Albert Camus

 was born on 7 November, 1913 in Mondovi, Algeria to a (Pied-Noir) settler family.[4] His mother was of Spanish extraction and was half-deaf. His father Lucien, a poor agricultural worker of possible Alsatian origin, 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. In 1923, he 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 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. thesis).

Camus joined the French Communist Party in the Spring of 1935 seeing it as a way to “fight inequalities between Europeans and ‘natives’ in Algeria.” He did not suggest he was a Marxist or that he had read Das Kapital, but did write that “[w]e might see communism as a springboard and asceticism that prepares the ground for more spiritual activities”.[5] In 1936, the independence-minded Algerian Communist Party (PCA) was founded. Camus joined the activities of the Algerian People’s Party (Le Parti du Peuple Algérien), which got him into trouble with his Communist party comrades. As a result, he was denounced as a Trotskyite and expelled from the party in 1937. Camus went on to be associated with the French anarchist movement.

The anarchist Andre Prudhommeaux first introduced him at a meeting in 1948 of the Cercle des Etudiants Anarchistes (Anarchist Student Circle) as a sympathiser who was familiar with anarchist thought. Camus went on to write for anarchist publications such as Le Libertaire, La révolution Proletarienne and Solidaridad Obrera (the organ of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT). Camus also stood with the anarchists when they expressed support for the uprising of 1953 in East Germany. He again stood with the anarchists in 1956, first with the workers’ uprising in Poznan, Poland, and then later in the year with the Hungarian Revolution.

In 1934, he married Simone Hie, a morphine addict, but the marriage ended as a consequence of infidelities on both sides. 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-Républicain, 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 by the French army because of his tuberculosis.

In 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. Even after Francine gave birth to twins, Catherine and Jean, on 5 September 1945, he continued to joke wearily to friends that he was not cut out for marriage. Camus conducted numerous affairs, particularly an irregular and eventually public affair with the Spanish-born actress Maria Casares. In the same year Camus 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 15 December 1941, Camus witnessed the execution of Gabriel Péri, an event that Camus later said crystallized his revolt against the Germans. Afterwards he moved to Bordeaux alongside the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In the same 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 nom de guerre “Beauchard”. Camus became the paper’s editor in 1943, and when the Allies liberated Paris, Camus reported on the last of the fighting. He was, however, one of the few French editors to publicly express opposition to the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima soon after the event on 8 August 1945. He eventually resigned from Combat in 1947, when it became a commercial paper. It was then that Camus became acquainted with Jean-Paul Sartre.

After the war, Camus began frequenting the Café de Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris with Sartre and others. Camus also toured the United States to lecture about French thinking. 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’ first 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 Stranger and The Plague. Despite the split from his “study partner,” Sartre, some still argue that Camus falls into the existentialist camp. However, he rejected that label himself in his essay Enigma and elsewhere (see: The Lyrical and Critical Essays of Albert Camus). The current confusion may still arise, as many recent applications of existentialism have much in common with many of Camus’ practical ideas (see: Resistance, Rebellion, and Death). However, the personal understanding he had of the world (e.g. “a benign indifference”, in The Stranger), and every vision he had for its progress (e.g. vanquishing the “adolescent furies” of history and society, in The Rebel) undoubtedly set him apart.

In 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 criticized Soviet methods to crush a workers’ strike in East Berlin. In 1956 he protested against similar methods in Poland (protests in Poznań) and the Soviet repression of the Hungarian revolution in October.

He maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment anywhere in the world. One of his most significant contributions to the movement against capital punishment was an essay collaboration with Arthur Koestler, the writer, intellectual and founder of the League Against Capital Punishment.

 

The bronze plaque on the monument to Camus, built in the small town of Villeblevin, France. The plaque reads: “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 4 January – 5 January 1960.”

When the Algerian War began in 1954 it presented a moral dilemma for Camus. He identified with pied-noirs, and defended the French government on the grounds that the revolt in Algeria 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’.[6] 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 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 “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times” 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 about what might happen to his mother, who still lived in Algeria. This led to further ostracism by French left-wing intellectuals

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