Albert Camus: Life



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Albert Camus: Life

  • Albert Camus (1913-1960)
    • Born in a small village in Algeria of a French father & a Spanish mother; he spent most of his early life in the city of Algiers.
      • Algeria became a French colony in 1848.
      • A war for independence began in 1954 and lasted until 1962.

Albert Camus: Life

    • His father was killed in WWII.
    • His mother supported herself and her two sons doing cleaning.
    • Won a scholarship to the local lycée (college preparatory school)

Albert Camus: Life

    • In 1930, at the age of seventeen, suffered an attack of tuberculosis. Affected his health for the remainder of his life.
    • Attended the University of Algiers between 1932 and 1936 where he studied philosophy.
    • Married in 1933; lasted briefly.
    • In 1934, joined the Community Party; left the Party a few years later.

Albert Camus: Life

    • Joined a theatrical company from 1935 to 1939.
    • Then decided to become a journalist. Worked first for the Alger-Républicain; then moved to Paris and worked for Paris-Soir.
    • With the invasion of France in 1940, he with the staff of Paris-Soir moved to Lyons.

Albert Camus: Life

    • Albert Camus in the late 1930s with his colleagues at the Alger Républicain

Albert Camus: Life

    • In Lyons, in 1940, he married Francine Faure
    • In 1941, for reasons of health, he moved to Oran and then Algiers.
    • Suffered another attack of tuberculosis in 1942. Went to the mountains of central France to recover.
    • The allied landings cut him off from his wife, who had remained in Oran.

Albert Camus: Life

    • 1942 - published L’Etranger & in 1943, Le Mythe de Sysyphe.
    • These two works brought him fame
    • 1943 - he joined the resistance and became the editor of the movements newspaper, Combat
    • September 1945 - birth of twins, Jean & Catherine
    • 1946 - lecture tour of the United States
    • 1947 - publication of La Peste

Albert Camus: Life

    • Camus in 1944, at age 31

Albert Camus: Life

    • 1950 - L’Homme révolté - a collection of essays expressing his political philosophy; strongly anti-Marxist (see the character Tarrou in The Plague)
    • 1956 - publication of La Chute
    • 1957 - awarded the Nobel prize for literature
    • 1960 - killed in an automobile accident

Albert Camus: Life

    • Camus & his wife, Francine, December 1957, Stolkholm. Reception on the occasion of the Nobel prize.

Background: Existentialism

  • Background to The Plague
    • Existentialism
      • Historical roots
        • Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
          • Theme of the necessity of making decisions in the face of inadequate knowledge--e.g., choice of spouse, religious commitment

Background: Existentialism

          • This brings with it deep anxiety. This anxiety is “the dizziness of freedom which occurs when freedom looks down into its own possibility.”
          • We touch reality most deeply at times of painful decision.

Background: Existentialism

        • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
          • The theme of the death of God & the resulting disorientation & experience of nothingness (meaninglessness).
          • “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried [more]

Background: Existentialism

          • incessantly, ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ . . . ‘Whither is God’ he cried. ‘I shall tell you. We have killed him--you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizen? What did we do when we unchained this [more]

Background: Existentialism

          • earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we now plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? . . . God is dead. . . . And we [more]

Background: Existentialism

          • have killed him. . . . Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?’” (from The Gay Science, 1882)
          • What kind of a statement is Nietzsche’s declaration of the death of God?

Background: Existentialism

          • One can overcome the meaninglessness brought about by the death of God by an act of will--a superhuman effort of will.

Background: Existentialism

      • Existentialism is a European school of philosophy which begins with the publication of Martin Heidegger’s (1889-1976) Being and Time in 1927 & lasted into the 1960s.
        • Some leading Existentialists
          • Martin Buber (Israeli, 1878-1965)
          • Jean Paul-Sartre (French, 1905-1980)

Background: Existentialism

          • Simone de Beauvoir (French, 1908-1986)
          • The word Existentialism -- concern with the concrete, the individual, & the unique vs essentialism - concern with the universal, the general.

Background: Existentialism

        • The principal themes of Existentialism (6)
        • 1. The primacy of the individual
          • Rejection of all attempts at a universal definition of humanness.
          • Description of specific moods & feelings.

Background: Existentialism

        • 2. Critique of reason & an emphasis on will
          • Western philosophy has been dominated by reason to the neglect of will & feelings.
          • Miguel de Unamuno (Spanish, 1864-1936): “Man is said to be a reasoning animal. I do not know why he has not been defined as

Background: Existentialism

          • an effective or feeling animal. Perhaps what differentiates him from other animals is feeling rather than reason.”
          • On the most important issues of life, one must often make a choice (act of the will) which goes beyond reason (a Kierkegaardian theme).

Background: Existentialism

          • Nietzsche interpreted Socrates as a villain of Western thought because of his emphasis on reason over the tragic view of life as expressed in Greek drama.

Background: Existentialism

        • 3. An emphasis on will, choice
          • Sartre: Humans are free to choose their nature. Humans make themselves through their choices.
          • Kierkegaard: religious faith requires a leap of faith

Background: Existentialism

        • 4. Inauthentic ways of living
          • Living entirely according to routine and according to roles
          • Lossing one’s uniqueness & individuality

Background: Existentialism

          • What is living authentically? The Existentialists were reluctant to answer this question with a specific position. Minimally, it means self-awareness, especially on the level of feeling. Cf. Socrates’ “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Background: Existentialism

        • 5. Boundary situations
          • Special events which break one out of routine and roles
          • These are an opportunity for reflection and change

Background: Existentialism




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