Camus to his teacher

English: Albert Camus in 1957

English: Albert Camus in 1957 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Camus became the second youngest person to receive the Nobel Prize, which was awarded to him for the “clear-sighted earnestness” of his work, which “illuminates the problems of the human conscience.” On November 19, 1957  Camus recognized the impact of his former teacher with such “clear-sighted earnestness” in a letter, included in the last pages of Camus’s The First Man (public library | IndieBound), translated by David Hapgood.

19 November 1957

Dear Monsieur Germain,

I let the commotion around me these days subside a bit before speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. I have just been given far too great an honor, one I neither sought nor solicited. But when I heard the news, my first thought, after my mother, was of you. Without you, without the affectionate hand you extended to the small poor child that I was, without your teaching and example, none of all this would have happened. I don’t make too much of this sort of honor. But at least it gives me the opportunity to tell you what you have been and still are for me, and to assure you that your efforts, your work, and the generous heart you put into it still live in one of your little schoolboys who, despite the years, has never stopped being your grateful pupil. I embrace you with all my heart.

Albert Camus

Camus’s Nobel.

In New York?

Event Name:
Journalism: Albert Camus Panel Discussion
Event Date and Time:
28 April 2015 – 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Event Location:
NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, 20 Cooper Square
Event City:
New York
Event Fee:

The Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute invites you to a panel discussion on the journalism of author and philosopher, Albert Camus. Algerian Chronicles, a collection of Camus’s journalism on Algeria from the 1930s through the 1950s, provides the historical context for this panel. Most great writers are also superb reporters. Here is Albert Camus, long before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, before his novels and short stories and plays, telling us what he saw, and heard, and felt in the lost country of Algeria.

January 1960

camus-2_thumb.jpgIn January of 1960, a powerful sports car was traveling north in France towards Paris. Albert Camus was a passenger in the car. He had won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957 and had been called in the presentation speech “the conscience of the 20th century.” He had been an actor and an editor, a dramatist and a novelist, and was active in the underground resistance against the Nazis in World War II. He was forty-six years old and well known around the world. Camus was traveling to Paris with friends after spending the New Year holiday on his property in the south of France. It was raining. The car came out at one point on a straight, clear stretch of road. About midway it went off the road and rammed into a tree. Camus was killed. One newspaper at the time reported, “It was a dramatic end for the young writer who was a leader and interpreter of the philosophy of postwar France’s wild, young existentialist set.”

If the existentialist set in France was wild, this is hardly a charge that can be leveled against Camus. A more thoroughly earnest man it would be hard to find anywhere. And yet, his sudden senseless death there on the road lends support to one of the fundamental ideas of the existentialists movement: that life is absurd, senseless, that anything can happen to anyone at any time, without rhyme or reason; life is illogical; the only god is the god of chance; “Time and chance happeneth to all men,” as the preacher said many years ago. And yet, in his works Camus is stating, is demanding, that life has value without having meaning. In so doing he is rebelling against two things: on the one hand, nihilism, that is the belief in nothing; and on the other hand, the Christian concept of contemptus mundi, contempt for the world, which forces one to turn away from the living, present moment and to be concerned about some time in the future. ( Humanist in Canada, Lane)

And now the story continues. Kamel Daoud has published a “counter-argument” novel, Meursault, Counter-Investigation in response to Camus’s The Stranger and has been threatened with death by an imam. (Read more here.)

Camus is as relevant today as he was in the cold war period. His insistence on human values in this absurd world speaks to us about war and torture and poverty.