Did you know...
SOS Children have produced a selection of wikipedia articles for schools since 2005. SOS Children has looked after children in Africa for forty years. Can you help their work in Africa?
Portrait from New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection, 1957
7 November 1913|
Dréan, El Taref, French Algeria
|Died||4 January 1960
Villeblevin, Yonne, Burgundy, France
|Era||20th century philosophy|
Nobel Prize in Literature
|Main interests||Ethics, Humanity, Justice, Love, Politics|
|Notable ideas||"The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth"
"Always go too far, because that's where you'll find the truth."
"I rebel; therefore I exist."
Albert Camus (French pronunciation: [albɛʁ kamy]; 7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French Algerian author, philosopher and journalist. He was a key philosopher of the 20th-century, his most famous work being the novel The Stranger (L'Étranger). In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons within the Revolutionary Union Movement, which was opposed to some tendencies of the Surrealist movement of André Breton.
Camus was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times". He was the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, after Rudyard Kipling, and the first African-born writer to receive the award. He is the shortest-lived of any Nobel literature laureate to date, having died in an automobile accident just over two years after receiving the award.
Although often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy with which Camus was associated during his own lifetime, he rejected this particular label. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: "No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked..."
Specifically, his views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay " The Rebel" that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom.
Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913 in Dréan (then known as Mondovi) in French Algeria to a Pied-Noir settler family. Pied-Noir was a term used to refer to European colonists of French Algeria until Algerian independence in 1962. His mother was of Spanish descent and was half-deaf. His father Lucien, a poor agricultural worker, died in the Battle of the Marne in 1914 during World War I, while serving as a member of the Zouave infantry regiment. Camus and his mother lived in poor conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers.
In 1923, the bright boy was accepted into the lycée and eventually he was admitted to the University of Algiers. After he contracted tuberculosis (TB) in 1930, he had to end his football activities (he had been a goalkeeper for the university team) and reduce his studies to part-time. To earn money, he also took odd jobs: as private tutor, car parts clerk and assistant at the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie ( BA) in 1935; in May 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne (Neo-Platonism and Christian Thought), for his diplôme d'études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M.A. thesis).
|French literary history|
Camus joined the French Communist Party in the spring of 1935, seeing it as a way to "fight inequalities between Europeans and 'natives' in Algeria." He did not suggest he was a Marxist or that he had read Das Kapital, but did write that "[w]e might see communism as a springboard and asceticism that prepares the ground for more spiritual activities." In 1936, the independence-minded Algerian Communist Party (PCA) was founded. Camus joined the activities of the Algerian People's Party (Le Parti du Peuple Algérien), which got him into trouble with his Communist party comrades. As a result, in 1937 he was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the party. Camus went on to be associated with the French anarchist movement.
The anarchist Andre Prudhommeaux first introduced him at a meeting in 1948 of the Cercle des Étudiants Anarchistes (Anarchist Student Circle) as a sympathiser familiar with anarchist thought. Camus wrote for anarchist publications such as Le Libertaire, La révolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera(Worker Solidarity) (the organ of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT)(National Confederation of Labor). Camus stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the uprising of 1953 in East Germany. He again allied with the anarchists in 1956, first in support of the workers’ uprising in Poznan, Poland, and then later in the year with the Hungarian Revolution.
In 1934, he married Simone Hie, a morphine addict, but the marriage ended as a consequence of infidelities on both sides. In 1935, he founded Théâtre du Travail (Worker's Theatre), renamed Théâtre de l'Equipe (Team's Theatre) in 1937. It lasted until 1939. From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper, Alger-Républicain. His work included an account of the peasants who lived in Kabylie in poor conditions, which apparently cost him his job. From 1939 to 1940, he briefly wrote for a similar paper, Soir-Republicain. He was rejected by the French army because of his TB.
In 1940, Camus married Francine Faure, a pianist and mathematician. Although he loved her, he had argued passionately against the institution of marriage, dismissing it as unnatural. Even after Francine gave birth to twins, Catherine and Jean, on 5 September 1945, he continued to joke to friends that he was not cut out for marriage. Camus conducted numerous affairs, particularly an irregular and eventually public affair with the Spanish-born actress Maria Casares. In the same year, Camus began to work for Paris-Soir magazine. In the first stage of World War II, the so-called Phoney War, Camus was a pacifist. In Paris during the Wehrmacht occupation, on 15 December 1941, Camus witnessed the execution of Gabriel Péri; it crystallized his revolt against the Germans. He moved to Bordeaux with the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In the same year he finished his first books, The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. He returned briefly to Oran, Algeria in 1942.
During the war Camus joined the French Resistance cell Combat, which published an underground newspaper of the same name. This group worked against the Nazis, and in it Camus assumed the nom de guerre Beauchard. Camus became the paper's editor in 1943 and was in Paris when the Allies liberated the city, where he reported on the last of the fighting. Soon after the event on 8 August 1945, he was one of the few French editors to publicly express opposition to the United States' dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He resigned from Combat in 1947 when it became a commercial paper. It was then that he became acquainted with Jean-Paul Sartre.
After the war, Camus began frequenting the Café de Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris with Sartre and others. He also toured the United States to lecture about French thought. Although he leaned left, politically, his strong criticisms of Communist doctrine did not win him any friends in the Communist parties and eventually alienated Sartre.
In 1949 his TB returned and Camus lived in seclusion for two years. In 1951 he published The Rebel, a philosophical analysis of rebellion and revolution which expressed his rejection of communism. Upsetting many of his colleagues and contemporaries in France, the book brought about the final split with Sartre. The dour reception depressed him and he began to translate plays.
Camus's first significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the absurd. He saw it as the result of our desire for clarity and meaning within a world and condition that offers neither, which he expressed in The Myth of Sisyphus and incorporated into many of his other works, such as The Stranger and The Plague. Despite his split from his "study partner", Sartre, some still argue that Camus falls into the existentialist camp. He specifically rejected that label in his essay "Enigma" and elsewhere (see: The Lyrical and Critical Essays of Albert Camus). The current confusion arises in part because many recent applications of existentialism have much in common with many of Camus's practical ideas (see: Resistance, Rebellion, and Death). But, his personal understanding of the world (e.g. "a benign indifference", in The Stranger), and every vision he had for its progress (e.g. vanquishing the "adolescent furies" of history and society, in The Rebel) undoubtedly set him apart.
In the 1950s Camus devoted his efforts to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. In 1953 he criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers' strike in East Berlin. In 1956 he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.
Camus maintained his pacifism and resisted capital punishment anywhere in the world. He wrote an essay against capital punishment in collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.
When the Algerian War began in 1954, Camus was confronted with a moral dilemma. He identified with the pied-noirs such as his own parents and defended the French government's actions against the revolt. He argued that the Algerian uprising was an integral part of the 'new Arab imperialism' led by Egypt and an 'anti-Western' offensive orchestrated by Russia to 'encircle Europe' and 'isolate the United States'. Although favouring greater Algerian autonomy or even federation, though not full-scale independence, he believed that the pied-noirs and Arabs could co-exist. During the war he advocated a civil truce that would spare the civilians, which was rejected by both sides, who regarded it as foolish. Behind the scenes, he began to work for imprisoned Algerians who faced the death penalty.
From 1955 to 1956, Camus wrote for L'Express. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times", not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay " Réflexions sur la Guillotine" (Reflections on the Guillotine). When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the Algerian question; he stated that he was worried about what might happen to his mother, who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals.
Revolutionary Union Movement and the European Union
As he wrote in L'Homme révolté (in the chapter about "The Thought on Midday", Camus was a follower of the ancient Greek 'Solar Tradition' (la pensée solaire). In 1947–48 he founded the Revolutionary Union Movement (Groupes de liaison internationale – GLI) a trade union movement in the context of revolutionary syndicalism (Syndicalisme révolutionnaire). According to Olivier Todd, in his biography, 'Albert Camus, une vie', it was a group opposed to some tendencies of the Surrealist movement of André Breton. For more, see the book : Alfred Rosmer et le mouvement révolutionnaire internationale by Christian Gras).
His colleagues were Nicolas Lazarévitch, Louis Mercier, Roger Lapeyre, Paul Chauvet, Auguste Largentier, Jean de Boë (see the article: "Nicolas Lazarévitch, Itinéraire d'un syndicaliste révolutionnaire" by Sylvain Boulouque in the review Communisme, n° 61, 2000). His main aim was to express the positive side of surrealism and existentialism, rejecting the negativity and the nihilism of André Breton.
From 1943, Albert Camus had correspondence with Altiero Spinelli who founded the European Federalist Movement in Milan—see Ventotene Manifesto and the book "Unire l'Europa, superare gli stati", Altiero Spinelli nel Partito d'Azione del Nord Italia e in Francia dal 1944 al 1945-annexed a letter by Altiero Spinelli to Albert Camus.
In 1944 Camus founded the "French Committee for the European Federation" (Comité Français pour la Féderation Européene – CFFE) declaring that Europe "can only evolve along the path of economic progress, democracy and peace if the nation states become a federation."
From 22–25 March 1945, the first conference of the European Federalist Movement was organised in Paris with the participation of Albert Camus, George Orwell, Emmanuel Mounier, Lewis Mumford, André Philip, Daniel Mayer, François Bondy and Altiero Spinelli (see the book The Biography of Europe by Pan Drakopoulos). This specific branch of the European Federalist Movement disintegrated in 1957 after Winston Churchill's ideas about the European integration rose to dominance.
Camus died on 4 January 1960 at the age of 46 in a car accident near Sens, in a place named Le Grand Fossard in the small town of Villeblevin. In his coat pocket lay an unused train ticket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute accepted his publisher's proposal to travel with him.
The driver of the Facel Vega car, Michel Gallimard, his publisher and close friend, also died in the accident. Camus was buried in the Lourmarin Cemetery, Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France.
He was survived by his wife and twin children, Catherine and Jean, who hold the copyrights to his work.
Two of Camus's works were published posthumously. The first, entitled A Happy Death (1970), featured a character named Patrice Mersault, comparable to The Stranger's Meursault. There is scholarly debate as to the relationship between the two books. The second was an unfinished novel, The First Man (1995), which Camus was writing before he died. The novel was an autobiographical work about his childhood in Algeria.
Summary of Absurdism
Many writers have addressed the Absurd, each with his or her own interpretation of what the Absurd is and what comprises its importance. For example, Sartre recognizes the absurdity of individual experience, while Kierkegaard explains that the absurdity of certain religious truths prevent us from reaching God rationally. Camus regretted the continued reference to him as a "philosopher of the absurd". He showed less interest in the Absurd shortly after publishing Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus). To distinguish his ideas, scholars sometimes refer to the Paradox of the Absurd, when referring to "Camus' Absurd".
His early thoughts appeared in his first collection of essays, L'Envers et l'endroit (The Two Sides Of The Coin) in 1937. Absurd themes were expressed with more sophistication in his second collection of essays, Noces (Nuptials), in 1938. In these essays Camus reflects on the experience of the Absurd. In 1942 he published the story of a man living an absurd life as L'Étranger (The Stranger). In the same year he released Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), a literary essay on the Absurd. He also wrote a play about Caligula, a Roman Emperor, pursuing an absurd logic. The play was not performed until 1945.
The turning point in Camus' attitude to the Absurd occurs in a collection of four letters to an anonymous German friend, written between July 1943 and July 1944. The first was published in the Revue Libre in 1943, the second in the Cahiers de Libération in 1944, and the third in the newspaper Libertés, in 1945. The four letters were published as Lettres à un ami allemand (Letters to a German Friend) in 1945, and were included in the collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.
Ideas on the Absurd
In his essays Camus presented the reader with dualisms: happiness and sadness, dark and light, life and death, etc. His aim was to emphasize the fact that happiness is fleeting and that the human condition is one of mortality. He did this not to be morbid, but to reflect a greater appreciation for life and happiness. In Le Mythe, this dualism becomes a paradox: We value our lives and existence so greatly, but at the same time we know we will eventually die, and ultimately our endeavours are meaningless. While we can live with a dualism (I can accept periods of unhappiness, because I know I will also experience happiness to come), we cannot live with the paradox (I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless). In Le Mythe, Camus was interested in how we experience the Absurd and how we live with it. Our life must have meaning for us to value it. If we accept that life has no meaning and therefore no value, should we kill ourselves?
Meursault, the absurdist hero of L'Étranger, has killed a man and is scheduled to be executed. Caligula ends up admitting his absurd logic was wrong and is killed by an assassination he has deliberately brought about. However, while Camus possibly suggests that Caligula's absurd reasoning is wrong, the play's anti-hero does get the last word, as the author similarly exalts Meursault's final moments.
Camus' understanding of the Absurd promotes public debate; his various offerings entice us to think about the Absurd and offer our own contribution. Concepts such as cooperation, joint effort and solidarity are of key importance to Camus.
Camus made a significant contribution to a viewpoint of the Absurd, and always rejected nihilism as a valid response.
"If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has a meaning." Second Letter to a German Friend, December 1943.
What still had meaning for Camus is that despite humans being subjects in an indifferent and " absurd" universe in which meaning is challenged by the fact that we all die, meaning can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by our own decisions and interpretations.
Religious beliefs and Absurdism
While writing his thesis on Plotinus and Saint Augustine of Hippo, Camus became very strongly influenced by their works, especially that of St. Augustine. In his work, Confessions (consisting of 13 books), Augustine promotes the idea of a connection between God and the rest of the world. Camus identified with the idea that a personal experience could become a reference point for his philosophical and literary writings. Although he considered himself an atheist, Camus later came to tout the idea that the absence of religious belief can simultaneously be accompanied by a longing for "salvation and meaning". This line of thinking presented an ostensible paradox and became a major thread in defining the idea of absurdism in Camus' writings.
Opposition to totalitarianism
Throughout his life, Camus spoke out against and actively opposed totalitarianism in its many forms. Early on, Camus was active within the French Resistance to the German occupation of France during World War II, even directing the famous Resistance journal, Combat. On the French collaboration with Nazi occupiers he wrote:
- Now the only moral value is courage, which is useful here for judging the puppets and chatterboxes who pretend to speak in the name of the people.
Camus' well-known falling out with Sartre is linked to this opposition to totalitarianism. Camus detected a reflexive totalitarianism in the mass politics espoused by Sartre in the name of radical Marxism. This was apparent in his work L'Homme Révolté (The Rebel) which not only was an assault on the Soviet police state, but also questioned the very nature of mass revolutionary politics. Camus continued to speak out against the atrocities of the Soviet Union, a sentiment captured in his 1957 speech, The Blood of the Hungarians, commemorating the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, an uprising crushed in a bloody assault by the Red Army.
In The Stranger
In The Stranger, Albert Camus characterizes his justification of the absurd through the experiences of a protagonist who simply does not conform to the system. His inherent honesty disturbs the status quo; Meursault's inability to lie cannot seamlessly integrate him within society. This, in turn, threatens the simple fabric of human mannerisms expected in a structurally ordered society. Consequently, the punishment for his crime is not decided on the basis of murder, but rather for the startling indifference toward his mother's recent death. Even after a conflicting spiritual discussion with a pastor inciting Meursault to consider a possible path towards redemption, the latter still refuses to "accept" salvation and symbolizes his ultimatum by embracing the "gentle indifference of the world" — an act which only furthers his ostracism from a society incapable of realizing his seemingly inhumane behaviour.
In The Plague
The plague is an undeniable part of life. As posited in The Plague, it is omnipresent, just like death was always an impeding factor in The Stranger. Albert Camus once again questions the meaning of the moral concepts justifying humanity and human suffering within a religious framework. For Camus, the rationale behind Christian doctrine is useless; as mortal beings, we cannot successfully rationalize the impending and inescapable death sentence forced upon every human. The plague, which befalls Oran, is a concrete and tangible facilitator of death. Ultimately, the plague enables people to understand that their individual suffering is meaningless. As the epidemic "evolves" within the seasons, so do the citizens of Oran, who instead of willfully giving up to a disease they have no control over, decide to fight against their impending death, thus unwillingly creating optimism in the midst of hopelessness. This is where Camus channels his thoughts behind the importance of solidarity: although the plague is still primarily an agent of death, it provides the uncanny opportunity for people to realize that individual suffering is absurd. In the midst of complete suffering, the challenging response adopted by the majority of the citizens of Oran demonstrates an inexplicable humanistic connection between distraught and distant characters. Only by making the choice to fight an irreversible epidemic are people able to create the ever-lacking meaning to a life destined for execution from the moment of its creation.
Camus was once asked by his friend Charles Poncet which he preferred, football or the theatre. Camus is said to have replied, "Football, without hesitation."
Camus played as goalkeeper for Racing Universitaire d'Alger (RUA won both the North African Champions Cup and the North African Cup twice each in the 1930s) junior team from 1928–30. The sense of team spirit, fraternity, and common purpose appealed to Camus enormously. In match reports Camus would often attract positive comment for playing with passion and courage. Any aspirations in football disappeared at age 17, upon contracting tuberculosis—then incurable, Camus was bedridden for long and painful periods.
When Camus was asked in the 1950s by an alumni sports magazine for a few words regarding his time with the RUA, his response included the following:
- After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA.
Camus was referring to a sort of simplistic morality he wrote about in his early essays, the principle of sticking up for your friends, of valuing bravery and fair-play. Camus' belief was that political and religious authorities try to confuse us with over-complicated moral systems to make things appear more complex than they really are, potentially to serve their own needs.
- The Stranger (L'Étranger, often translated as The Outsider) (1942)
- The Plague (La Peste) (1947)
- The Fall (La Chute) (1956)
- A Happy Death (La Mort heureuse) (written 1936–1938, published posthumously 1971)
- The First Man (Le premier homme) (incomplete, published posthumously 1995)
Short stories collections
- Exile and the Kingdom (L'exil et le royaume) (collection) (1957)
- " The Adulterous Woman" ("La Femme adultère")
- " The Renegade or a Confused Spirit" ("Le Renégat ou un esprit confus")
- " The Silent Men" ("Les Muets")
- " The Guest" ("L'Hôte")
- " Jonas or the Artist at Work" ("Jonas ou l’artiste au travail")
- " The Growing Stone" ("La Pierre qui pousse")
- Betwixt and Between (L'envers et l'endroit, also translated as The Wrong Side and the Right Side) (Collection, 1937)
- Nuptials (Noces) (1938)
- The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe) (1942)
- The Rebel (L'Homme révolté) (1951)
- Notebooks 1935–1942 (Carnets, mai 1935 — fevrier 1942) (1962)
- Notebooks 1943–1951 (1965)
- Notebooks 1951–1959 (2008) Published as "Carnets Tome III : Mars 1951 – December 1959" (1989)
- Create Dangerously (Essay on Realism and Artistic Creation) (1957)
- The Ancient Greek Tragedy (Parnassos lecture in Greece) (1956)
- The Crisis of Man (Lecture at Columbia University) (1946)
- Why Spain? (Essay for the theatrical play L' Etat de Siege) (1948)
- Reflections on the Guillotine (Réflexions sur la guillotine) (Extended essay, 1957)
- Neither Victims Nor Executioners (Combat) (1946)
- Caligula (performed 1945, written 1938)
- Requiem for a Nun (Requiem pour une nonne, adapted from William Faulkner's novel by the same name) (1956)
- The Misunderstanding (Le Malentendu) (1944)
- The State of Siege (L' Etat de Siege) (1948)
- The Just Assassins (Les Justes) (1949)
- The Possessed (Les Possédés, adapted from Dostoyevsky's novel by the same name) (1959)
- Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1961) – a collection of essays selected by the author.
- Lyrical and Critical Essays (1970)
- Youthful Writings (1976)
- Between Hell and Reason: Essays from the Resistance Newspaper "Combat", 1944–1947 (1991)
- Camus at "Combat": Writing 1944–1947 (2005)