Paris – Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (PSUAD) celebrated, in the current edition of its monthly literary salon, held at the university’s Reem Island campus, the centenary of writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1960-1913), born 100 years ago this month. The salon explored the importance of Camus’s literary and philosophical oeuvre, his reception in the Arab region, his anti-colonialism, his condemnation of the ‘misery’ of peoples under colonial rule, and his championing their right to independence.
Prof. Dr. Eric Fouache, PSUAD Vice-Chancellor, observed that Paris-Sorbonne was not alone in marking Camus’s centenary. The Abu Dhabi Education Council’s (ADEC) Kalima translation project also published a new showpiece by the renowned French writer, The Camus Diaries, a three-part series titled ‘A Game of Cards and Light’, ‘Blue Gold’, and ‘Growing Days’, on the occasion of his 100th anniversary – a clear testimony to the deep cultural interplay between the two countries.
Dr. Vital Rambaud, head of the PSUAD French Studies Dept. and director of the literary salon, said, “The works of Camus enshrined brotherhood and justice, and denounced oppression, violence, and authoritarianism; he left behind a lesson in refusing to conciliate terrorists,” noting Camus’s particularity as a writer and philosopher, famous for his smooth style and economical, evocative, and lucid prose, which prompted some critics to label him ‘schoolboy philosopher’ – the very same Camus whose novel The Stranger, published in 1942, was considered by American scholar Alice Kaplan as the ultimate culmination of talent.
“Camus – who contracted tuberculosis in adolescence, led a miserable childhood, raised by his deaf mother who worked as a cleaning woman and who died in a home for the elderly, just like in his novel The Stranger – lived in the spotlight and cut a controversial figure, in his infamous spat with Sartre on the Algerian uprising and the concept of ‘terrorism’ and with André Breton, until his death in a car crash in 1960 with his publisher Michel Gallimard, leaving behind the unfinished manuscript of The Last Man,” added Rambaud.
Dr. Jacob Schmutz, associate professor of philosophy at PSUAD, said that Albert Camus was a pacifist who refused the violence of both the colonials and the 1950s Liberation Front; neither of which understood his attitude, and he was cursed with non-belonging; being neither friend, nor foe. Camus lived a politically-engaged life, aware of the controversy surrounding him. He understood the difficulty of sitting on the fence on issues. For a long time, he chose to ignore his critics. He tried, in his writing to justify his sympathy for the community in which he grew up, recording his diaries and doing is journalistic work in the poor neighborhoods of Algiers.
Dr. Francoise Rullier, associate professor in modern literature and professor of French at PSUAD, remarked that Camus was always concerned with the events of his time, both big and small, about which he wrote and commented, and which inspired his philosophical vision, his stories and novels that reflected the evils and violence of the 20th century. Dr. Rullier said that these ideas are highlighted in his political articles in which, as a journalist for the newssheet Combat in 1944-1947, he touched on the situation in Europe during WWII.
Dr. Rullier noted that Albert Camus’s first feature for Combat was prompted by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks in Japan, in August 1945, which he described as the most horrific form of destruction wrought by man in several centuries, calling it ‘organized murder’ and a new form of violence and terror produced by technological and scientific power.
“In his writing, Camus affirmed that technological civilization has, at last, reached the depths of brutality, and that we will be faced, soon enough, with a choice between mass suicide or a judicious use of scientific advancement. He labeled the 20th century the ‘century of fear’, as opposed to the golden era of biological sciences in the 19th century, physics in the 18th century, and mathematics in the 17th century,” she said.
Albert Camus (1913-1960) is a celebrated French novelist, playwright, philosopher, journalist, and 1957 Nobel laureate in literature. His many works include novels, plays, philosophical musings, and journalism, notably The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus, Caligula, and The Stanger published in 1942.