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Sperber, M.A. (1969). Albert Camus: Camus' the Fall: The Icarus Complex. Am. Imago, 26:269-280.

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(1969). American Imago, 26(3):269-280

Albert Camus: Camus' the Fall: The Icarus Complex

Michael A. Sperber, M.D.

The Icarus complex consists of a cluster of interrelated variables of personality which were first described by Henry A. Murray. It was named after Icarus, despite the fact that some significant components of the syndrome do not appear in the character of Icarus as the legend is recounted by Ovid. Murray defined the Icarus complex as a compound of: (1) cynosural narcissism, (2) ascensionism combined with (3) the prospection of falling, (4) the cathection of fire and, if enuresis or incontinence persisted in childhood, with (5) an abundance of water imagery. As a consequence of this complex, one often finds (6) a craving for immortality (reascension) as well as (7) a conception of woman as an object to be used for narcissistic gains.

The paper examines Jean-Baptiste Clamence, the hero of Camus' The Fall, in the light of the syndrome proposed by Murray. It is hoped that certain puzzling metaphors and the unusual juxtapositions of Camus' novel may be clarified by applying Murray's designations, and thereby enhance our understanding of the wholeness of imaginative conception of Camus as a writer.

Icarian Imagery: Ascensionism and the Prospection of Falling

Murray's concept of corporeal ascensionism refers to an extravagant human disposition to overcome gravity: a child's desire to stand erect, to walk without support, etc. It can be expressed in fantasies of rising, flying, or floating in the air. Ascension includes a marked fondness for high objects and places (tall


1 Murray, Henry A. “American Icarus,” in Clinical Studies of Personality. A. Burton and R. W. Harris. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955), Vol. II, pp. 615-641.

2 Camus, Albert. The Fall. Transi, by J. O'Brien. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957. The present paper may be considered complementary to Barchilon's analysis which, although germinative, leaves certain areas unexplored. See Barchilon, I. “The Fall by Albert Camus: A Psychoanalytic Study.” Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:386, 1968.

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