Camus was a French author and philosopher and one of the principal
luminaries (with Jean-Paul Sartre) of absurdism. Camus was the second
youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (after
Rudyard Kipling) when he received the award in 1957. He is also
the shortest-lived of any literature laureate to date, having died
in a car crash three years after receiving the award.
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 the Marne in 1914 during
the First World War, while serving as a member of the Zouave infantry
regiment. Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood
in the Belcourt section of Algiers.
1923, Camus was accepted into the lycée 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, Néo-Platonisme
et Pensée Chrétienne for his diplôme d'études
supérieures (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 Algérien, which got him into trouble with his
communist party comrades. As a result, he was denounced as "Trotskyite",
which did not endear him to Stalinist communism.
1934, he married Simone Hie, a morphine addict, but the marriage
ended due to infidelity from both of them. In 1935, he founded
Théâtre du Travail — "Worker's Theatre"
— (renamed Théâtre de l'Equipe ("Team's
Theatre") 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 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 from the French army because of his tuberculosis.
1940, Camus married Francine Faure, a pianist and mathematician.
Although he loved Francine, he had argued passionately against
the institution of marriage, dismissing it as unnatural, and even
after Francine gave birth to twins Catherine and Jean Camus on
September 5, 1945, he continued to joke wearily to friends that
he was not cut out for marriage. Francine suffered numerous infidelities,
particularly a public affair with the spanish actress Maria Casares.
Also in this year, Camus began to work for Paris-Soir magazine.
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 15, 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.
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.
the war, Camus became one member of Sartre's entourage and frequented
Café de Flore 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.
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.
most significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the
absurd, the result of our desire for clarity and meaning within
a world and condition that offers neither, which he explained
in The Myth of Sisyphus and incorporated into many of his other
works, such as The Plague. Some would argue that Camus is better
described not as an existentialist (a label he would have rejected)
but as an absurdist.
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 was
one of the few leftists who criticized Soviet methods to crush
a workers' strike in East Berlin. In 1956 he protested against
similar methods in Hungary.
maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment everywhere
in the world. One of his most significant contributions was an
essay collaboration with Koestler, the writer, intellectual, and
founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.
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 '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).
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.
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 "Réflexions 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. This led to further ostracism
by French left-wing intellectuals.
The bronze plaque on the monument to the French writer and philosopher
Albert Camus (1913-1960), built in the small town of Villeblevin
(France). The plaque says: "From the Yonne area's local council,
in tribute to the writer Albert Camus who was watched over in
the Villeblevin town hall in the night of the 4th to the 5th of
January 1960"Camus died on January 4, 1960 in a car accident
near Sens, in a place named "Le Grand Frossard" in the
small town of Villeblevin. Ironically, Camus had uttered a remark
earlier in his life that the most absurd way to die would be in
a car accident.
The driver of
the Facel Vega, Michel Gallimard -- his publisher and close friend
-- also perished in the accident. Camus was interred in the Lourmarin
Cemetery, Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur,
was survived by his twin children, Catherine and Jean, who hold
the copyrights to his work.
his death, two of Camus's works were published posthumously. The
first was an earlier version of The Stranger entitled A Happy
Death and was published in 1970. The second work was an unfinished
novel, The First Man, that Camus was writing before he died. The
novel was an autobiographical work about his childhood in Algeria
and was published in 1995.
Many writers have written on the Absurd, each with his or her
own interpretation of what the Absurd actually is and their own
ideas on the importance of the Absurd. For example, Sartre does
little more than acknowledge it while Kierkegaard bases the existence
of the God on the fact of the absurd. Camus was not the originator
of Absurdism and regretted the continued reference to him as a
philosopher of the absurd. He shows less and less interest in
the Absurd shortly after publishing Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth
of Sisyphus). To distinguish Camus's ideas of the Absurd from
those of other philosophers, people sometimes refer to the Paradox
of the Absurd, when referring to Camus's Absurd.
early thoughts on the Absurd appeared in his first collection
of essays, L'Envers et l'endroit (The Two Sides Of The Coin) in
1937. Absurd themes appeared with more sophistication in his second
collection of essays, Noces (Nuptials), in 1938. In these essays
Camus does not offer a philosophical account of the Absurd, or
even a definition; rather he 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/Outsider), and in the
same year released Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus),
a literary essay on the Absurd. He had also written a play about
a Roman Emperor, Caligula, pursuing an Absurd logic. However,
the play was not performed until 1945. The turning point in Camus's
attitude to the Absurd occurs in a collection of letters to a
fictitious German friend, published in the newspaper Combat.
ideas on the Absurd
In the essays Camus presented us with dualisms; happiness and
sadness, dark and light, life and death, etc. He wanted us to
face up to the fact that happiness is fleeting and that we will
die. He did this not to be morbid, but so we can love life and
enjoy our happiness when it occurs. In Le Mythe, this dualism
became 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. Whilst 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?
the Absurdist hero of L'Étranger, is a murderer who is
executed for his crimes. Caligula ends up admitting his Absurd
logic was wrong and is killed by an assassination he has deliberately
brought about. However, Camus, while obviously suggesting that
Caligula's Absurd reasoning is wrong, exalts Meursault as the
only Messiah we deserve. Le Mythe de Sisyphe raises questions
it cannot satisfactorily answer.
work on the Absurd was intended to promote a 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. In the essay Enigma,
Camus expressed his frustration at being labeled a philosopher
of the absurd. None of his previous work was intended to be a
definitive account of his thoughts on the Absurd, although the
Le Mythe de Sisyphe is often mistaken as such.
made a significant contribution to our understanding of the Absurd,
but was not himself an Absurdist. "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.