Camus, Albert_ Foley, John_ Camus, Albert-Albert Camus _ from the absurd to revolt-Queen's Policy St

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Unformatted text preview: 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page i ALBERT CAMUS 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page ii Page Intentionally Left Blank 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page iii ALBERT CAMUS FROM THE ABSURD TO REVOLT John Foley 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page iv First published 2008 by Acumen Published 2014 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © John Foley 2008 This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. No reproduction without permission. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notices Practitioners and researchers must always rely on their own experience and knowledge in evaluating and using any information, methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using such information or methods they should be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, including parties for whom they have a professional responsibility. To the fullest extent of the law, neither the Publisher nor the authors, contributors, or editors, assume any liability for any injury and/or damage to persons or property as a matter of products liability, negligence or otherwise, or from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, or ideas contained in the material herein. ISBN 978-1-84465-140-5 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-84465-141-2 (paperback) British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Typeset by Graphicraft Limited, Hong Kong. 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 For my mother and for Farah 04:34PM Page v 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page vi Page Intentionally Left Blank 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page vii It may be that the ideal of freedom to choose ends without claiming eternal validity for them, and the pluralism of values connected with this, is only the late fruit of our declining capitalist civilization: an ideal which remote ages and primitive societies have not recognized, and one which posterity will regard with curiosity, even sympathy, but little comprehension. This may be so; but no sceptical conclusions seem to me to follow. Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed. Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood or the absolute values of our primitive past. “To realise the relative validity of one’s convictions,” said an admirable writer of our time, “and yet stand for them unflinchingly, is what distinguishes a civilised man from a barbarian.” To demand more than this is perhaps a deep and incurable metaphysical need; but to allow it to determine one’s practice is a symptom of an equally deep, and more dangerous, moral and political immaturity. Isaiah Berlin, “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958) 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page viii Page Intentionally Left Blank 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page ix CONTENTS Acknowledgements Notes on the text and abbreviations Introduction xi xiii 1 1 The absurd The Myth of Sisyphus The Outsider Caligula Between nihilism and hope 5 5 14 22 26 2 Camus and Combat Camusian rebellion and political engagement Letters to a German Friend Camus and Combat “Neither Victims nor Executioners” The Plague 29 29 30 33 38 50 3 The Rebel Introduction Metaphysical rebellion Historical rebellion Hegel 55 55 58 60 63 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page x x ALBERT CAMUS Marx, history and state terrorism Unity and totality 67 76 4 Camus and political violence The scrupulous assassin “Reflections on the Guillotine” 87 87 100 5 Camus and Sartre The “revolted soul” “Hostile to history” “Freedom without brakes” Camus and Sartre on violence 108 108 115 122 126 6 Camus and Algeria A new Mediterranean culture A civilian truce 141 141 155 Conclusion 170 Notes Bibliography Index 173 214 235 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page xi ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I wish to thank the following individuals or institutions: the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences for the award of a postdoctoral fellowship 2004–6, during which much of this research was done; Kevin Barry and Nicholas Canny of the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where I worked for the duration of my IRCHSS fellowship; Mme Catherine Camus, who granted me extraordinary access to materials at the Centre de Documentation Albert Camus, Bibliothèque Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence, in the spring and summer of 2003, and Marcelle Mahasela, Director of the archive, who greatly assisted me in my research; the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, at the University of Texas at Austin, which awarded me a Mellon Fellowship in 2007, permitting the consultation of those papers in the Alfred Knopf Collection pertaining to Camus; the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, for assistance in finding my way through a small part of the John Gerassi Collection of Jean-Paul Sartre; Joe Mahon, at the Department of Philosophy, NUI Galway, who supervised this research through its initial stages; the editors of Albert Camus in the 21st Century (Rodopi, 2008), in which a version of Chapter 5 has appeared; Steven Gerrard of Acumen, for his support for this project and for his patience. The following individuals kindly responded to various queries, offered advice, or gave support: Hédi Abdel-Jaouad, Ronald Aronson, the late Konrad Bieber, Ian Birchall, the late Jo Campling, Cairns Craig, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Colin Davis, Phil Dine, Peter Dunwoodie, Raymond Gay-Crosier, John Gerassi, Daniel Gri-Gri, Eddie Hughes, John Kenny, Paschal O’Gorman, Eric Sellin, the late Pat Sheeran, Frank Shovlin, Joe Sweeney, Maurice Weyembergh. I am particularly grateful to David 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page xii xii ALBERT CAMUS Carroll and David Sprintzen, both of whom read the book in manuscript for the publisher and made several valuable suggestions. I owe a very great deal to my family, Mary, Charles and Stephen, and to Farah, without whom this work would not have been completed. John Foley 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page xiii NOTES ON THE TEXT AND ABBREVIATIONS In almost all cases the dates given for entries to the Carnets or Notebooks are approximate, as most entries are not dated. If no reference is given for a translation from the French, it is my own; if a reference to a translated text is followed by an asterisk (*), the translation has been revised. Finally, the following abbreviations have been used throughout: C1 C2 C3 CAC 1–8 CC COP E LACE MS NB1 NB2 Carnets I: mai 1935–février 1942 (Paris: Gallimard, 1962). Carnets II: janvier 1942–mars 1951 (Paris: Gallimard, 1964). Carnets III: mars 1951–décembre 1959 (Paris: Gallimard, 1989). Cahiers Albert Camus Vols 1–8 (see bibliography for full references to each volume). Camus at Combat: Writing 1944–1947, ed. J. Lévi-Valensi; fwd D. Carroll; trans. A. Goldhammer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). Caligula and Other Plays: Caligula, Cross Purpose, The Just, The Possessed, trans. S. Gilbert et al. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984). Essais, Introduction par R. Quilliot; Edition établie et annotée par R. Quilliot et L. Faucon (Paris: Gallimard/Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1965). Lyrical and Critical Essays, trans. E. C. Kennedy; ed. P. Thody (New York: Knopf, 1968). The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. J. O’Brien (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975). Notebooks 1935–1942, ed. & trans. P. Thody (New York: Knopf, 1963). Notebooks 1942–1951, ed. & trans. J. O’Brien (New York: Knopf, 1965). 9781844651405_A01_Acumen.qxd 10/09/2008 04:34PM Page xiv xiv ALBERT CAMUS OCI OCII R RRD SCHC SEN TO TP TRN Œuvres Complètes: Tome 1, 1931–1944, ed. J. Lévi-Valensi et al. (Paris: Gallimard/Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2006). Œuvres Complètes: Tome 2, 1944–1948, ed. J. Lévi-Valensi et al. (Paris: Gallimard/Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2006). The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, revised and complete trans. A. Bower; fwd H. Read (New York: Knopf, 1956). Resistance, Rebellion and Death, trans. J. O’Brien (New York: Knopf, 1960). Sartre and Camus: A Historic Confrontation, eds & trans. D. Sprintzen & A. van den Hoven (New York: Humanity, 2004). Selected Essays & Notebooks, ed. & trans. P. Thody (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979). The Outsider, trans. J. Laredo (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983). The Plague, trans. S. Gilbert (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960). Théâtre, Récits, Nouvelles, Préface par J. Grenier; Textes établis et annotés par R. Quilliot (Paris: Gallimard/Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1962). 9780773534667_A02.qxd 10/09/2008 10:42 AM Page 1 INTRODUCTION It is essential for us to know whether man, without the help of the eternal or of rationalistic thought, can unaided create his own values . . . the uneasiness that concerns us belongs to a whole epoch from which we do not want to dissociate ourselves. . . . We know that everything is not summed up in negation and absurdity. But we must first posit negation and absurdity because they are what our generation has encountered and what we must take into account.1 (Albert Camus, “Le Pessimisme et le Courage”, Combat 3 November 1944) Despite his popular image, strictly speaking Camus was not an existentialist. His first major philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), was explicitly intended as a critique of existentialism, especially the Christian existentialist tradition of Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Chestov. According to Camus, starting from the premise that nothing in the world has meaning or depth, existentialists proceed, through a leap of irrational faith, to find meaning and depth in it. He thus criticizes representatives of the philosophical movement with which he is most closely associated for “deify[ing] what crushes them and find[ing] reason to hope in what impoverishes them” (MS: 35; E: 112). Moreover, although in France in the 1940s and 1950s to be an existentialist was, most probably, to be a follower or admirer of Sartre’s atheistic existentialism, we find in this period both Sartre and Camus repeatedly insisting that Camus was definitively neither an existentialist nor a Sartrean. Indeed, in 1939, reviewing Sartre’s short story collection The Wall, Camus can be seen to object to Sartre’s depiction of human freedom as both total and futile. For Camus, as David Sprintzen notes, the characters of Sartre’s fiction have “absolutised their freedom to compensate for a transcendent absolute by whose absence they are haunted”. Furthermore, this freedom “bears witness to a deeper isolation from the world around them and, most particularly, from nature” (Sprintzen 1988: 44). In the world described by Sartre, the individual is “reduced to self-contemplation”, is conscious of “his profound indifference to everything that is not himself ”, is “alone, enclosed in this freedom”. This solipsism is symptomatic of the discovery of the absurd but, says Camus in a review of Sartre’s Nausea in 1938, “the realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning. This is a truth that nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery that is interesting, but the consequences and rules for action that can be drawn from it.”2 9780773534667_A02.qxd 10/09/2008 10:42 AM Page 2 2 ALBERT CAMUS Although the “absurd”, as we shall see, constitutes Camus’s “first principle”, he nevertheless defines his intellectual programme precisely in contrast with existentialism. In 1943, for example, he declares that the purpose of The Myth of Sisyphus is to define “an absurd way of thinking [une pensée absurde], that is, one delivered of metaphysical hope, by way of a criticism of several themes of existential philosophy”.3 In 1944 he declares that, although it is a “great philosophical adventure”, he believes the conclusions of existentialism to be “false”; a few weeks later, Sartre characterizes Camus as a proponent not of existentialism but of a “coherent and profound . . . philosophy of the absurd”.4 In November 1945, a month after the first issue of Sartre’s journal Les Temps modernes appeared, Camus declared: No I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names associated. We think that one day we may publish a short statement in which the undersigned affirm that they have nothing in common and that they each refuse to answer for the debts that the other may have incurred . . . Sartre and I had published all of our books, without exception, before becoming acquainted. Our eventual meeting only confirmed our differences. Sartre is an existentialist, and the only book of ideas I’ve written, The Myth of Sisyphus, is directed against the so-called existentialist philosophers.5 Two days later in another interview Camus reiterates the same points, adding that “if one is an existentialist because one poses the problem of human ends, then all literature, from Montaigne to Pascal”, deserves to be called existentialist.6 In an interview in December 1945, Sartre responds unequivocally to the “almost habitual” association of his work with that of Camus: “It rests”, he says, “on a serious confusion. Camus is not an existentialist.” His “real masters”, says Sartre, are not “Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Heidegger” but “the French moralists of the 17th century”.7 In the same month, Camus reaffirms his differences with existentialism, and suggests that the confusion whereby he is treated as a “disciple” of Sartre in the popular media may derive from the fact that few people seem to understand the meaning of existentialism. He affirms that he is not a philosopher, on the basis that he has not “sufficient faith in reason to believe in a system”, and criticizes theistic existentialism for its irrational leap of faith.8 Critically, in this interview Camus goes on to introduce another criticism of existentialism, one which, I would suggest, is directed primarily if not exclusively at Sartre. In The Myth of Sisyphus, as we have noted, Camus accused the existentialists (theistic existentialists in particular) of “deifying what crushes them”. In this interview he criticizes atheistic existentialists for what he considers to be a similar resort to divine mystery, this time in what he sees as a divinization of history: “they no longer believe in God, but they believe in history”, history considered as an absolute value, an idea rooted in Hegel and Marx, for whom the totalizing “meaning” and direction of history were discernible. Although Camus admits to understanding the attraction of the religious “solution” and, most especially, he appreciates the importance of history, he believes in neither “in their absolute sense”. “It makes me very uneasy”, he says, “that I am being forced 9780773534667_A02.qxd 10/09/2008 10:42 AM Page 3 INTRODUCTION 3 to choose between Saint Augustine and Hegel. I have the impression that there must be a tenable truth between the two extremes.”9 Although such an appeal to “history” as a transcendent value may seem alien to existentialism, it was entirely relevant to Sartre, who, as is well known, sought to reconcile his existentialism with Marxism, and who had in the interview just quoted identified himself as a Marxist.10 To this extent, Camus’s rejection of existentialism became more a focused rejection of Sartrean existentialism and what he considered the incompatibility of its alleged deification of history with its affirmation of human freedom.11 A month later, in January 1945, Camus responded to a review of his play Caligula, which suggested that the play “is but an illustration of the principles of Sartre’s existentialism”. Camus replied, pointing out that, first, the play had been written in 1938, before Sartre’s existentialist works had been published, secondly, his only book of ideas, The Myth of Sisyphus, explicitly criticizes existentialism (and part of this critique may still be applied to Sartre) and, thirdly, that although he recognized the “historical importance” of existentialism he had not sufficient faith in reason to subscribe to a system, to the point that even Sartre’s manifesto in the first issue of Les Temps modernes seemed to him “unacceptable”.12 As we shall see, this critique of Sartrean existentialism achieves its ultimate expression in The Rebel (1951), the essay that provoked a spectacular end to their association in the public eye. Here Camus notes that while “atheistic existentialism” may wish to “create a morality”, it has yet to respond to the “real difficulty” involved in creating such a morality “without introducing into historical existence a value foreign to history”.13 For the present purposes, the merits of Camus’s criticism of existentialism are not at issue – the point is simply that he went to considerable effort to distinguish himself from existentialism, particularly Sartrean existentialism, and that any attempt to read Camus as an existentialist should take this into account. Camus, in this account, can be seen to object to what we might call philosophical existentialism on the basis that: (a) although, broadly, he agrees with the initial absurd premise of existentialism, he claims that in its response to the absurd it “deifies what crushes it” (this was especially the case for theistic existentialists); and (b) in its Sartrean form, its “deification of history” is incompatible with the existentialist affirmation of radical human freedom. There is of course another, less technical way in which the term existentialist can be deployed, and identifying Camus with this group is hardly problematic. How we want to describe this broader group of writers is open to debate, but it seems that we could do far worse than use Camus’s reference to a literature concerned with “the problem of human ends”. In any event, although classifying Camus as an existentialist constitutes a singularly unhelpful way of assessing the merits of his thought (because he was a critic, not an exponent, of existentialism), reading him as a moraliste or, to use his own term, “an existential writer” may provide little assistance in determining the value of his writing.14 This book suggests that Camus’s oeuvre can be read in a relatively systematic way if we concentrate on two pivotal concepts in his writing: the absurd and revolt. It argues that they are both intellectually coherent, meaning that they admit a fair 9780773534667_A02.qxd 10/09/2008 10:42 AM Page 4 4 ALBERT CAMUS degree of analytic scrutiny, and, furthermore, that they are mutually dependent upon one another, by which I mean that, according to Camus, if the absurd is not to degenerate into moral nihilism it must rehabilitate itself in the light of revolt, and that if revolt is not to deteriorate into a regime of tyranny and oppression, it must remain conscious of its origins in the absurd premise.15 There have been a number of important critical contributions that share this view of the relation between the two concepts (notably those of David Sprintzen and Thomas W. Busch), but there remains an influential critical perspective according to which Camus eventually rejected the absurd in favour of revolt (most recently in Avi Sagi and Richard Kamber).16 The problem with such a perspective is that it inevitably leads to a distorted view of both the absurd and revolt and, as we shall see, can result in Camus’s concept of the absurd being identified with nihilism, and his...
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