects any notion of “total love” and instead loves each woman “with the same passion and each with his whole self”—this is Don Juan’s “gift” and “profound quest.”
There are numerous versions of the Don Juan story in literature and art, but he is generally portrayed as a libertine free from the usual confines of society, and an unrivalled seducer. There is an obvious problem in the way that women are seen as conquests. While it of course is a deeply misogynistic idea, it also undermines the idea of the universality of the absurd. Women, here, are treated as essentially different creatures then men.
Some people think Don Juan is a melancholy character, but Camus disagrees. There are two reasons people are melancholy: “they don’t know or they hope.” Don Juan, claims Camus, “knows and does not hope.” Instead, he lives for the moment.
Don Juan knows that life has no meaning, and doesn’t hope to give it any. Importantly, Camus doesn’t address the repetitiveness of Don Juan’s behavior, which seems to contradict Camus’ earlier criticism of “habitual” living.
Camus dismisses criticisms of Don Juan that he uses the same “speeches” on “all women.” What matters for anyone seeking “quantity in his joys”—and quantity is favorable to Camus than quality—“efficacy” is the most important thing. Don Juan’s actions realize an “ethic of quantity.”
Quantity of women seduced is conflated with quantity of “joys.” Don Juan’s reliance on the “efficacy” of what are, essentially, smooth pick-up lines, again raises the question of whether Don Juan is living a life out of deeply ingrained habit or genuinely out of passion for living in the moment.
Camus admits that there is something “selfish” about Don Juan, but rejects that this is a problem. He claims that Don Juan can actually be considered less selfish than most lovers because he doesn’t seek to possess or control the other person. Camus states that “there is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional.”
Camus sees in Don Juan the application of life’s inevitable end to the way in which he engages with his lovers—his short-lived, passionate affairs mirrors the fleeting nature of a human life.
Though there are people that would like to punish Don Juan for his behavior, Camus insists that Don Juan simply lives outside of society’s normal moral codes. This means that his “fate” can never be a “punishment."
Camus implies here that society’s moral codes, rooted in religious restrictions, prevent people from living in the moment the way Don Juan admirably does.