Friday, August 19, 2011

Albert Camus

Is life still livable if we know it is meaningless?  If we can accept the banality and purposeless of life than why should we continue to exist?  Can there be optimism without hope? These are the questions asked by Albert Camus (1913-1960), a French-Algerian author and philosopher. Camus has been labeled an existentialist, an appellation he and his friend John-Paul Sartre denied.   However, Camus's writings clearly describe a division between "existence" and "essence" and our freedom to define our own lives, a hallmark of existential philosophy.

Perhaps reflecting his existentialist proclivities, Camus was a man of contradictions.  He was born and raised in French occupied Algeria and supported the colonial policies of France. However he also called for greater equality with the native Arab population.  Once a pacifist, he eventually joined French resistance against the Nazis and edited the paper "Combat". Camus joined the Communist Party only to abandon it later and decry the violence of the Soviet Union against the Hungarians in 1957. 

My first exposure to Camus was watching Talladega Nights with Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen) reading "The Stranger" behind the wheel of his Formula One car while racing Ricky Bobby (Will Farrel). I had absolutely no idea who Camus was, other than a Frenchman.  I am a bit embarrassed to admit that now, but I have already stated I am "An Unread American". Besides "The Stranger", Camus's other great works include "The Plague" and "The Myth of Sisyphus".  Camus received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957, the second youngest recipient of that prize. 

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