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.