Albert Camus

This BBC talk on Albert Camus reminded me of my own enriching encounters with the writings of the Algerian born French existentialist many years ago.

Existentialism did not appeal to my primarily Marxist leanings, not even Sartre’s philosophical works and his attempts at synthesis of Marxism and existentialism had any long lasting impact, though the writings of Sartre, Beauvoir and Albert Camus instigated one to think critically. Even then, it was their literary works that held greater appeal. Some of the most influential works I was introduced to after having read the English and Russian classics, were those by these three writers. Camus, especially his novels The Outsider, The Fall and The Plague opened up a new landscape for me. In case of Sartre, I found his literary works like Nausea, very difficult to read. Funnily, his philosophical writings (like the supremely unreadable A Critique of Dialectical Reason) appealed more, despite their languid dreariness.

Sartre was a hero for us, mainly for his political stands and the fact that he continued to be a Marxist of sorts. Camus, on the other hand, despite his one time membership of the Communist Party (or perhaps because of it, some would aver) disowned Marxism, and was hence pretty much dismissed as a renegade. The only major philosophical work that I remember reading, with some trepidation, is The Myth of Sisyphus (of which my friend Rahul Banerjee is very fond of, incidentally.) The absurdity that the French existentialists spoke of did not strike a chord even then.

However, lately I found reading some of Camus’s philosophical works like The Rebel, Resistance, Rebellion and Death to be rather pleasant, which is perhaps a reflection both of the distance I have traveled since, and also the relative obscuring of ideological debates and dilemmas since Camus’s times.

It is still difficult to accept the ideological and philosophical positions of Camus, and as the talk on BBC radio indicates, Camus’ literary writings will rightfully outlive his philosophical works.

(Link to the BBC Talk via the excellent blog Ready Steady Book blog that I discovered today).

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Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

3 thoughts on “Albert Camus”

  1. Camus, Beckett, Kafka and from across the Atlantic Hemingway were the four literary greats who were deeply pained by the alienation of human values caused by industrial development and its accompanying militarism and tried to portray this in their own distinctive literary styles. I have always felt that top class literature is much much more powerful than the best of philosophy. after reading “the outsider” by camus, “waiting for godot” by beckett, “the trial” by kafka and “for whom the bell tolls” by hemingway one cant but feel that we as humans have lost the civilisational plot.

  2. You have someone as Steinbeck, who wrote “Grapes of Wrath,” go on to anti-communism. If you read closely enough, you’ll probably find the reactionary roots. With US authors, it usually is patriotism.

  3. @rahul: Your comment set me thinking on what writers are writing about our times. The existentialists wrote in the 1960s. After that there has been great literature written, but perhaps not by those who tread both philosophy and literature.
    @renegade eye: no disrespect meant to writers writing in English whether in UK or in the US, but they do not appeal to me (and I have said so earlier in one of my posts), so I cannot really comment on your point.

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