By Jean-Paul Sartre



Edited by Germaine Bree.
182 pages
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.

Pages 173-175

Tribute to Albert Camus
by Jean-Paul Sartre

Six months ago, even yesterday, people wondered: "What is he going to do?" Temporarily, torn by contradictions that must be respected, he had chosen silence. But he was one of those rare men we can well afford to wait for, because they are slow to choose and remain faithful to their choice. Some day he would speak out. We could not even have dared hazard a guess as to what he might say. But we thought that he had changed with the world as we all do; that was enough for us to be aware of his presence.

He and I had 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. It didn't. keep me from thinking of him, from feeling that his eyes were on the book or newspaper I was reading and wondering: "What does he think of it? What does he think of it at this moment?"

His silence, which according to events and my mood I considered sometimes too cautious and sometimes painful, was a quality of every day like heat or light, but it was human. We lived with or against his thought as it was revealed to us in his books-especially The Fall, perhaps the finest and least understood-but always in relation to it. It was an exceptional adventure of our culture, a movement of which we tried to guess the phases and the final outcome.

He represented in our time the latest example of that long line of moralistes whose works constitute perhaps the most original element in French letters. His obstinate humanism, narrow and pure, austere and sensual, waged an uncertain war against the massive and formless events of the time. But on the other hand through his dogged rejections he reaffirmed, at the heart of our epoch, against the Machiavellians and against the Idol of realism, the existence of the moral issue.

In a way, he was that resolute affirmation. Anyone who read or reflected encountered the human values he held in his fist; he questioned the political act. One had to avoid him or fight him-he was indispensable to that tension which makes intellectual life what it is. His very silence, these last few years, had something positive about it: This Descartes of the Absurd refused to leave the safe ground of morality and venture on the uncertain paths of practicality. We sensed this and we also sensed the conflicts he kept hidden, for ethics, taken alone, both requires and condemns revolt.

We were waiting; we had to wait; we had to know. Whatever he did or decided subsequently, Camus would never have ceased to be one of the chief forces of our cultural activity or to represent in his way the history of France and of this century. But we should probably have known and understood his itinerary. He said so himself: "My work lies ahead." Now it is over. The particular scandal of his death is the abolition of the human order by the inhuman.

The human order is still but a disorder: it is unjust and precarious; it involves killing, and dying of hunger; but at least it is founded, maintained, or resisted by men. In that order Camus had to live. That man on the move questioned us, was himself a question seeking its reply; he lived in the middle of a long life; for us, for him, for the men who maintain order and for those who reject it, it was important for him to break his silence, for him to decide, for him to conclude. Some die in old age while others, forever on reprieve, may die at any minute without the meaning of their life, of life itself, being changed. But for us, uncertain without a compass, our best men had to reach the end of the tunnel. Rarely have the nature of a man's work and the conditions of the historical moment so clearly demanded that a writer go on living.

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.

"Tribute to Albert Camus."

From The Reporter Magazine, February 4, 1960, p. 34. Copyright 1960 by The Reporter Magazine Company. Translated by Justin O'Brien. Reprinted by permission of the author and The Reporter Magazine.

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