The Interrupted Voyage of Albert Camus



It is not always so simple to follow the thinking schemes developed by Horacio González in his study on Camus

“What do you think French critics overlooked in your work? – Camus was asked in 1959. He replied: “The dark part, what is blind and instinctual in me. French criticism is interested above all in ideas” (TODD, 1998, p. 14).

To the Mediterranean Lidiane, Débora, Laura

To Mediterraneans Francisco, Paulo, Kevin

For Aurora, incandescent

The small specimen purchased in July 1982, after thirty years without being opened, makes some small creaks; the glue that binds its pages is no longer able to hold them and my effort to try to catch the leaves swirling around me in mid-flight is useless. I think ironically that this Albert Camus, the debauchery of the sun it is, in fact, a book by Horacio González, as it escapes, making it almost impossible to keep it under full intellectual guard, acquiring a life of its own. Well, isn't "taking on a life of its own" what one would expect from a book devoted to cultural criticism?

Written almost forty years ago, when Horacio was almost forty, A debauchery of the sun initially draws attention for two reasons: on the cover, the author's first name has been Brazilianized, being accentuated; and, his biography, a mastery in the art of deconversation: “Who could care that the author of this book was born in Villa Pueyrredón, some neighborhood in the city of Buenos Aires? I didn't say much to you” (p. 121).

Throughout the 1980s and the beginning of the following, Brasiliense became one of the most dynamic and progressive publishing houses in the country, alongside others that were more to the left and kept prestigious authors in their catalogs – cases, for example , Brazilian Civilization and Peace and Land. The editor Caio Graco Prado, son of the Marxist historian Caio Prado Júnior, managed to revive the company and its flagships were the small books gathered in several collections – First Steps, First Flights, Everything is History and Radical Enchantment, among others.

Sales skyrocketed, as they were sold for the price of a movie ticket, at a time when civil society was clamoring for the end of the military dictatorship. Horacio González wrote six titles, which were reissued several times: What is underdevelopment (1980) What are intellectuals (1981) Albert Camus, the debauchery of the sun (1982) The Paris Commune, the Sky Raiders (1982) Evita, the militant in the dressing room (1983) and Marx, the signal catcher (1984)

On the last pages of the books the following was read: “Wonderful people in a collection of a thousand. Everyone has a lot. Only some people know how to make better use of all of this. They are radical, passionate (...) For them, Brasiliense has a special collection, the Radical Charm. There are books, biographies, about these fascinating people”. In addition to dozens of Brazilian personalities (Noel Rosa, Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral, Graciliano Ramos, Clarice Lispector, Vinícius de Moraes, Leila Dinis, Cruz e Souza, Lima Barreto, Carmen Miranda, Santos Dumont, Garrincha, Barão de Itararé, Manuel Bandeira, Murilo Mendes, Madame Satã, Nélson Rodrigues, Monteiro Lobato...), Freud, Sócrates, Dostoievski, Hemingway, Hitchcock, Lacan, Barthes, Le Corbusier, Ho Chi Minh, Breton, Van Gogh, Malraux, Pascal, Proust, Pasolini, Eisenstein, Zapata, John Lennon, Walter Benjamin, Simone Weil, Artaud, James Dean, Einstein, Jimi Hendrix, Keynes, Orwell, Henry Miller, Humphrey Bogart, Carpentier, Griffith etc., as well as Camus…

Albert Camus, the debauchery of the sun It is structured in a relatively simple way: introduction (“An unused train ticket…”), four chapters, a brief chronology and another five pages that map the writer’s presence in books and cinema. Horacio González has done a magnificent job, studying all of the author's work and exploring the essentials of the critical fortune available up to the time of his writing. Thus, everything relevant about Camus is found in these 124 pages or, in the words of González, “the meanings contained in the Camusian arch go and return to opposite terminal stations: from Mediterraneanity to illness, from moral ancestry to history, from nature to honor, from the desert to friendship, from carnal happiness to secular sanctity, from the sun to misery, from debauchery to the plague, from hedonic innocence to the myth of freedom or confinement” (p. 120).

Understands that such “alternations” belong specifically to Camus; however, these notations, “with greater or lesser pessimism, moralism or sensitivity, can be found in other authors whose work remains close to the values ​​that Camus calls 'Mediterraneanity'” (p. 121). It suggests, in this perspective, two Italians with works that are very different from each other and also very different from Camus: Cesare Pavese and Antonio Gramsci.

“This book takes place in the brief space of a final journey”. Thus begins the work of Horacio González. That trip is made by car, a Facel-Véga driven by the editor Marcel Gallimard, on January 4, 1960, on the route from Sens to Paris, almost always at a speed never lower than 100 or 120 kilometers per hour. The book alternates two narrative times: the aforementioned trip that resulted in the accident that killed Camus and the account in flashback, recapitulating the writer's life, from his childhood in Algeria, where he was born in 1913, until his last breath. The most tragic thing is that Camus had an unused train ticket for the same itinerary in his pocket. “Catastrophes are moving when they happen. However, it is even more moving when it leaves all the evidence that it might not have happened” (p. 8).

Albert was the son of a winemaker of French origin and an illiterate woman of Spanish origin. The families immigrated to Algeria and Lucien, the father, was killed in the Battle of the Marne, in 1914, when Camus was not yet a year old. His mother, grandmother, uncle, older brother and he all knew poverty in Algiers. Goalkeeper for Racing Universitario de Algiers (RUA), suffering from tuberculosis at the age of 17, thanks to the action of Professor Louis Germain, he became a scholarship holder, which allowed him to continue his studies. Tuberculosis prevented him from becoming a full professor, despite obtaining a series of certificates and starting to prepare for the aggregation exams.

Horacio González speaks of the enchantment experienced by the young Albert with Paul Valéry, adapted to his Mediterranean nature (“events bore me, they are the foam of things, the sea is what interests me”); he recovers the idea that the sun, “that unreflective cauldron of pleasure, must not omit the communion between just men” (p. 12). The Sun and the City cannot exist without narratives, without scriptures; recalls his admiration and friendship for René Char and also his involvement with the poetry of Henry de Montherlant: In dirge for the dead of Verdun the ex-combatant “does not forget the children of those killed in the opening battles of the First World War”. They are “heirs of a devotion” (p. 14, chapter 1, “Mediterraneanity, nuptial forms of life”).

Catherine, Camus's mother, received from the army a piece of the grenade that the doctors found in her husband's body. “Thus, reading coincides with the spectacle that the facts create: reading is like a fragment of a grenade lodged in the body” (p. 14) – Albert feels the same when he makes his revealing readings of the time (Gide, Richaud…) . Living with uncle Acault, anarchist butcher, owner of an excellent library, helping him materially and helping him meet new authors; early writings and the publication of Nuptials, in 1936, aged 23 and before, in 1935, The reverse and the right, dedicated to Jean Grenier, professor at the Lyceum of Algiers, where Camus received a scholarship – later found him again as a professor of philosophy at the University. Grenier's influence and friendship lasted until the end of the writer's life. It was the teacher who helped him to publish, with his critical reading, his “Essay on Music” (1932) in the Algerian magazine South (p. 21). In his pupil's farewell prayer, in 1960, he said: “he lived what he wrote, he wrote what he lived” (p. 23).

Camus wonders if there would be a Mediterranean man, trying to specify in the magazine Shorelines the concept of solar man, in which “marriage with the provocative natural space is seen as an action that does not deify natural objects, but receives and integrates them” (p. 31).

From 1937 to 1939, Camus was a journalist at the Alger Republicain, having abandoned the possibility of pursuing a university career. He published his “Inquiry in Cabilia” in the newspaper, on “the extremely poor living conditions in the valleys and 'llanuras' in the interior of the country where the Berbers live” (p. 32). He worked with the journalist Pascual Pia, to whom he will later dedicate The Myth of Sisyphus (1943). He became, for a short time, a member of the Algerian Communist Party (PCA), founded in the early 30s. . He married Simone Hué in 40 and, a year later, they divorced. He participated in theater groups as author, actor and director (Teatro do Trabalho – co-directs Uprising in Asturias –, Teatro do Equipe – represents Ivan Karamazov – and in troupe steering wheel of Radio Algiers.

Camus had several occupations to survive: in the meteorological service, in the city hall, in the office of a maritime commissioner and as a salesman of accessories for cars. Tuberculosis, which “comes and goes”. He interrupted his teaching career; discovered his journalistic verve, wrote a thesis on “Hellenism and Christianity” (he compares the thought of St. Augustine with that of Plotinus) and engaged in committees and collectives that brought together anti-fascist intellectuals from various countries (p. 35-36).

Horacio González understands his Mediterranean identity as “an unlimited enjoyment of the fruits of the earth, with that anthropomorphic manifestation that accompanies it: the “Mediterranean man”, a libertine innocence in the open air, with the two punishments that society organizes for him: collective misery and, at the other extreme, the punishment for his libertarian feeling” (p. 36).

He was forced to leave Algiers on Thursday, March 14, 1940, already married for the second time, to Francine Faure, as the war had already started and he was declared undesirable by the colonial government. At this moment he takes with him to France the manuscript of The foreigner, already almost finished.

“The exiled and the resistant”, chapter 2, will find Camus in the writing of Paris Soir. In May 1940 The foreigner it was ready, days before the German occupation, forcing the newspaper to move to Clermont. In December 1941 he joined the Resistance, as a journalist and coordinator of a military information sector, linked to the group “Combat” (p.38). Horacio asks himself: “What did Camus do during the Resistance? Hard to know, he doesn't speak”. He just replies: “Playing like an ex-combatant is not my genre” (p. 75).

A good part of the chapter explores the situations that occurred in The foreigner, Meursault's almost total indifference to the events surrounding him: monotonous office work; his mother's death in an asylum near Algiers, the wake and burial; the romance with a former office colleague; sex in his bedroom on Sunday; going to the cinema to see a film with comedian Fernandel; the lack of importance he attaches to his colleague's marriage proposal; going to the beach with friends and fighting with the Arabs; the revolver that his friend hands him and he keeps in his pocket; the fatal shot he fires at the Arab – the trigger gives way and a “deafening noise destroys the balance of the day”, that “exceptional silence of the beach where he had been happy” (p. 42).

After being arrested and interrogated, he says he did not intend to kill. “It was all because of the sun” (p. 43). Condemned to death, he hopes there will be a large crowd on the day of his execution and that spectators “receive me with screams of hatred”. For Sartre, the work of Camus has all the elements to be constituted in the genre of “solar disaster”. where only the desolate present is what counts, “and where silence is as important, if not greater, than speaking” (p. 44).

It is a time when Sartre was already pontificating, when Camus is not yet 30 and Sartre is almost 40; they become friends. The real controversy between them will only occur after about ten years of this friendship. However, in the Liberation, in the mid-1940s, Camus, Sartre, Malraux, Aron, Merleau-Ponty, Queneau, Olivier, Paulhan, Beauvoir, Aragón, all share “the same editorial board of some magazine, because the German occupation and Pétain's government would propose an enemy image before which everyone mirrored themselves as agents of a single collective body that was freeing itself. Gaullists, Communists and Christians are the three worldviews that stood arm in arm as distinct parts of the common river of Resistance. However, a little while longer, everyone will be involved with the great debate. Les Temps Modernes, newly founded (...), it was not the same as Fighting, the newspaper that Camus molds and animates” (p. 49).

There isn't much room in the book for Albert's parallel passions, in particular the actresses Maria Casarès and Catherine Sellers; the then American and modest model copywriter da Spindrift, Patricia Blake, as well as the mysterious E – even a snooping biographer like Olivier Todd (1998) could say almost nothing about the latter.

In 1944 and 1945 two plays by Camus (Caligula e O Misunderstanding), which deal with issues of The foreigner quality The Myth of Sisyphus (1943) Caligula, with Gérard Phillipe, is warmly received – in 1945, the twins, Catherine and Jean, are born. The Misunderstanding, staged by the company of Maria Casarès and Marcel Herrand, fails to excite the public. Sisyphus poses a fundamental question: “There is only one truly serious philosophical problem: suicide” (p. 54) – a theme that will be returned to in The Angry Man (1951) The plague it came out in 1947, after almost five years of work, having achieved worldwide repercussions. It should also be noted that in 1942 and 1944, he published two volumes entitled Letter to a German friend. State of siege, in turn, was a piece that emerged from the experience of having written The plague. Staged by Jean-Louis Barrault, who also co-directs it, it is unsuccessful.

In addition to a concluding chapter (“Um Oran Brasileiro”, p. 102-110), in which he highlights Camus’ trip to South America in 1949, at the age of 36 – see Trip diary –, dedicating his stay in Brazil, there is also the third chapter, “The rupture of the balance” (p. 76-101), which focuses on the last decade of the writer's life. October 31, 1954: Several attacks in Algeria. More than 50 operations by clandestine groups reunited in the National Liberation Front attack French military installations. “The final phase of the insurrection that will last 8 years begins” (p. 76).

This will completely affect Camus' actions. Three years earlier he had published The Angry Man, which will mark the break with Sartre's group. The book enshrines the Camusian vision par excellence: “value precedes action. In historicist and existentialist thought, value appears at the end as the consummation of the action” (p. 77). That is, Camus affirms the sources of morality while disdaining the sources of history, constituting a strong manifesto against all the philosophies that dominated the horizon of the time (p. 82). Modern Times, through Francis Jeanson, harshly criticizes the text; Camus reacts, Sartre responds and hammers: “You may have been poor, but you are no longer. He is a bourgeois like Jeanson or like me” (p. 84). Everything turned sour, especially on Albert's side.

In 1957 the “Battle of Algiers” begins, Ben Bella is arrested, the French army systematically tortures Algerian prisoners, guerrillas take action and attacks with explosives in the neighborhoods of French settlers proliferate. Camus conceives of Algeria with a “double personality”, Arab and French. He understands that the colonial system should disappear, “but a new Algerian republic should be established by uniting the rights of the two main communities in a federation with absolute equality between the two cultural identities” (p. 88), “Mediterranean”, in a state non-denominational.

Sartre's group has a radical anti-colonialist position, having extended The Damned of the Earth, by Franz Fanon, where he defends the thesis “of an anticolonial violence as a way of recovering the crushed cultural identity” (p. 89-90). War is a reality. “The French torture. The FLN expresses itself through urban terrorism” (p. 90). Camus's political isolation is increasing. In 1956 he traveled to Algiers, making an appeal for a truce, but “nobody was motivated to pick up words that the reality of the trenches dug in earnest made innocent or ridiculous” (p. 95). In 1957 he received the Nobel prize for literature, with connotations of “Nobel peace prize” (p. 95).

Camus, an anti-colonialist, was not encouraged to recognize “Algerian independence” as the end of the struggle, “fearing that this independence would disguise a 'new oppression'” (p. 97). The balance he desired was impossible. “In 1962 the Evian agreements were signed. Independent Algeria. He would die before that consummation” (p. 97).

Albert takes refuge more and more in the theater. In 1957 he adapted Lope de Vega (he had previously adapted Calderón), in addition to staging Requiem for a Nun, by Faulkner, continuation of Sanctuary, Dostoyevsky (The Possessed, which is 4 hours long), and has been working on her new novel for a long time, The First Man, whose manuscript was with him in a briefcase when he died in a car accident at 13:55 pm on January 4, 1960.

It is not always so simple to follow the thinking schemes developed by Horacio González in this study on Camus. In a text dedicated to Walter Benjamin, he gives us an indication in this direction, saying that he learned to respect “the moment when an author becomes stony for us, his readers. That moment when, for us, he lingers forever on a concept or a phrase. Max Weber, for me, are certain tones of a posthumous lecture and Émile Durkheim always escapes me a strange sentence that he wrote in the suicide. When the same thing happens to Benjamin, this common point appears, where a reader and an author stop forever.

Only then do we feel that Walter Benjamin wrote for this to happen, to make us feel this fearful possibility that we are always faced with as readers. May we not be able to move forward, may a text remain with its lost pieces, fixed before our desolate eyes. Benjamin tells us that when this happens, we should be calm. That right there begins the sovereignty of the reader who knows how to tolerate his own shipwrecks” (González, 1992, p. 169).[1]

*Afranio Catani is a retired senior professor at the Faculty of Education at USP. He is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Education at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus..


CAMUS, Albert. trip diary (trans.: Valerie Rumjanek Chaves). Rio de Janeiro: Record, 4th. ed., 1977 128 p.

GONZALEZ, Horacio. Albert Camus, the debauchery of the sun. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1982, 124 p. (Collection: “Encanto Radical”).

GONZALEZ, Horacio. Reading Benjamin. New Moon. São Paulo, CEDEC, n. 27, p. 167-169, 1992 (trans. Afrânio Catani).

JUDT, Tony. Albert Camus: “the best man in France”. In: _______. Reflections on a forgotten century, 1901-2000 (trans.: Celso Nogueira). Rio de Janeiro: Objective, 2010, p. 115-126.

TODD, Olivier. Albert Camus: a life (trans.: Monica Stahel). Rio de Janeiro: Record, 1998, 882 p.


[1] Originally published with the title “El viaje interrupted de Albert Camus, 'el mejor hombre de Francia'”. In: The Library – Magazine of the National Library - Special Number. Los libros y la vida. Horacio González (1944-2021). Buenos Aires, Argentina, Otoño, p. 48-55, 2022.

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