Medium Cool

November 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Albert Camus was perhaps admired as much for his façade of masculinity as he was his writing. It was not just for his handling of the subjects of absurdity, suicide, or politics that he inadvertently made it a normal thing for philosophers to be featured on dorm room posters. (Nietzsche joined him, retroactively.) The resemblance to James Dean in both vulnerable pose and tragic death via automobile seems an undue pressure on his life’s narrative.

In her 1963 essay “The Ideal Husband,” Susan Sontag found an explanation for the allure: Camus was able to “assume the responsibilities of sanity” while having to “traffic in the madmen’s themes” of suicide, affectlessness, guilt, and paranoia worn out by his contemporaries:

But he does so with such an air of reasonableness, mesure, effortlessness, gracious impersonality, as to place him apart from the others. Starting from the premises of a popular nihilism, he moves the reader—solely by the power of his own tranquil voice and tone—to humanist and humanitarian conclusions in no way entailed by his premises. This illogical leaping of the abyss to nihilism is the gift for which readers are grateful to Camus. This is why he evoked feelings or real affection on the part of his readers. Kafka arouses pity and terror, Joyce admiration, Proust and Gide respect, but no modern writer that I can think of, except Camus, has aroused love.

Camus channeled affection in his personal relationships as much as he evoked it in his writing, as demonstrated by his tender 1957 letter to his former teacher upon his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

(Hat tip: Alex Pruteanu.)

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