Albert Camus

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Camus, Albert

(älbĕr` kämü`), 1913–60, French writer, b. Mondovi (now Dréan). Camus was one of the most important authors and thinkers of the 20th cent. While a philosophy student at the Univ. of Algiers (grad. 1936), he formed a theater group and adapted, directed, and acted in plays. He became active in social reform and was briefly a member of the Communist party. He worked as a reporter for an Algiers newspaper, and shortly after his essay Noces [weddings] appeared (1939), he went (1940) to Paris and found work as a journalist. In World War II he joined the French resistance and was principal editor of the underground paper Combat.

Noted for his vigorous, concise, and lucid style, Camus soon gained recognition as a major literary figure. His belief that man's condition is absurd identified him with the existentialists (see existentialismexistentialism
, any of several philosophic systems, all centered on the individual and his relationship to the universe or to God. Important existentialists of varying and conflicting thought are Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean-Paul
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), but he denied allegiance to that group; his works express rather a courageous humanism. The characters in his novels and plays, although keenly aware of the meaninglessness of the human condition, assert their humanity by rebelling against their circumstances.

The essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (1942, tr. The Myth of Sisyphus, 1955) formulates his theory of the absurd and is the philosophical basis of his novel L'Étranger (1942, tr. The Stranger, 1946, The Outsider, 2013) and of his plays Le Malentendu (1944, tr. Cross Purpose, 1948) and Caligula (1944, tr. 1948). L'Étranger brought him the admiration and friendship of Jean-Paul SartreSartre, Jean-Paul
, 1905–80, French philosopher, playwright, and novelist. Influenced by German philosophy, particularly that of Heidegger, Sartre was a leading exponent of 20th-century existentialism.
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, and turned Camus from a journalist into a well-known novelist and intellectual. The essay L'Homme révolté (1951, tr. The Rebel, 1954), dealing with historical, spiritual, and political rebellion, treats themes found in the novels La Peste (1947, tr. The Plague, 1948) and La Chute (1956, tr. The Fall, 1957). Other works include the plays L'État de siège (1948, tr. State of Siege, 1958) and Les Justes (1950, tr. The Just Assassins, 1958), journalistic essays, and stories. Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. The last book he published in his lifetime was Chroniques algériennes (1958, tr. Algerian Chronicles, 2013), a group of articles that express conflicted feelings regarding his homeland—supporting Arab political rights but opposing Algerian independence. The first draft of an autobiographical novel, found in a briefcase after his death in a car crash, was published as Le Premier Homme (1994, tr. The First Man, 1995).

Bibliography

See Camus at "Combat": Writing 1944–1947, ed. by J. Levi-Valensi (2007); his Notebooks: 1935–1951, (2 vol., tr. 1963–65, repr. 1998) and Notebooks: 1951–1959 (tr. 2008); C. Camus (his daughter), Albert Camus: Solitude and Solidarity (tr. 2012); biographies by H. Lottman (1979) and O. Todd (1997); R. Zaretsky, Albert Camus: Elements of a Life (2010); studies by G. Brée (4th ed. 1972), D. Lazere (1973), L. Braun (1974), P. McCarthy (1982), B. L. Knapp, ed. (1988), D. Sprintzen (1988), H. Bloom, ed. (1989, repr. 2003), P. Thody (1989), D. R. Ellison (1990), J. McBride (1992), C. S. Brosman (2001), and M. Longstaffe (2007).

Camus, Albert

 

Born Nov. 7, 1913, in Mondovi, Algeria; died Jan. 4, 1960, in Villebleven, France. French writer, publicist, and philosopher.

The son of a worker, Camus studied in the department of philosophy at the University of Algiers, worked in the theater, participated in public activities, and wrote for the leftwing press. He published two collections of lyrical essays—Betwixt and Between (1937) and Marriage (1939). From 1934 to 1937 he was a member of the Communist Party. Camus moved to France in 1938, where he worked on the underground newspaper Combat, which he headed after the liberation from German occupation. The novella The Stranger (1942), the philosophical work The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), and production of the plays Cross Purpose (1944) and Caligula (1944) brought Camus fame. He belonged to J.-P. Sartre’s circle until their break in 1951. His social and political journalism (collected in three books, Tropical Notes, 1950–58), the philosophical and ideological essay The Rebel (1951), the novel-parable The Plague (1947), which was inspired by the Resistance Movement, the mystery State of Siege (1948), and a play about Russian Socialist Revolutionary terrorists, The Just Assassins (1950), made Camus one of the “rulers of men’s minds” among the petit bourgeois intelligentsia of the West—a philosopher who dreamed of an intermediate “third path” during the Cold War. His agonizing attempts to remain a “free spirit” by not joining either of the struggling camps, although he was in the thick of their social and ideological battles, affected Camus deeply, as is apparent in the novella The Fall (1956), the book of stories Exile and the Kingdom (1957), and The Swedish Speeches (1958; given on the occasion of his receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957).

Camus’s philosophical views were not strictly systematic but had much in common with the existentialist frame of mind, despite his openly expressed disagreement with the leading existentialist thinkers. Starting with the idea of the failure in the 20th century of the past claims of reason—whether worldly common sense, the rationalist theology of divine providence, or science—Camus proceeded to a perception of the order and ultimate metaphysical meaning of existence. According to him, the experience of human existence, which inevitably culminates in death, leads the thinking individual to the discovery of the “absurd” as his “eternal lot” on earth. However, this truth should not disarm the individual; on the contrary, it should awaken in him a higher courage to continue to live in spite of “chaos” and to get along without any arguments in favor of this decision.

Camus proclaimed the completeness of corporeal communication with nature to be the only value in principle and exposed civic, spiritual, and moral values as not genuine. However, during the Resistance, he reexamined the slogan “nothing is forbidden” in the light of the concept of the duty of every person toward “others” Letters to a German Friend, 1943–44). Subsequently, he arrived at a moralistic humanism based on the teachings of Christian charity and opposed to the morality that rests on social-historical aims. Thus, while he avoided Nietzscheanism, Camus also openly disagreed with revolutionary morality, preferring to it the righteousness of those who “do not make history but who suffer” its misfortunes.

Camus believed that in creating literary works the writer’s task was to clothe the chaotic world in ordered and complete forms. In this respect, he was a follower of 17th- and 18th-century French writers and moralists, whose work was characterized by strict, sharp clarity. Camus’s books gravitate to the parable, to the “tragic myth” of spiritual revelation, when man suddenly discovers his metaphysical fate as a mortal grain of sand and, guided by this truth, builds his path. From the demonic rebellion against fate in Caligula and the “pagan” immorality in The Stranger, through the stoic resistance in The Plague and the refined variant of the teaching “Thou shalt not kill” in The Just Assassins, to the bitter feeling of alienation from happiness in Exile and the Kingdom and The Fall—this is the path of Camus’s heroes, who are tormented by their quest for life’s truth. Their wanderings between willfulness and duty, loneliness and solidarity, and rebelliousness and withdrawal, are evidence of the unstable intellectual atmosphere in the West in the mid-20th century. Marxist philosophers in France and abroad have criticized Camus’s views as the expression of the ideological ambiguity of split petit bourgeois consciousness.

WORKS

Théâtre, récits, nouvelles. Paris, 1962.
Essais. Paris, 1965. In Russian translation: Izbrannoe. [Introductory article by S. Velikovskii.] Moscow, 1969.

REFERENCES

Shkunaeva, I. D. Sovremennaia frantsuzskaia literatura. Moscow, 1961.
Evnina, E. M. Sovremennyi frantsuzskii roman, 1940–1960. Moscow, 1962.
Mikhailova, L. “Nekotorye aspekty gumanizma v filosofii A. Kamiu.” Trudy Moskovskogo instituta narodnogo khoziaistva, 1967, no. 47.
Karpushin, V. A. “Kontseptsiia lichnosti u A. Kamiu.” Voprosy filosofii, 1967, no. 2.
Nicolas, A. A. Camus. Paris, 1966.
Quillot, R. La Mer et les prisons, essai sur A. Camus. Paris, 1956.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crepin, A. A. Camus: Essai de bibliographie. Brussels, 1960.

S. I. VELIKOVSKII

References in periodicals archive ?
Milton's Satan can be read as an example of the Absurd Hero, even on a par with Sisyphus, for because he resolves to "make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n" (PL I.
The Byronic Hero dwells in the past (Turin carries with him Beleg's sword, Anglachel, re-forged and renamed, as a token of guilt--like Cain's firebrand--as well as the Helm of Hador, which represents his filial duties and his life's purpose); the Absurd Hero dwells in the present.
The Absurd Hero is alone, and though the Byronic Hero is frequently depicted as a solitary figure, his solitude is largely metaphorical.
The Absurd Hero, on the other hand, entertains no notions of success, but still he persists.
Both types are faced with hopelessness and both are clearly distinguished by Autonomy of Will, but the Absurd Hero alone sees hope of necessary practicality within the parameters of hopelessness: there is nothing better in the universe.