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On Albert Camus


I was first attracted by Camus, "prince of the absurd" when I was 16.  Camus still fascinates me, now well beyond what would have been his 100th birthday, and close to 60 years after his premature death in a car crash in Burgundy (it's said that he was found with an unused train ticket in his pocket - he'd planned to go by rail to Paris to rejoin his wife and children, but had accepted at the last minute the offer of a lift from his publisher).

Unlike Sartre, who was more of a systematic philosopher, Camus preferred to be labelled only as a writer, since he was doubtful about the power of reason and preferred to focus on how one should live, especially whether one should be primarily "solitaire ou solidaire".

The great advocate of the former, isolated path is Meursault, anti-hero of L'Etranger (full text here), the first book I read for my French A Level course and one of the forces that launched me into adulthood. Meursault talks about the "benign indifference of the universe".

"The realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning" quote shows Camus the absurdist. He argued that nothing has any meaning behind it. Life, the universe, and everything just happens to happen, so we humans have a hard time with this and create systems to bestow meaning on things. When we look at something without meaning and fail to give it one, we experience the feeling of the absurd. Camus argues that we must grasp this, and face the world as the meaningless void that it is. Indeed, in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, which I studied for my MA course at Edinburgh, Camus offered "suicide, religion or acceptance" as three possible responses to the Absurd: he chose acceptance.

In late 2013, commentator Geoff Dyer said of Camus that he carried within him "an unconquerable summer" that still warms us today.

For more about Camus' life and work, I'd recommend Albert Camus and The Absurd and a BBC series.

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