“When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning: a deaf population absent-mindedly registers the condemnation of a man.... there is no other solution but to speak out and show the obscenity hidden under the verbal cloak.” ―Albert Camus

Could anyone explain what this quote means? Does it mean something along the lines of lost of creativity leading to people getting 'lost' in a sense that they do not know what to do?


Camus is speaking against death penalty.

His critic is direct towards the use of language made by authorities and journalists to hide the cruelty of death penalty, with locutions like (see page 176):

"debt to society", "to do justice", "the interested party".

In this context, the reference to lack of imagination must be understootd as a way to explain the fact that people fail to "see" the cruelty because they do not attend at the execution and thus the "expurgated" language hides the horror of the execution (see page 177):

if people are shown the machine [the guillotine], made to touch the wood and steel and to hear the sound of a head falling, then public imagination [meaning: the public sentiment/opinion], suddenly awakened, will repudiate both the vocabulary and the penalty.

See also Camus and the death penalty.

  • 'When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning'. What does imagination mean in this context ? and Thanks for answering! – Ng Tze Kean Jan 11 '18 at 14:38
  • @NgTzeKean - as you can see, the essay has nothing to do with "philosophy of mind". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 11 '18 at 14:59

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