Albert Camus

Albert Camus: Elements of a Life

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 200
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Albert Camus
    Book Description:

    "Like many others of my generation, I first read Camus in high school. I carried him in my backpack while traveling across Europe, I carried him into (and out of) relationships, and I carried him into (and out of) difficult periods of my life. More recently, I have carried him into university classes that I have taught, coming out of them with a renewed appreciation of his art. To be sure, my idea of Camus thirty years ago scarcely resembles my idea of him today. While my admiration and attachment to his writings remain as great as they were long ago, the reasons are more complicated and critical."-Robert Zaretsky

    On October 16, 1957, Albert Camus was dining in a small restaurant on Paris's Left Bank when a waiter approached him with news: the radio had just announced that Camus had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Camus insisted that a mistake had been made and that others were far more deserving of the honor than he. Yet Camus was already recognized around the world as the voice of a generation-a status he had achieved with dizzying speed. He published his first novel, The Stranger, in 1942 and emerged from the war as the spokesperson for the Resistance and, although he consistently rejected the label, for existentialism. Subsequent works of fiction (including the novels The Plague and The Fall), philosophy (notably, The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel), drama, and social criticism secured his literary and intellectual reputation. And then on January 4, 1960, three years after accepting the Nobel Prize, he was killed in a car accident.

    In a book distinguished by clarity and passion, Robert Zaretsky considers why Albert Camus mattered in his own lifetime and continues to matter today, focusing on key moments that shaped Camus's development as a writer, a public intellectual, and a man. Each chapter is devoted to a specific event: Camus's visit to Kabylia in 1939 to report on the conditions of the local Berber tribes; his decision in 1945 to sign a petition to commute the death sentence of collaborationist writer Robert Brasillach; his famous quarrel with Jean-Paul Sartre in 1952 over the nature of communism; and his silence about the war in Algeria in 1956. Both engaged and engaging, Albert Camus: Elements of a Life is a searching companion to a profoundly moral and lucid writer whose works provide a guide for those perplexed by the absurdity of the human condition and the world's resistance to meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6029-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)
    (pp. 17-46)

    Rarely had turn-of-the-century Ireland seemed so familiar as it did in interwar Algeria. The comic masterpiece by the early twentieth-century Irish playwright John Millington Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, had traveled to the edge of the Eastern world in 1939. An amateur theatrical group, the Théâtre de l’Equipe, was performing the play in the jewel of the French colonial crown, Algiers. But in unexpected ways, Synge’s and the audience’s worlds were similar. Both were impoverished margins of empires: French Algeria and British Ireland. Both were home to indigenous peoples, Irish Catholics and Arab Muslims, respectively, who were increasingly...

    (pp. 47-78)

    Liberated six months earlier, Paris in January 1945 was still burdened by the same shortages that had existed when it was ruled by the Germans. Heating fuel was scarce, food was even scarcer, and the black market flourished. The daily Parisian calorie intake hovered at one thousand, and the Provisional Government under General Charles de Gaulle was unable to retire the ration cards introduced by the Vichy regime. A three hundred–gram loaf of bread perhaps tasted sweeter in a free city than in an occupied one, but it still weighed only three hundred grams. That winter, the New Yorker...

    (pp. 79-119)

    In December 1951, Camus confided to his journal: “I await with patience a catastrophe that is slow in coming.”¹ Perhaps he was referring to his physical health: despite a new regimen for his battered lungs, Camus still had difficulty breathing. Or perhaps he meant his writing. His long essay The Rebel had been published less than two months before. Many years in the making, the book needed just weeks for its unmaking in the press. While The Rebel drew praise as well as criticism, Camus was at times as suspicious of the one as of the other: the conservativeLe Figaro...

    (pp. 120-150)

    On Sunday afternoon, January 22, 1956, thousands of Algerians—European and Arab—thronged the Place du Gouvernement in Algiers. Leading the pieds noirs was a local bar owner and brawler, Jo Ortiz. He was a die-hard ultra, the name given to those for whom Algeria would always be part of France, who believed that the privileges long enjoyed by the pieds noirs should never be taken away. On the other side, members of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the underground movement dedicated to Algeria’s independence, maintained control of the Arab crowd. Dividing the two hostile groups was a thin...

    (pp. 151-160)

    In the same year that Camus won the Nobel Prize and briefly broke his silence over Algeria, he published a short story called “The Guest.” The tale is one of the few explicitly situated in the midst of the Algerian conflict. A powerful snowstorm has blanketed a harsh region of Algeria where a pied noir named Daru works as a grade school teacher. Soon after the storm lifts, he receives a visit from Balducci, a gendarme with whom he is on good terms. Mounted on a horse that slowly climbs the slope to the school, Balducci leads an Arab, who...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 161-176)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 177-182)