Albert Camus would have been 100 years old today.
What I remember: Reading The Stranger at Sixth Form. Hating the sterile Everyman edition I found at the school library. Loving the equally austere but slightly more stylish silver-grey Penguin edition, with the footsteps in the sand.
He was a softer version of Nietzsche, to me. Nietzsche pummeled me. Camus let me in. I could see his philosophy working, somehow: absurdism felt both sexier and more managable than nihilism – or raging anti-nihlism… guess it depends who you ask.
It’s his short stories that remain etched in my memory. I’ll never re-read The Myth of Sisyphus. I doubt I’ll ever re-read The Stranger or The Plague either. But The Exile and the Kingdom felt friendlier… more humane than anything I’d ever encountered from his oeuvre. The sweeping intellectual make-up of ‘Sisyphus’ and The Plague; the blunt, macho minimalism of The Stranger… there’s none of that in The Exile and the Kingdom.
The fact that someone so intellectually flinty and sharp could allow themselves sentimentality to seep through; the fact that he showed himself to be artistic, to be open to occasional, experimental bouts of emotion in prose…
It was to be the last time I engaged with Camus, but it felt like a good way to round off the relationship. (Of course I could still get into his writing again, of course I could dip into the books every now and then and still derive pleasure for them. But what I mean is that the ‘phase’, the fevered season of devouring them wholesale, was gone.)
Feeling the pull away from the core of his work, I moved on to Camus but took some of the absurd with me. I’d like to think it’s still with me, anyway. The scepticism of any definite moral or philosophical impositions. The framing of human endeavour against something ultimately unpredictable, but not necessarily malevolent or cold. Acknowledging our passion as something fiery and real and justified in every way, even if we’re not sure where it all comes from, and where it’s all going…
This could all just be projecting. My memory of Camus’ work and its implications could be faulty (and, of course, it could be that I never quite grasped if fully in the first place). But that’s what I remember when I think back on it.
A solitary figure – alone but not lonely. The world spinning on regardless, and you jumping on the carousel.