Albert Camus

“Jazz” (1954), by Yoshida Chizuko.


Revisionism regarding the figure of the French writer and thinker


The launch of a book called Forget Camus (Forget Camus) caused international repercussion, especially after an interview given to the traditional Spanish newspaper El País. Graduated in comparative literature (Columbia University), with a master's degree and doctorate in Romantic Studies (dukeuniversity), Oliver Gloag, who is a professor at University of North Carolina, accuses Albert Camus of being sexist and colonialist. A controversy, with the exception of the first accusation, which does not have any new elements and, in a sense, only rekindles a claim that, from time to time, returns to the agenda of intellectual debate.


I understand that there is a need, in order to draw inferences on the subject, to rescue some points from this oscillating chronology hostile to Albert Camus. Thus, I remember that this controversy actually arose with the split between Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, in 1952. After the publication of Camus's essay the angry man, Sartre's magazine, Modern Times, published a review, signed by Sartrean acolyte Francis Jeanson, which was not well received by Albert Camus. The review, in fact, took a long time to come out due to the omission of the publication's collaborators (no one volunteered to pass judgment on the work). All the demonstrations had a personal tone, which was, broadly speaking, worse for Albert Camus, who ended up being sidelined.

That said, I move on to the second moment of the controversy, which occurred in the 1970s, through Conor Cruise O'Brien and Edward Said. It turns out that both authors undertake a poor and absolutely insufficient reading. Both make inferences without having, in fact, delved into the author's estate. Edward Said even says that Albert Camus is an author “whose colonial mentality was not sympathetic to the revolution or the Arabs”. Something that beforehand should be proven is taken for granted.

But this reading was worked on more extensively, by Edward Said, in the 1990s, in the work Culture and imperialism. In it, Edward Said interprets Albert Camus's novels (which have specific purposes within his worldview) as “elements in the political geography of Algeria methodically constructed by France”, functioning, then, as alibis for colonialism for, among other reasons, not name the Arab murdered in The foreigner.

There is a kind of argumentative contortionism, pardon the irony, for the object (in this case, Camus's work) to fit into the argument. Edward Said searches for elements that would prove his hypothesis, rather than putting it to the test. There is often a projection of Said's particular political wishes onto the authors he studies. This is seen mainly in the case I have just described: for him, the fact that Albert Camus “omitted” the colonial structure – something that, by the way, is not so simple in Algerian territory – would speak in favor of his thesis . Without elaborating, Edward Said's arguments are illustrations that perpetuated Albert Camus's political position and are not isolated; on the contrary, they became frequent from the second half of the 20th century onwards, with rare, uncontested exceptions.


Finally, I arrive at Oliver Gloag. Because it is a recent release and the work in question is not circulating beyond France, I was unable to get in touch with the author's arguments. However, I managed to read his interview in which he himself states that he decided, like Edward Said, to interpret Albert Camus' work based on what would confirm his thesis. That is to say, expressly, the following can be read about the novel The plague: “I propose a different reading. The plague is not Germany or the Germans, it is the resistance of the Algerian people to the French occupation, an intermittent but ineluctable phenomenon that is equated with a fatal disease from the colonists' point of view.”

The motivation for revisionism regarding the figure of Albert Camus, according to the author of Forget Camus, is the fact that “there is currently a permanent use” of the writer’s image. Thus, “it serves to justify everything and nothing, we have to get rid of it” and, in light of its interpretation, it would be possible to separate the true man from the myth, which is shaped in an abusive and complacent way, according to Gloag.

My thesis is that, from the 1970s onwards, little was read Camus seriously – or, at least, little was read Albert Camus seriously in relation to the Algerian conflict of independence. While I was at the head of Fighting, for example, was very critical of French colonial policy, believing in France's debt to Algeria and stating that “Europe should accuse itself, since its constant convulsions and contradictions, it [Europe ] has managed to produce the longest-lived and most terrible reign of barbarism the world has ever known.” The first series of texts he dedicated to Algeria, in fact, was motivated by a text by another journalist, who called for exemplary punishments for independence activists who had carried out attacks against people of European descent.

In the 1950s, when Albert Camus was a columnist for The Express, he sought to highlight that the so-called French Algerians did not have the same conditions as those who lived in France. In reality, the overwhelming majority were workers. First, holding the successive French governments responsible for failing to mobilize to prevent blood from being shed on Algerian soil. The list of evidence present in Albert Camus' essays goes on... and could go on even longer. However, it seems to me that the big implication, if I can call it that, is due to the fact that Camus also saw responsibility on the part of the Arabs. Some people seem to conveniently forget that there were terrorist attacks that killed ordinary citizens. These, according to Albert Camus, had little or nothing to do with the problems between Muslims and the metropolis.

I think Albert Camus seems to be treated as a simple-minded author. Even though Albert Camus' work does not go unpunished and does, in fact, have weaknesses, he is not a despicable author, as he appears to be treated by his detractors. Both for his recognized contribution to denouncing the arbitrariness of the colonial system in Algeria (not only when he was a reporter in his homeland, but also during his stay in France), and for the fact that he obtained massive support from the French public when he led the Fighting. In addition, of course, to his literary influence, which is perennial and won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There is something recurring today, which is the attempt to destroy reputations, as seems to be the case. With some frequency, movements emerge that seek to ostracize names by force, based on a moralistic prerogative. However, without due argument, it is empty moralism. Observing the past and judging with the values ​​of the present is one of the poorest forms of anachronism, as it escapes the slightest notion of working in a historical perspective.

That said, to name some of the characters involved in this dispute, just remember Jean-Paul Sartre's preface to The Damned of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon. This was vetoed by Josie Fanon, the author's wife. The censorship occurred because it was understood that Jean-Paul Sartre contradicted his husband's legacy by supporting the belligerent advance of the State of Israel on the Palestinians. If the incident were revived, perhaps the accusations would change direction.

“Red Cross moralism”, as Jeanson ironized Albert Camus’s pacifist vision, reflects, at the origin of this old controversy, a (sometimes problematic) characteristic of journalism and public debate: temperature. In the heat of the moment, elements that good historiographical work recovers in the future are overlooked. In the case of Camus, he is an intellectual who (i) became an orphan due to the First World War and (ii) was an eyewitness to the next one. When reading, for example, his famous series Ni victims, ni bourreaux (Neither victims nor executioners), it is unmistakable that his greatest concern is the maintenance of peace and a new order of international politics around collective well-being.

Misrepresentation of your concerns and positions results in the lowest attack on someone who, clearly, cannot defend themselves. Ultimately, what remains is common sense and the commitment of those who remain alive. In this way, they must act concerned with refuting disinformation in the name of truth, imposing it even above their political ideas.

*Arthur Grohs is a PhD candidate in Communication at PUC-RS.

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