The recent passing of Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens, Alexander Cockburn, Robert Hughes and William Gay and the panegyric outpourings that have necessarily followed has given me pause to ruminate on the mortality of the writer. Or said in another way, their immortality —to wonder how or if future readers and thinkers will seek out the words and pages of our era’s literary torch bearers. Which leads me to a riveting tome focused on Algerian writer Albert Camus— Albert Camus: Solitude and Solidarity (Edition Olms)edited by his daughter Catherine.
Camus died in a car crash at the age of 46 in 1960.Having won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years earlier, Camus as a writer, journalist,playwright and activist managed to leave a substantial body of work. Catherine Camus weavers samples from his works with an array of photographs photographs and archival material—some seeing the light of day for the first time.Robert Zaretsky has a well-considered and useful appreciation of both Camus and his daughter’s celebration of her long dead father. He opines:
For Camus, much of life could be, if not summed up, at least suggested with the image of the desert. The semi-arid plateaus of the Atlas Mountains and Sahara frame most of the short stories of Exile and the Kingdom. This sun-blasted sea of sand and rocks refuses to surrender an answer to characters and readers in search of meaning. And yet, as is the case with Daru, the hero of Camus’s most haunting story, “The Guest,” …
…The desert sculpted not only Camus’s sense of worldly solitude, but also his solidarity with the rest of humankind subject to the same exile. The desert was the scene of political and ideological crimes committed by France that Camus denounced as a journalist. There is a grainy photograph of the young Camus, dapper in a suit, tie, and overcoat, one hand plunged into his pocket, surrounded by fellow reporters and typesetters — many of whom are holding copies of their newspaper L’Alger Républicain. The young man, his face slightly tilted and one leg set firmly ahead of the other, stares directly at the camera. We see the same confident focus on Camus’s face in the photo of his university soccer team: he crouches over the ball, leaning toward the camera with an eager smile. His duty as a journalist was scarcely different from his task as goalie: the last line of defense against the press of those committed to his team’s defeat.
It worth glancing at Camus’s Nobel Banquet speech:
Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death. In a world threatened by disintegration, in which our grand inquisitors run the risk of establishing forever the kingdom of death, it knows that it should, in an insane race against the clock, restore among the nations a peace that is not servitude, reconcile anew labour and culture, and remake with all men the Ark of the Covenant. It is not certain that this generation will ever be able to accomplish this immense task, but already it is rising everywhere in the world to the double challenge of truth and liberty and, if necessary, knows how to die for it without hate. Wherever it is found, it deserves to be saluted and encouraged, particularly where it is sacrificing itself. In any event, certain of your complete approval, it is to this generation that I should like to pass on the honour that you have just given me.
And in case you need a little context or a refresher here’s David Berger short documentary on Camus and Sartre.
Currently reading Dare Me By Megan Abbott (Reagan Arthur Books)