It has to be said that this English version of Olivier Todd’s book is not altogether satisfactory. According to an introductory note, “Some material not of sufficient interest to the American general reader has been omitted to improve the narrative flow.” Actually, a volume some 800 pages long in French has been reduced to 400 pages in English, and it is difficult to tell on what principle the abridgement has been made, because the sections that have been removed often seem of no less importance or interest than those that have been left in. Besides, if the American reader bothers to read foreign books, it is surely in the hope of discovering the possible interest of things with which he is not already familiar.
It is true that the French original presents a challenge. Todd writes in a racy, idiomatic, allusive style that would test the ingenuity of the best translator. What we have here is a simplified, rather stilted text, from which all personal flavor has been ironed out. This is hardly fair to either Todd or Camus.
After Herbert Lottman’s excellent study of 1978 the main justification for this new biography is that Todd has carried his researches further than Lottman was able to do. Earlier, certain circumstances made it difficult to tell the whole story. Camus’s second wife, Francine, the mother of his two children, was still alive (she died in 1979), and since the marriage had been fraught with tensions, friends and relatives of the couple could hardly speak openly of what they knew. Secondly, the last phase of Camus’s career was clouded—one might almost say blighted—by his notorious falling-out with Jean-Paul Sartre in connection with two major issues: the USSR and the war in Algeria. Since then, of course, the collapse of the Soviet Union has demonstrated how completely Sartre misjudged the situation, while the recent bloody events in Algeria seem to indicate that Camus’s reservations about granting immediate and total independence to the territory he regarded as his homeland were perhaps more valid than was generally believed in left-wing circles. But, at the time, Sartre’s hypnotic sway over the introverted world of the Parisian intelligentsia was such that Camus, although undeniably in the right on the Soviet issue, didn’t get a fair hearing, and felt extremely hurt.
Moreover, for some years after his death, it remained fashionable—in Paris at least, though not so much abroad—to treat him and his works rather dismissively. The tide has now turned, and so Todd has been able to benefit from the greater willingness of the surviving witnesses to appreciate Camus in his own right, independently of Sartre. Todd himself does full justice to Camus on the Soviet issue, and also quotes evidence to show that Camus, far from being considered as a reactionary colonialist, is well regarded by progressive Algerian Arab intellectuals.
Todd has spared no pains in his search for significant details. He has followed Camus’s trail in North Africa, in America, and even to Moscow, where the writer’s name figures in the Soviet archives. He thanks some two hundred people for answering his questions about the Camus they knew, and for allowing him to quote from their letters or diaries. As a result, it is difficult to imagine that there can ever be a more exhaustive study of Camus’s personality and of the relationship between his works and his life.
This volume doesn’t propose any radical reassessment, but the wealth of details it supplies changes certain emphases. First, however, I recall the basic story. Camus, of mixed French and Spanish descent, was an “outsider” in relation to metropolitan France, since he was born and brought up in Algeria, and in extremely humble circumstances, which are movingly described in Le Premier Homme, an unfinished text published since his death. His father, whom he never knew, was killed in the First World War, and his mother was an illiterate charwoman. His ability was recognized by a schoolteacher, who encouraged him to study up to university level. However, at the age of seventeen he was diagnosed as being tubercular, and this prevented him going on later to sit the national competitive examination, l’agrégation, which, had he been successful, would have given him parity with mainland academics. Initially, then, as a provincial of working-class origin who hadn’t fully completed his studies, he was quite remote from the Parisian literati, who were mostly bourgeois and highly qualified.
Nevertheless, by the age of thirty, he was established in Paris not only as one of the most influential journalists to emerge from the Resistance movement, but also as a literary star, alongside Sartre, eight years his senior, a brilliant alumnus of L’Ecole Normale Supérieure and a dyed-in-the-wool Parisian intellectual. What they had in common was the new theme of the Absurd, as if that mysterious entity, the Zeitgeist, had found two very different temperaments to convey its topical message.
Not that the concept of the Absurd is an original invention. On the contrary, it has occurred at intervals throughout history, whenever a thinker or a literary artist has become acutely aware of the gap between the human power of understanding and the unintelligibility of the universe. Its basic principle is that man has no access to the so-called “transcendent,” and must work out how best to live with the knowledge that all religious mythologies are unconfirmable projections of the human imagination, sometimes with good, but often with very bad, consequences.
There are direct or indirect expressions of the Absurd in the Old Testament, in Greek and Latin literature, and in the works of many writers of later centuries, some of whom may have thought themselves to be predominantly believers of one kind or another. One might even claim that the cry Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthami proves that, for a brief moment, Jesus himself was a near-Absurdist. Be that as it may, the achievement of Sartre and Camus was to formulate the concept afresh in the twentieth century under the single term “the Absurd” (accompanied, particularly in Sartre’s case, by the related concept of Existentialism), and to present it in both explicit and artistic forms. Striking parallels can be drawn between the two writers’ early works: Sartre’s novel La Nausée and his big philosophical volume L’Etre et le néant, and Camus’s novel L’Etranger and his short essay-treatise Le Mythe de Sisyphe.
The two men, being both politically on the left, fraternized for some years, then gradually drifted apart and, after the rift already referred to, were no longer on speaking terms. Camus was killed in a car crash in 1960; and Sartre lived on until 1980. In their day, both had very successful careers within France and abroad; both became gurus or maîtres à penser with their different followers, but it remains an open question which will prove the more resistant to weathering by time.
I hadn’t fully realized before reading Todd’s account how all-pervading the influence of tuberculosis was on Camus’s life. Although he experienced apparent remissions, it often interrupted his work and probably accounts not only for the occasional moodiness that some people found offensive, but also for the sharp oscillations between depression and lyricism (“Il n’y a pas d’amour de la vie sans désespoir de la vie“: There is no love of life without despair about life) that are so characteristic of his writing. In this respect, he was very different from a contemporary of the older generation, André Gide, who had also been a tubercular adolescent but recovered, or was stabilized, and survived quite comfortably to the age of eighty-two. He was nearer to the tragic case of Chekhov, who existed in the shadow of death during most of his adult life and died at forty-four. Camus was forty-seven when he was killed but, according to his doctor, both his lungs were so badly affected that he would probably not have lived much longer. Although he kept referring euphemistically to his disability as “influenza” or a “chill,” he must always have known that his hold on life was precarious. Oddly enough, many of his photographs show him smoking, as if, in the Forties and Fifties, medical science hadn’t yet established the harmfulness of the habit particularly for patients with lung trouble.
I am not suggesting that Camus’s chronic illness determined his perception of the Absurd. A perfectly healthy person may suddenly become aware of the discrepancy between his everyday life and the mystery of the universe. Sometimes “contingency sickness” may ensue—Meursault, the hero of L’Etranger, suffers from an insidious form of this disturbance; Caligula, another of Camus’s heroes, together with Roquentin, the hero of La Nausée, suffers from a more acute and articulate form—but it is a sort of metaphysical vertigo, not the result of a defective physical organ. In other words, the fundamental perception of the Absurd is independent of one’s state of health.
But, in Camus’s case, the fundamental perception must have been complicated by the constant pressure of his illness, with further consequences. He says, in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, that if one decides not to opt out of the exasperating mystery of creation by committing suicide, one should cram as much lyrical experience as possible into one’s existence. Here, he is no doubt echoing to some extent Les Nourritures terrestres, André Gide’s pagan hymn to physical enjoyment, which had a great vogue in France in the Thirties but was little known abroad. “Living for the moment” can become an obsession with someone who knows his life is under threat, and in Camus’s case this meant enjoying not only the sun and the sea but also the pleasures of the flesh. Gide’s passion had been for boys; Camus’s was for girls.
A major revelation in Todd’s account is the multiplicity of Camus’s sexual relationships, although it was always known that he had at least one mistress, the famous actress Maria Casarès. Whether or not there is any truth in the folk belief that tuberculosis, although a debilitating disease, has the paradoxical effect of increasing the sexual appetite, Camus seems to have been unable to resist courting any pretty girl who came within reach, and he was clearly an expert seducer. This didn’t matter so much during his marriage to his first wife, Simone, who was herself fickle, and whom he quickly discovered to be an incurable morphine addict. But his second wife, Francine, another Algerian middle-class girl but more sensitive than Simone, couldn’t tolerate his behavior, and the strain eventually caused her to attempt suicide by throwing herself out of a window. This is the dark secret which is largely responsible for the mood of guilt so brilliantly described in his last completed work, La Chute. In his political writings as editor of the newspaper Combat, he had always adopted a high moral tone, and admiring readers of his novel La Peste had tended to identify him with the hero, Dr. Rieux, the faithful husband of an ailing wife and a humanist who, in the absence of religious belief, meditates on the notion of “secular sainthood.” Yet here he was, responsible for a failed marriage with an adverse effect on his wife and children.
Lottman, as I remember, suggests that Camus’s first marriage was probably motivated by a half-conscious desire for social promotion. It raised him from the working class to the middle class, since he was partly supported by his first mother-in-law. Whatever his later, temporary, financial difficulties, from then on he led a middle-class life, while at times proudly evoking his humble origins. There is, incidentally, an advantage for a writer in having had a harsh childhood at subsistence level; the worm’s-eye view allows one subsequently to appreciate more clearly the virtues and the limitations of the higher classes, and in this respect Camus had his feet on the ground politically, whereas Sartre, the bourgeois-hating bourgeois, was far less realistic.
But, to return to the point: even Todd doesn’t manage to explain why Camus, given his temperament, committed himself to marriage with Francine. Perhaps he just drifted into it, through Absurdist listlessness, as Meursault, the hero of L’Etranger, is prepared to do, or perhaps, with macho selfishness, he wanted a reassuring home base, to which he could return for a rest in the intervals of living the lyrical life to the full with a series of other partners.
He obviously had no conception of an ever-deepening one-man-one-woman relationship “till death do us part.” But the unpublished letters quoted by Todd show that he wasn’t macho in any brutal sense, despite the cynical analysis of relations with women given by his alter ego, Clamence, in La Chute. He produces the impression, rather, of being insecure, of needing to keep various women in play not simply for sexual purposes but as reflections, or confirmations, of his own identity. During the week preceding the fatal accident, when he was spending Christmas in the country with his family and friends, he wrote almost identical letters to Maria Casarès, Catherine Sellers, another mistress of long standing, and to the Danish girl Mi, his latest conquest, saying how ardently he was looking forward to being reunited with them on his return to Paris. It is perhaps a sign of the necessary egotism of a certain type of creative artist that, in the letters, he comes across powerfully as a self-dramatizing man with more concern for his own need for these interchangeable women than interest in their separate personalities. This may explain why, surprisingly, given his real-life obsession with women, there are no significant female characters in his work, apart from the relatively minor figures of his mother and his grandmother.
In practice, Camus tried to ignore his illness and never used it as an excuse. Indeed, given his disability, it is remarkable that he achieved so much. During the first part of his career in Algeria, in addition to writing his early poetico-philosophical essays, he distinguished himself both as a journalist campaigning against colonial abuses and as a theatrical animateur and occasional actor. When Hitler precipitated the war, Camus, out of solidarity with his age group, tried to enlist in some military or paramilitary capacity, but was rejected more than once because of his medical record. When he found himself trapped in metropolitan France by the German Occupation, he joined the Resistance movement without hesitation, acquitted himself well and emerged at the Liberation as the director of the formerly clandestine newspaper Combat, which survived honorably for some years. In fact, while first and foremost a writer, he had considerable gifts as a man of action and a leader. Even during his student days, he had both a hedonistic, fun-loving side (see, for example, the springlike lyricism of his posthumously published early novel La Mort heureuse), and a natural authority that impressed his contemporaries.
In this connection, Todd’s researches show how Camus’s personal prestige facilitated his literary career without his having to struggle for recognition in the usual way. Pascal Pia, a Parisian journalist who had come to Algiers to work on the same newspaper as Camus, was so taken with him that he went to considerable lengths to bring Camus’s writings to the notice of influential friends and acquaintances in the capital. Acting as a voluntary literary agent, he sent copies of Camus’s unpublished works to André Malraux and others, and so it was that Camus gained immediate access to Gallimard, the most important literary publishing house, with which he was to stay permanently. It was Pia, too, who persuaded Gaston Gallimard to mensualiser Camus, that is, give him a monthly allowance in return for exclusive rights to his future works. From an early stage, then, Camus enjoyed, if not wealth, at least relative financial security; his letters are full of complaints about the anguish of the creative process, but are not overshadowed by money worries. Eventually, he became a reader for Gallimard and a close friend of the family, and more particularly of Michel Gallimard, who was driving the car at the time of the accident which killed them both.
Sadly, by this time, Camus and Pia had become estranged, because the latter was one of the intellectuals who felt, rightly or wrongly, that Camus had been rather spoiled by success, and had moved away from his original left-wing positions. There are signs that Camus’s natural authority took on a rather peremptory tone after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and was still smarting from his treatment by Sartre.
Perhaps his alienation from former friends, such as Pia, accentuated the guilt feelings expressed in La Chute. However, it is emphatically to his credit that, of the various gurus who occupied the French intellectual scene during the postwar years—Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, etc.—Camus was the only one not to fall into complacent dogmatism and to see the dangers of accepting the uncritical admiration of disciples. He apologized, as it were, through the character of Clamence in La Chute for the fact that he himself had involuntarily become a guru. Clamence, it will be remembered, looks back with bitter irony on his inflated reputation as a public benefactor, which he had enjoyed so much. Was Camus capable of this self-criticism because, although a nonbeliever, he had, as Todd claims, a religious sensibility and therefore an awareness of the fallibility of the individual, or was it a case of the naive provincial seeing some things more clearly than the sophisticated metropolitans?
At this distance in time, the arguments for and against the Soviet Union and communism that were so rife in the French postwar intellectual milieu may seem like a storm in a teacup, especially since the illusion of the Soviet utopia had already disappeared in the rest of Europe. But it has to be remembered that the French Communist Party was still very powerful and the political atmosphere quite tense. Camus’s metaphysico-political treatise, L’Homme révolté, dropped like a bomb in this setting. As Todd says, the book is flawed, but it made a vital point at a time when it was very much needed. Camus puts forward the now-familiar argument that there is no sense in giving up harmful religious dogmatism only to accept the dogmatic historical belief that the end justifies the means, since you can never be sure what the end may turn out to be. The Soviet prison camps were a present evil that had to be condemned, because an evil, once committed, is ineradicable from history, since it is not cancelled out by any subsequent improvement. Sartre, as an Absurdist Existentialist, ought to have understood this, but, in his anti-American bigotedness, he was prepared to look upon the prison camps as a blip on the way to the perfect society; to condemn the camps was to side with capitalism against communism.
Retrospectively, Camus has won the argument hands down, since a majority of the citizens of the former Soviet Union have proved him right. Unfortunately, his attachment to the Promethean or Nietzschean concept of la révolte or rebellion leads to some shaky theorizing, which confuses the issue and blunts the impact of L’Homme révolté. Camus made the mistake of distinguishing between two forms of la révolte: la révolte historique and la révolte métaphysique. The first is comprehensible, if it means the urge to combat such social evils as are seen to exist, and which tend to be reborn in different disguises with each new generation; that is, it is synonymous with normal progressive politics. The second is a misnomer, because man, particularly Absurdist man, cannot rebel against the impersonal universe. He can only adapt himself to it, by exploiting its laws as far as possible for what he considers to be the good of society. Prometheanism supposes a God, or gods, that man can challenge.
Camus hasn’t a firm grasp of this point because, in various contexts, he falls into the Promethean mode. His play Caligula shows the Roman emperor, exasperated by the unintelligibility of the universe (“If God is dead, everything is permitted”), committing crime after crime, until he provokes his courtiers into assassinating him. He has, as it were, committed suicide par personnes interposées in a sort of challenge to the Absent God, and Camus presents his behavior in an unduly sympathetic light. In another, still weaker play, L’Etat de Siège, the hero, Diego, challenges Death to do its worst, but his rhetoric—to use a vernacular phrase—amounts to no more than pissing against the wind.
Sartre derided Camus for shaking his fist at the Absent God but, being anything but consistent, he did exactly the same thing in his play Le Diable et le Bon Dieu, which is one long anti-God rant on the part of the hero, Goetz, who defies God only to turn himself in the end into a tyrannical little human god. This depressing work can be interpreted as an argument in favor of the inevitability of the Stalinist tyranny.
It is a pity that the two writers, who dealt so originally in some of their early works with the theme of the Absurd, didn’t always draw the logical consequences as surely as they might have done. Sartre, having declared, “La vie commence au-delà du désespoir” (Life begins on the far side of despair), opted for political engagement or commitment, which meant in practice Communist fellow-traveling, then Maoism, and ultimately anarchistic irresponsibility. Although he claimed to be a humanist, when he took up any particular cause it seems to have been more for the sadistic pleasure of fustigating his opponents with the brilliance of his polemical rhetoric than through genuine concern for the victim or victims concerned. One cannot deny his extraordinary, if intermittent, intelligence, but there is little or no human solidarity in his ultimately negative philosophy.
Camus, on the other hand, was a genuine humanist, and his formula: “Je me révolte, donc nous sommes” (I rebel, therefore we are)—a parody of the Cartesian Cogito ergo sum—means in effect, if we deflate the Promethean emotion of the term révolte: “Faced with the Absurd, we are all on a level,” believers and nonbelievers alike, of course. Camus was opposed only to aggressively dogmatic believers. His sensitive portrayal of the priest, Paneloux, in La Peste, who gradually loses his faith through the experience of the plague, shows that, in his view, there are certain Christians who are not far removed from Absurdist humanists; they are those for whom the mythology of their religion is a helpful, half-believed-in poetic fiction with which they hold at bay their fundamental awareness of the Absurd.
Here Camus is on sure ground, but there is another feature of L’Homme révolté which lays it open to criticism. Being warmly, even fervently, attached to his Algerian homeland, Camus sees himself as a Mediterranean, and therefore in the direct line of descent from Greek culture, the ultimate source of European civilization. This leads him to develop the concept of la pensée de midi, or “Mediterranean thought,” a balanced approach to life, different from the gloomy fanaticisms of the North. I have sometimes wondered if the germ of the idea came from the expression Midi le juste, which occurs in Paul Valéry’s famous poem Le Cimetière marin and refers to the point of equilibrium at midday in midsummer, when the sun is directly, exactly, at its highest above the sea. The word juste has no moral force in the poem, but the expression may have prompted Camus to see an equivalence between Midi and “rightness,” “justice,” “balance.”
It is true that geographical conditions determine social attitudes up to a point, but it is also the case that very different civilizations have succeeded each other in the same physical setting, even in the Mediterranean area. More importantly, Camus is forgetting that, if the concept of the Absurd is true, it must be equally valid, fundamentally, at any point on the globe. Finally, he is contradicting one of his finest pieces of instinctive writing, the first part of L’Etranger up to the shooting scene, where the Mediterranean setting and particularly the sun is at once a source of pagan enjoyment and a force for evil, since it precipitates the crisis; the glare of the sun causes Meursault to lose his self-control and fire the fatal shots.
It is a pity that Camus felt the need to bolster his political attitudes with a form of Mediterranean parochialism. They were quite sound in a commonsensical way; his theorizing about la pensée de midi weakens rather than strengthens them, and oddly enough, is more or less on a par with the dubious French regionalism promoted in the late nineteenth century by the reactionary writer Maurice Barrès.
Camus’s use of symbols varies in its effectiveness, and what he says about them may be misleading. For instance, in theorizing about la pensée de midi, by implication he casts the sun in a beneficent role, but in his fiction he seems to be fully aware both of its key position and its ambiguity. The sun, like “the Creator,” is the source of both good and evil. All life ultimately depends on the sun, yet the sun also kills life. (“Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,” wrote Shakespeare, whom Ionesco rightly claimed as an unrecognized Absurdist.) I have already mentioned the duality of the sun in L’Etranger. Significantly, in La Peste the plague is at its height when the sun is strongest, and eases off when cooler weather returns; this makes the point that climatic changes favor the various forms of life according to the inscrutable laws of the universe, germs at one level of temperature, humans at another.
A comparable inference is also present in one of Camus’s strangest texts, the short story Le Renégat, where the desert sun gives rise to a sort of sadomasochistic devil worship. In view of these instances, I would say that Camus is one of the two French writers with the keenest poetic sense of what one might call the metaphysical resonance of the sun; the other is Valéry who, in his great poem Ebauche d’un serpent, puts what is, in effect, Absurdist philosophy into the mouth of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent sings a hymn of praise to the sun, the supreme deceiver who prevents humans from recognizing that the universe is no more than a flaw in the purity of Non-Being.
La Peste has been criticized by some people for its “simplistic” or “boy scout” mentality, and Todd is not enthusiastic about it, finding it “trop carrée,” too square, not, I suppose, in the colloquial English sense of conventional or unsophisticated, but too deliberately and symmetrically constructed. I see his point, but for me the book is a beautifully controlled restatement of the eternal question: What is the man of good will to do when faced with incomprehensible and apparently gratuitous evil? It exactly parallels, in the elegiac mode, Voltaire’s Candide, which, starting from the Lisbon earthquake, puts the same question with melodious, Mozartian wit, and ends with the “simplistic,” but irrefutable, recommendation: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” i.e., carry on with civilization as best we can on the human level, independently of the conflicting, and often dangerous, messages that are supposed to be coming from the “transcendent.”
But here again, Camus confused the issue by repeating in interviews that the plague also symbolizes war. Voltaire, for his part, was careful to distinguish between the Lisbon earthquake, which is an “Act of God,” for which man has no responsibility, and war, which is an act of man. No doubt, the heavy, brooding atmosphere of La Peste owes something to the horror of the German Occupation which Camus had lived through, but a plague is just as much an “Act of God” as an earthquake. To equate war with the plague is to imply that it occurs inevitably in certain circumstances; if so, man is as totally determined in his hostile instincts as the nonhuman animals are, and therefore, in the last resort, not morally in charge of his behavior. Actually, Voltaire, who is more cynical than Camus, hints at this and then rapidly passes on, because he cannot bear the thought of the nonexistence of moral choice. Fortunately, Camus’s theoretical confusion on this point doesn’t affect the quality of La Peste, which contains no internal reference to war.
Elsewhere, however, there are occasional instances of faulty symbolism, of which I will mention only one. It occurs in La Chute, an otherwise admirable text in the most classical tradition of French analytical writing. The incident which completes Clamence’s growing awareness of being a moral fraud and finally triggers his mental breakdown is as follows. He is crossing a bridge at night, when he sees a woman leaning over the parapet; later, he hears a splash, and realizes that she has thrown herself into the Seine. Horror-struck, he remains rooted to the spot for a few seconds and then moves on, but is later overwhelmed with remorse, the implication being that he should have gone to her rescue.
It is apparent from Todd’s account that the incident is meant to express Camus’s guilt about Francine’s attempted suicide. But, in the context of the story, it seems trite, and certainly too weak to bear the load of remorse that Camus heaps onto it. Clamence is not morally obliged to jump into the river at night on the off-chance of retrieving a suicide. At most, he should have tried to raise the alarm, and the fact that, in his neurotic state, he didn’t do so is not an absolutely heinous crime. Besides, according to the Absurdist point of view expressed in Le Mythe de Sisyphe, if one doesn’t know the person concerned, one cannot be sure whether or not the decision to commit suicide was valid; it may be in some cases. But above all, a man’s duty to an unknown person with whom he happens to come into contact is not the same as his duty toward his wife, to whom he has given a pledge and who is affected daily by his behavior. This flaw, which luckily is not fatal to the book, seems to be another indication of Camus’s curious inability to bring women, as independent entities, fully into his writing.
In his conclusion, Todd gives a very fair summing up of Camus’s importance as an artist and public figure in comparison with Sartre, of course, in the first place, but also with other politically involved writers, such as George Orwell and Arthur Koestler. The parallel with Orwell is particularly apt, because he too had a genuine sympathy with the oppressed, and also was one of the first intellectuals to denounce the Soviet myth, even during the war, when the Soviet Union was our great ally and T.S. Eliot, then principal reader at Faber and Faber, rejected Animal Farm perhaps more on tactical than on literary grounds. However, Orwell never formulated any concept of the Absurd as the ground bass to his thinking; nor did Koestler, who went on, some years after Darkness at Noon, to develop an interest in extrasensory perception.
Todd is critical of Sartre but, to my mind, pulls his punches a little. In retrospect, and particularly in the light of the correspondence with Simone de Beauvoir which does neither of them any credit, Sartre appears shockingly egotistical and irresponsible. Through intellectual arrogance and inconsistent dogmatism, he betrayed his early genius and his initial perception of the Absurd, which are so evident in La Nausée. He became a victim of his inexhaustible verbal facility, which allowed him to be both brilliantly superficial and ingeniously wrong. His later writings contain valid passages only here and there, lost in a flood of logorrhea, while his autobiographical text, Les Mots, which some critics rated highly when it first appeared, now reads like a series of shallow, coruscating verbal effects, with none of the genuine heart-searching of La Chute. I was interested to see that Jean-François Revel, a well-qualified observer, recently dubbed Sartre “l’incarnation suprême du désastre culturel français d’après-guerre.” Camus, on the contrary, helped to redeem the times. With his sense of human solidarity, he certainly tried, despite some inconsistencies, to develop honorably along the Absurdist line, and so may leave a deeper trace.
January 15, 1998