French philosopher and author Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913. His family were pied-noirs, or French settlers, in Algeria. He and his mother lived in poverty after the death of his father in the Battle of the Marne in 1914. Camus worked his way through university in Algiers, earning the equivalent of an M.A. in philosophy, despite weakened health due to tuberculosis.
In World War II, he was rejected from the army because of his TB. It was during this time that he wrote his greatest work L’Étranger (lay-trahn-zjay), The Stranger about alienation. (Don’t read it while blue.) He also worked on the newspaper of a Resistance cell, eventually becoming its editor. In it, he opposed the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan.
After the war, he became part of the group of literati who hung out at Café Flore in Paris. Back in 1949, Camus railed against the love affair with technology in the developed world. Imagine how he’d feel about today’s obsession of anything that can be plugged into a wall. His TB returned and he dropped out of sight for a few years, just working on his writing.
He’s hard to pigeon-hole as an anarchist, communist, existentialist, absurdist, or any other “ist” because he rejected all such labels, except one: pacifist.The 1950s were devoted to working for human rights. Camus advocated pacifism and opposed capital punishment. During the Algerian War for independence, Camus proposed a plan for co-existence between the pied-noirs and the Arabs that was rejected by both parties as impracticable. Although a pied-noir himself, and worried about how his actions might impact his mother who still lived in Algeria, he worked on behalf of Arabs who were sentenced to death.
In 1957, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the second youngest recipient of the prestigious award. The jury singled out his anti-capital punishment essay, “Réflexions sur la guillotine” (“Reflections on the Guillotine”) as particularly influential on their decision.
When he died on January 4, 1960, it was not TB that killed him, however, but a car accident. In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. At the last minute he accepted a ride from his publisher, who also died in the wreck, rather than taking the train. Our lives are a made of, or ended by, such seemingly inconsequential choices.
Resistance, Rebellion, and Death: Essays (includes Camus’s Nobel Prize Winning essay)
- camus on desire (ceciliasartandthings.wordpress.com)
- Don’t Walk Behind Me – Camus (jharnisch.com)
- Albert Camus Talks About Adapting Dostoyevsky for the Theatre, 1959 (openculture.com)
- Autumn Quote: Camus (herybka.wordpress.com)
- Reflections On The First Frost (artspiritvillage.com)