Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913, a French colony at the time. He studied philosophy at the University of Algiers, then became a journalist.
He was born in a poor working-class family, his mother was an illiterate cleaning lady, and there were no books in his house, he lost his father when he was a few months old in the First World War. When he started going to the lycée or secondary school, he was a stranger. He came from a poor suburb and was suddenly surrounded by young boys with middle-class families.
As time passed, he soon became a well-known character in the university circles and ladies were very attracted to him. He particularly loved football, stating that: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”
However, at age 17 he was struck down by tuberculosis. It interrupted his studies and his physical life. During this time, he became fascinated by theatre and acting. He organised the Theatre de l’Équipe, a young avant-garde dramatic group.
Camus married pianist and mathematician Francine, who gave birth to twins, Catherine, and Jean.
In 1939 his play, Caligula appeared, the story of a Roman Emperor famed for his cruelty and seemingly insane behaviour. Later, he published his famous novel L’Etranger translated as The Stranger (or The Outsider), and the philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus.
After the occupation of France by the Germans in 1940, Camus became one of the intellectual leaders of the Resistance movement. He joined the French Resistance and became the head of the underground newspaper Combat, which he had helped found. All the students at that time read Combat, it was the newspaper that came out of the resistance and carried a daily article.
After the war, he devoted himself to writing and established an international reputation and a celebrity figure with his novels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. At age 44, the second youngest recipient in history. He said:
“Whatever the circumstances of a writer’s life, obscure or temporarily famous, immersed in the fires of tyranny or free for a time to express himself, he can recover a sense of a living community that will justify him, but only on condition that he accepts, as much as he is able to, the two responsibilities that represent the grandeur of his profession, to serve truth and freedom.”
At the time Algeria was fighting for independence and there were strong differences in opinions throughout the world. He was distraught by the events there, he could think of nothing else, he did not accept the idea of independence, feeling that he had equal rights to the soil in Algeria that belong to most of his childhood.
“For years I wanted to live according to the morality of the majority, I forced myself to live like everyone else. I said what was necessary to say in order to bond, even when I felt separate. The upshot of all this was catastrophic, now I am wandering among the wreckage, resigned to my singularity and my disabilities and I have to rebuild the truth, having lived all my life inside a kind of lie.”
After receiving the Nobel Prize, he was no longer poor and for the first time had money to spend. He lived a frugal life, apart from dressing elegantly. He exiled himself in France, painfully cut off from Algeria, his native country, his sun. He was living in profound solitude.
Camus’ views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as Absurdism, which has its origins in the work of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who chose to confront the crisis that humans face with the Absurd by developing his own existentialist philosophy. Camus is also considered to be an existentialist, even though he firmly rejected the term throughout his lifetime.
He decided that his work as a writer would progress. Each stage would be marked by a play, a novel, and an essay. The first cycle was The Absurd, the second The Rebellion, and then towards the end of his life, he felt he was coming to a completely new cycle, which would be that of Love or Happiness.
However, at this time, in 1960, as he was returning back to Paris, he was killed in a road accident. In his pocket was found an unused train ticket. Also, in the wreckage were pages of handwritten manuscript, an epic novel that he had predicted would be his finest work. It was edited and published 34 years later as The First Man by Camus’ daughter Catherine, becoming an instant bestseller and helped to understand Camus’ character more deeply than any other of his works.
Camus teaches us, through his Absurdism, that life has inherent worth, even if it has no inherent meaning, very different from nihilism, in which nothing has any meaning. His down-to-earthiness makes one feel that he is a kind of friend guiding us on our journey of life, helping us to overcome our struggles with anxiety, depression, or suicide. He champions life, and asks us to live it, to the point of tears.
This is an introduction to Camus, in later posts we will be exploring his main ideas: The Absurd, Revolt, Rebellion, as well as his most notable works: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Rebel, The Plague, and The Fall.
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