As we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us and we are living in an interesting era. In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it. The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked.
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Albert Camus, however, was never comfortable with his own role. Camus, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in and whose birth centenary falls on November 7, spent much of his life and work examining what he considered the only philosophical question worth asking: whether suicide is an appropriate response to an absurd world. Camus in trench coat, collar upturned as a perpetual cigarette droops from the corner of his mouth, has become the emblem of the stylishly engaged writer.
But without it, that renascence would be without form and, consequently, would be nothing. Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future. Throughout his work, Camus insists repeatedly that the primary aim of art is to understand. While this explains, in part, his success with students, Camus goes always beyond that starting point to examine further his ideas in drama, fiction or philosophical essays through which he weaves connected thematic ideas.
While Camus insisted he was not a philosopher, his overarching themes, Zaretsky believes, are philosophical in a different sense of the word. It does not feel like solving a puzzle, where all that is needed is to find the right answer. Like the great tragic poets before him, he, too, chose to speak directly to his own present condition.
When war broke out in Europe, Camus learned of the hard brotherhood he later identified in his Nobel speech. A member of the French Resistance, Camus wrote for and ultimately edited the clandestine newspaper Combat. This night is worth a world; it is the night of truth … Nothing is given to men, and the little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. It lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition. Believing the artist must commit to his time, Camus evolved during one of the bleakest eras of his century.
And yet the darkness with which many continue to associate Camus is at odds with the clear hopefulness of his vision. This is one reason for the difficulties in pigeonholing Camus into a single school of thought. Another is his willingness to change his mind while others stood unyielding.
For these matters, and for his late silence on Algeria, Camus remains a contentious figure. Although Camus spent most of his adult life in France, in his own world Algeria remained the major reference point.
Only one of his novels, The Fall, is set outside of Algeria. He was a pied-noir, his father a descendant of the first generation of Frenchmen to settle in the country, his mother an illiterate washerwoman. But in the 53 years since his death, these starting points have continued to make his work accessible for each new generation.
The sea, rains, necessity, desire, the struggle against death … these are things that unite us all. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
All the rest afterwards. For much of the past century, he has continued to bestow readers with his own world and its singular message.
Create Dangerously: Albert Camus and the Power and Responsibility of the Artist
Every publication is a deliberate act, and that act makes us vulnerable to the passions of a century that forgives nothing. These are dangerous times to create art. Which is also to say, these are the best times to create art. But what makes these times dangerous anyway? After all, Camus gave his speech only a decade after WWII when fascism had almost conquered Europe, and the Soviet Empire was just beginning its rule over half the continent that would last the next half a century. The danger one experiences as an artist in the West pales in comparison to what an artist might experience in a country like Iran or China. After all, opprobrium on social media is hardly comparable to the punishment faced by dissidents living in a theocracy or dictatorship.
Create dangerously: Albert Camus and his quest for meaning
Albert Camus Date: Born in Algeria in , Albert Camus published The Stranger-- now one of the most widely read novels of this century-- in Celebrated in intellectual circles, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in On January 4, , he was killed in a car accident. Albert Camus was born in Algeria in