CAMUS: A COLLECTION OF CRITICAL ESSAYS
Edited by Germaine Bree.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.
Comments and outlines by Bob Corbett
This is a useful collection of essays which appeared in collection shortly after Camus's death.
Some deal with his life and work in an overview fashion, others with specific works. Some of
the essays focus on philosophical analysis and criticism, others are limited to litrary criticism.
There is an excellent analysis of the Camus/Sartre "split," and the very last essay is a
rather disappointing and startlingly reserved "In Memorium" from Jean-Paul Sartre.
I would think that about 1/4 the essays in this volume were either written specifically for
this volume, or just shortly before Camus's death. Others are older essays which haven't been
reworked, but just copied from some journal or other where they appeared before.
I have made my own comments essay by essay rather than trying to give a picture of the whole.
The essays are varied and author's not at all in agreement, thus trying to arrive at any
"single" view of Camus from this volume would not be fair to the authors or very useful.
Thus the individual essays and my comments and or sketches of content:
Introduction. By Germaine Bree Pages 1-10.
This book is published just two years after Camus’s death is both a memorium and critical summary. Bree argues that a central problematic in understanding Camus’s place in philosophy and literature is played out in the Sartre/Camus battles and relationship. Bree points up the plan: critical assessment of literary form, political action and philosophical content mixed in with memorials.
Albert Camus: In Memorium. By Nicola Chiaromonte. Pages 11-15.
Chiaromonte met Camus in Algeria in 1941 and became a friend. Her
Memorial focuses on the conflict in Camus’s thought between the forces
of history and the relative powerlessness of the individual. Camus’s solution
to this absurdity was to not cave in becoming the pragmatic individual but to hold
out in conscience as the individual who resists.
Camus in America. By Serge Doubrovsky. Pages 16-19
Little criticism of Camus exists in the U.S. and he is viewed as a hero in a way no
American author is.
Camus painted the individual alone in a necessary war with the cosmos. Doubrousky believes this expresses an American spirit to the fullest, but a
spirit from which Americans hide. Camus forces them to look more clearly
Albert Camus: Militant. By Justin O’Brien. Pages 20-25.
O’Brien argues that Camus’s essence is displayed in his journalistic militancy.
Camus argued that the values of literary creation and artist militancy were not
Opposed but different sides of the same coin.
A Sober Conscience. By Wilfreed Sheed. Pages 26-30.
Camus is a sober critic who recognizes the weakness in the opposition and
sought an objectivity, yet was able to take a stand.
He also will not recommend people sacrifice their blood for the cause unless
he too is doing so.
He maintained his independence from Sartre.
This essay was a published review of Resistance, Rebellion and Death.
The confused role of action vs art or intellection – the artist/intellectual must
be detached. The action must be involved. This is a contradiction – yes.
Camus’s critique of Nazism was that it was anti-intellectual. This was a
central belief of Camus that such anti-intellectualism would lead to totalitarianism.
Sartre Vs. Camus: A Political Quarrel. By Nicola Chiaromonte. Pages 31-37
The break comes with The Rebel. Camus defends a notion the most modern
power is rooted in the acceptance of violence and the legitimation of the de facto
coup. He follows Tolstoy’s analysis except not to a belief in a primitive Christianity.
One of Sartre’s followers critiqued the book as anti-historical. Camus replied in his own defense in a letter – Sartre replied using the same argument as his disciple.
Chiaromonte gives a BRILLIANT phenomenology of the European communist.
Not totalitarian, but anti-bourgeoise and pro proletariat, accepting much to achieve little. (Sartre’s claim).
The Sartrean critique and battle between the two remained at the political level.
Albert Camus’s Algeria. By Roger Quillot. Pages 38-47.
Using imagery from Camus’s The Plague, Quillot traces Camus’s views and actions in the Algeria crisis. Of limited use except to those wanting fairly
specific information on the key moments of that struggle.
Albert Camus and the Christian Faith. By Thomas L. Hanna. Pages 48-58
Published in 1956 when Camus was still alive.
Section I: Camus is a moral philosopher who offers a critique of Marxism in
The Rebel. But he doesn’t provide a similar critique of Christianity. While
he is anti-communist, he is not anti-christian, just non-christian.
Section II: Camus rebels against suffering and death. The death of an innocent
child is a key test case. Are Christians people of resignation? Not necessarily. they can embrace the IS of the world (with this suffering and death) in a trust that God has a plan of redemption of suffering and death.
Section III: When Jesus is reduced to man (and not God, or God only secondarily) this the end becomes history and humans are pushed to accept injustice as a means to the historical end. The means can then be seen to justify
the end, but what justifies the end?
Section IV: Camus deals with evil and death by accepting the is as basically
Evil, but the humanizing and civilizating of human existence can be achieved or
sought by a revolt against the evil of the world. This is the faith of Camus.
Albert Camus: The Dark Night Before The Coming of Grace? By Bernard C.
Murchland, C.S.C. Pages 59-64.
Brilliant analysis of The Plague. Tarrou is the character who introduces morality toward the other as a theme.
Murchland is troubled by what he calls the “paradox” of Camus’s novel in that it is a work “…so authentically impregnated with charity” is at the same time so thoroughly anti-Christian in that it demonstrates a theory of humanism and love of other that requires no God.
The Fall and Exile – carries the battle beyond our treatment of OTHER today and toward themes of “accumulated guilt and ignorance of the world.”
Murchland considers the view of some Christian critics that Camus’s position is leading him toward a conversion to Catholicism, and The Fall is some evidence of this.
Murchland is very cautious suggesting one must wait and see. But the essay was published in 1950 and Camus died just a short time later.
Camus The Pagan. By. Henri Peyre. Pages 65-70.
“the lay saint.”
Peyre points out that Camus denied the “rumors” of any coming conversion to religion, but was separating himself from Satrean positions such as existence preceeds essence.
Camus’s “ultimate” was not God and transcendence, but human kind and existence itself.
Camus’s “pagan question:” “What are the positive values which persist in this world of morals, sentenced to death?”
The Ethics of Albert Camus. By Serge Doubrovsky. Pages 71-84.
Doubrovsky argues that Camus has no philosophical ethic as such. Camus is not a philosopher, but a thinker and as such intuits the grounds of his justified acts not through ontology or philosophy, but in his saying “YES” to humankind and the world around him. When the plague takes over a city, it is time to reenter that city.
Albert Camus: A British View By S. Beynon John. Pages 85-91.
There is a tendency to despair of the world because modern intellectual achievement suggests less individual control – thus humans at the mercy of the universe. Camus’s reply is a celebration of the subjective and individual – something which the British find more acceptable in fiction than non-fiction. Thus a wide-spread suspicion of Camus as a philosopher than novelist.
John analyzes many of Camus’s writing emphasizing the serious break after Myth to the later 40s.
I was surprised to see Dr. Rioux, Tarrou and Father Paneloux all described as non-believable characters. Yet Grand described as believable. He and I must read very differently!
While steadfast in his atheism, Camus adapts an attitude of life much like Schwitzer’s respect for life and like the Christian concept of charity.
The World of the Man Condemned to Death. By Rachel Bespalotf. 92-107.
Bespaloft argues that the whole of Camus’s thought can be summed up in the question:
“What value abides in the eyes of the man condemned to death who refuses the consolation of the supernatural?”
She analyzes these themes in four works of Camus:
- The Stranger
- The Plague
- The Misunderstanding
She holds that Gide was a key model for Camus’s views and style.
She captures the irony in the difference between the ontological position of the will to power with the moral conflict of contradictory “wills.”
“It (Camus’s generation Nietzsche) exalted the will to power of the individual at the very moment it prepared to fight it outside in the form of imperialism.”
Camus’s generation – children of Nietzsche and Marx.
“Raised on Marx and Nietzsche it witnessed both the caricature of Nietzsche’s ideas in the Hitlerian state, and the falsification of Marxism in the Stalinist dictatorship.”
This is followed by a persuasive account of what later goes wrong in the “views” of Nietzsche and Marx.
In analyzing The Plague Bespalof calls Camus’s fiction “cryptic” rather than allegorical. A lot is demanded of the reader in interpretation since The Plague has at least 4 meanings:
- Sometimes the event itself.
- Sometimes the human condition
- Sometimes sin.
- Sometimes misfortune.
Howver, there is an unacknowledged reliance on The Myth of Sisyphus.
Between Dr. Rioux and Tarrou, Camus reintroduces a non-transcendental notion of faith, home, and charity. A pagan view of these virtues.
The aim of the virtues is not Christian resignation to be redeemed in the afterlife, but vigorous revolt against this absurdity.
Sartre quotes Camus and comments:
“…’the feeling of the absurd is not the same as the idea of the absurd. The idea is grounded in the feeling, that is all. It does not exhaust it.’ The Myth of Sisyphus might be said to aim at giving us this idea and The Stranger at giving us the feeling.”
An Explicatoin of The Stranger. By Jean-Paul Sartre. Pages 108-121.
The Myth of Sisyphus was published a few months after The Stranger and “… provided us with a precise commentary upon his work.”
The Stranger is man who has take hold of the world, the “natural man” in relation to mind.
“Camus simply is presenting something and is not concerned with a justification of something which is fundamentally unjustifiable.”
Ethics and Aesthetics in The Stranger. By Robert Champigny. Pages 122-131.
The essay begins with a long description of a convoluted and obscure theory of value and meaning (ethics) which will then be applied to The Stranger, and acknowledgement that a theory of aesthetics will emerge in the analysis of the novel itself.
I found the preliminary discussion of Champigny’s notion of ethics so convoluted and mere assertion that I was unwilling to take it very seriously.
The central jist is to argue that the trail of Mersault is carried out within the realm o fthe conventions of the trial itself as “ethical” is that it follows the rules of law Mersault likes, however, is the pursuit of an ethic that is beyond convention.
Image and Symbol in the Work of Albert Camus. By S. Beynon John. Pages 132-144.
John points out that much critical literature on Camus concerns itself with the philosophical content of his work, especially the sense of the absurd and the revolt against absurdity.
John offers a literary analysis and criticism of Camus’s style, but not the philosophical content.
Notes on the Plague. By Gaeton Picon. Pages 145-151.
Published in 1960, Picon opens the essay by stating thatonly 4 French novels published since 1940 deserve the designation “masterpiece.”
- Malraux’s The Walnut Trees of Altenburg
- Bernano’s Monsieur Ouine
- Sartre’s The Reprive
- Camus’s The Plague.
Camus’s novel is generally met with unequalified praise. Picon, while holding it to be a masterpiece, thinks that not looking at its weaknesses is to devalue the book, not value it.
Picon believes Camus intended the work as a work of art and secondarily as “…an expression of wisdom.” The form had to be restricted in order not to lost the latter.
It is an allegory, thus not as concerned with reality as the meaning of events. This is reflected in the form as well.
One central concern of Picon is that Camus vacillates between passages of realism to effect our sensibility and passages of Rioux’s reflective understanding to give us larger meanings. On Picon’s view Camus does this well, but the mix of two fundamental styles prevents either from reaching its full literary potential.
Albert Camus’s dialogues are criticized as being so intellectualized as to separate us from the feelings which inspired them in the characters.
This exemplifies a central confusion and limit in Camus’s style – a curious tensions between presenting reality or myth – which often leads him to positions of confusing the reader.
Exile and the Kingdom by Gaetan Picon. Pages 152-156.
A review of this volume of six tales.
Picon recognizes these tales are in fact and will be regarded as inferior to many of Camus’s other works. He accepts this. However, he is fascinated with these tales since there is, or his view, an attention to the details of existence which, while obscurity his philosophical message, powerfully points up ambiguities and puzzles of understand existence.
Camus wrote in Betwixt & Between. “The day when a balance shall be struck down between what I am and what I do; on that day perhaps, I scarcely dare to write it, I shall be able to give substance to the world of which I have always dreamed.”
Picon’s view is: “The work he dreamed of is not Exile and the Kingdom, but this collection of stories allows him to envision it somewhat better.”
An Ambiguous World. By Roger Quillot. Pages 157-169.
Quillot sees The Fall as a confessional of Camus to the world of his own failings, but it rises above this and is a confession of the ambiguity, contradictions and ambiguity of us all.
“Nothing certainly is pure, nothing and no one is innocent; but neither is anyone completely guilty. Innocent and guilty. That is man; this conjuctions re-establishes this balance and reconciles us with ourselves.
Camus As Dramatist. By Henry Popkin. Pages 170-172.
Camus fails as a serious dramatist since he is too straight forward and honest. Drama requires tricks and conventions, action to grab the audience. Camus effectively presents lectures on stage.
Tribute to Albert Camus. By Jean-Paul Sartre. Pages 183-175.
Sartre on the rift: “He and I quarreled. A quarrel doesn’t matter – even if those who quarrel never see each other again – just another way of living together without losing sight of one another in the narrow little world that is allotted us.”
Sartre believes The Fall was Camus’s best and least understood work.
“This Descartes of the Absurd refused to leave the safe ground of morality and venture on the uncertain paths of practicality.”
“I call the accident that killed Camus a scandal because it suddenly projects into the center of our human world the absurdity of our most fundamental needs. At the age of twenty, Camus, suddenly afflicted with a malady that upset his whole life, discovered the Absurd -- the senseless negation of man. He became accustomed to it, he thought out his unbearable condition, he came through. And yet one is tempted to think that only his first works tell the truth about his life, since that invalid once cured is annihilated by an unexpected death from the outside.
“The Absurd might be that question that no one will ask him now, that he will ask no one, that silence that is not even a silence now, that is absolutely nothing now.
“I don't think so. The moment it appears, the inhuman becomes a part of the human. Every life that is cut off-even the life of so young a man -- is at one and the same time a phonograph record that is broken and a complete life. For all those who loved him, there is an unbearable absurdity in that death. But we shall have to learn to see that mutilated work as a total work. Insofar as Camus's humanism contains a human attitude toward the death that was to take him by surprise, insofar as his proud and pure quest for happiness implied and called for the inhuman necessity of dying, we shall recognize in that work and in the life that is inseparable from it the pure and victorious attempt of one man to snatch every instant of his existence from his future death.”
Chronology of Important Dates. Pages 177-178.
Notes on the Editor and Contributors. Pages 179-180
Bibliography (Primary and Secondary) Pages 181-182.