Friday, November 20, 2009

Camus au Panthéon?

You will recall that early in his presidency, Sarko went to Algeria and had Camus read to him in the open air as he stared out to sea. Now he wants to have Camus Pantheonized. This will be an "extraordinary symbol," he says. In four respects Camus will be a symbol of the kind Sarko especially likes: he was anti-Communist in the Cold War, he was born in Algeria and tried to remain above the fray in that war, he was un grand résistant (editorialist for the underground Combat), and he was the anti-Sartre. Sarko can get on board with all of these things. And Camus's style is classically pure--or, as this mauvaise langue puts it, "Camus ? Ce philosophe pour classes terminales, avec son style IIIe République et sa morale de Croix-Rouge ?" I am aware of the contempt for Camus in certain French cultural quarters (from the same article: On ne méprise plus Camus, on l'ignore. Et Jean Daniel n'a pas oublié le « ricanement » de Michel Foucault et des grands esprits qu'il avait rassemblés pour fonder « le Nouvel Observateur » en 1964, lorsqu'il citait son ami disparu), but I have never understood it. For an antidote, I suggest reading Tony Judt's The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century. (h/t Kirkmc)

1 comment:

kirkmc said...

I wonder how many French people read Camus. My son didn't read anything by him in lycée, though he did read Huis Clos.

Interestingly, L'Etranger was the first novel I read in French. It was recommended not just for its qualities as a novel, but also because there is no passé simple in it; all the past tense verbs are in passé composé. I recall, at the time, that the passé simple was pretty hard to get used to, and that I read that book relatively easily.

I've long wanted to read more Camus; maybe this will prompt me to start buying the Pléiade volumes and read more of his work. I read a lot of his books back in the day - a couple of decades ago - and was very much struck by how pertinent they were. I'm sure they're just as pertinent now that I've aged a bit.