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Albert Camus

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Albert Camus
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Albert Camus

Albert Camus (November 7, 1913January 4, 1960) was a French author and philosopher and one of the principal luminaries (with Jean-Paul Sartre) of existentialism.

Contents

Early years

Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria to a French Algerian (pied noir) settler family. His mother was of Spanish extraction. His father, Lucien, died in the Battle of Marne in 1914 during the First World War. Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood in the Belcourt section of Algiers.

In 1923 Camus was accepted into the lyce and eventually to the University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his football activities (he had been a goalkeeper for the university team) and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk, and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie (BA) in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, No-Platonisme et Pense Chrtienne for his diplme d'tudes suprieures (roughly equivalent to an M.A. by thesis).

Camus joined the French Communist Party in 1934, apparently for concern over the political situation in Spain (which eventually resulted in the Spanish Civil War) rather than support for Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In 1936 the independence-minded Algerian Communist Party (PCA) was founded. Camus joined the activities of Le Parti du Peuple Algrien, which got him into trouble with his communist party comrades. As a result, he was denounced as "Trotskyite", which did not endear him to communism.

In 1934 he married Simone Hie, but the marriage ended due to Simone's morphine addiction. In 1935 he founded Thtre du Travail — "Worker's Theatre" — (renamed Thtre de l'Equipe in 1937), which survived until 1939. From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper, Alger-Republicain, and his work included an account of the Arabs who lived in Kabyles 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 from the French army because of his illness.

In 1940, Camus married Francine Faure and he began to work for Paris-Soir magazine. In the first stage of World War II, the so-called Phony War stage, Camus was a pacifist. However, he was in Paris to witness how the Wehrmacht took over. On December 19, 1941, Camus witnessed the execution of Gabriel Peri, an event which Camus later said crystallized his revolt against the Germans. Afterwards he moved to Bordeaux alongside the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In this year he finished his first books, The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. He returned briefly to Oran, Algeria in 1942.

Literary career

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 moniker "Beauchard". Camus became the paper's editor in 1943, and when the Allies liberated Paris Camus reported on the last of the fighting. He eventually resigned from Combat in 1947, when it became a commercial paper. It was here that he became acquainted with Jean-Paul Sartre.

After the war, Camus became one member of Sartre's entourage and frequented Caf de Flores on the Boulevard St. Germain in Paris. Camus also toured the United States to lecture about French existentialism. Although he leaned left politically, his strong criticisms of communist doctrine did not win him any friends in the communist parties and eventually also alienated Sartre.

In 1949 his tuberculosis returned and he lived in seclusion for two years. In 1951 he published The Rebel, a philosophical analysis of rebellion and revolution which made clear his rejection of communism. The book upset many of his colleagues and contemporaries in France and led to the final split with Sartre. The dour reception depressed him and he began instead to translate plays.

Camus's most significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the absurd, the realisation that life has no meaning, which he explained in The Myth of Sisyphus and incorporated into many of his other works. Some would argue that Camus is better described not as an existentialist but as an absurdist.

In the 1950s Camus devoted his effort 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 was one of the few leftists who criticized Soviet methods to crush a worker's strike in East Berlin. In 1956 he protested similar methods in Hungary.

He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment everywhere in the world.

When the Algerian War of Independence began in 1954 it presented a moral dilemma for Camus. He identified with pied-noirs, and defended the French government on the grounds that revolt of its North African colony was really an integral part of the a 'new Arab imperialism' led by Egypt and an 'anti-Western' offensive orchestrated by Russia to 'encircle Europe' and 'isolate the United States' (Actuelles III: Chroniques Algeriennes, 1939-1958). 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 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 clandestinely 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, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment in the essay "Rflexions Sur la Guillotine". When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the Algerian question and stated that he was worried what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. Apparently French left-wing intellectuals used this as another pretext to ostracize him.

Missing image
20041113-002_Lourmarin_Tombstone_Albert_Camus.jpg
Albert Camus' gravestone

Camus died on January 4, 1960 in a car accident near Sens, in a place named "Le Grand Frossard". The driver of the Facel Vega was also his publisher and close friend Michel Gallimard, who also perished in the accident. Camus was interred in the Lourmarin Cemetery, Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Cte d'Azur, France. He was survived by his twin children, Catherine and Jean, whom hold the copyrights to his work.

Summary of Absurdism

Camus particularly is considered the originator of absurdism, a philosophy related to Existentialism. Absurdism contends that human beings are basically irrational and human suffering is the result of vain attempts by individuals to find reason or meaning in the absurd abyss of existence.

Camus claimed that the only true philosophical question was that of suicide. That is, should we bother living at all or simply kill ourselves? Camus argued that historically most people have either believed that life is meaningless and concluded in favor of suicide, or have created some artificial meaning like religion to fill their lives. Camus claims that there is a third option: we can realize that life is meaningless and nevertheless keep living. People who opt for this third option are "absurd heroes."

The Rebel, the Don Juan, and the Artist are three figures that Camus identifies as absurd heroes. Each of these people finds meaning in his or her own pursuits and thus lives up to the example of the Greek mythical figure Sisyphus, who was "condemned" to push a boulder up a hill for eternity fully aware that the boulder would simply fall down the hill as soon as he seemingly finished his task.

Famous works

Novels

  • The Stranger (L'tranger, also translated as The Outsider) (1942)
  • The Plague (La Peste) (1947)
  • The Fall (La Chute) (1956)
  • A Happy Death (La Mort heureuse) (early version of The Stranger, published posthumously 1970)
  • The First Man (Le premier homme) (incomplete, published posthumously 1995)

Short stories

Non-fiction

Plays

Collections

Movies

Curiosity

The character Kamus, the guardian of the eleventh temple of the Athena Sanctuary, in the manga series "Saint Seiya" (by Masami Kurumada) was named after Albert Camus.

Bibliography

  • Heiner Wittmann, Albert Camus. Kunst und Moral. Dialoghi/Dialogues. Literatur und Kultur Italiens und Frankreichs. Hrsg. Dirk Hoeges, Peter Lang, Frankfurt/M u.a. 2002

External links

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