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“For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them.” ––Albert Camus, 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature Acceptance Speech.
When contemporary authors talk about addressing a subject in three different literary works, they generally mean a fictional or nonfictional trilogy, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or Toni Morrison’s series of novels (Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise) linked by the author’s meditation on different eras of African-American history.
For Albert Camus, the term triptych is more appropriate than trilogy because he launched his literary career by tackling the same subject simultaneously through three different genres: a novel, a play, and a collection of essays. The novel was The Stranger, the play was Caligula, and the essay collection was The Myth of Sisyphus. Possibly even more impressive than his ability to complete this triptych was his ability to actually get the novel and essays published in the same year, 1942 (the play would have to wait two more years).
By that time, Nazi Germans had occupied Paris and Camus found himself basically trapped in a French mountain village known as Le Panelier. Unable to travel about freely or to use the country’s regular postal service, he had to rely on friends and allies to place his work safely in the hands of Gallimard Publishing. The company itself had remained active during the invasion and published Camus’ work with the consent of German officials. One noteworthy alteration to the original edition of Le Mythe de Sisyphe was the removal of his brilliant essay on Franz Kafka.
Bestsellers and Classics
Readers will not find Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus competing on lists of bestselling books of 2013 with titles such as 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James or Thomas Pynchon’s latest comeback installment, Bleeding Edge. Any book which takes on suicide as a philosophical conundrum cannot be described as light reading and the average person is unlikely to consider such a volume entertaining. Yet even though the book is a serious work of philosophy in which Camus takes to task a number of fellow thinkers inclined more towards nihilism and existentialism, it also contains passages of inspired insight that transcend the category of philosophy per se. The following are two short examples:
“I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules.”
“In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s and the body shrinks from annihilation.”
And then there are the stunning bursts of lyrical poetry like this:
“At the hour when the sun overflows from every corner of the sky at once, the orange canoe loaded with brown bodies brings us home in a mad race. And when, having suddenly interrupted the cadenced beat of the double paddle’s bright-colored wings, we glide slowly in the calm water of the inner harbor, how can I fail to feel that I am piloting through the smooth waters a savage cargo of gods in whom I recognize my brothers?”
There is in Albert Camus’ literary craftsmanship a seductive intelligence that could almost make a reader dismiss his philosophical intentions if he had not insisted on making them so clear.
NEXT: Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus Part 3
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love
More on Albert Camus and Aberjhani’s Text and Meaning Series
- Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus Part 1
- Albert Camus Society Centennial Conference
- Celebrating Albert Camus on Facebook
- Why is Camus Still a Stranger in His Native Algeria?
- Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Part 3
- Text and Meaning in MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech Part 4