Archive for Albert Camus
I grew up in the sea and poverty was sumptuous, then I lost the sea and found all luxuries grey and poverty unbearable. Since then, I have been waiting. I wait for the homebound ships, the house of the waters, the limpidity of day. I wait patiently, am polite with all my strength. Men see me walk by in fine and learned streets. I admire landscapes, applaud like everyone else, shake hands, but it is not me speaking. Men praise me, I dream a little, they insult me, I scarcely show surprise. Then I forget, and smile at the man who insulted me, or am too courteous in greeting the person I love. What can I do if all I can remember is one image? Finally they call upon me to tell them who I am, ‘Nothing yet, nothing yet…’
–Albert Camus, from The Sea Close By, Philip Thody trans.
You doubtless need to spend a long time in Algiers to understand how desiccating an excess of nature’s blessings can be. There is nothing here for people seeking knowledge, education or self-improvement. This land contains no lessons. It neither promises nor reveals. It is content to give, but does so profusely. Everything here is revealed to the naked eye, and is known the very moment it is enjoyed. Its pleasures have no remedies and its joys remain without hope. What it demands are clear-sighted souls, that is to say those without consolation. It asks us to make an act of lucidity as we make an act of faith. Strange country, which gives the men it nourishes both their wretchedness and their greatness! It is not surprising that the sensual wealth heaped on the man of feeling in this country should coincide with the most extreme deprivation. There is no truth that does not carry its bitterness within itself. Why then should it be surprising if I never love the face of this country more than in the midst of its poorest inhabitants?
–Albert Camus, from Summer in Algiers, Philip Thody trans.
Deserts themselves have taken on meaning, have been overladen with poetry.
They have become sacred places for all the sufferings of this world.
But what the heart requires at certain moments is, on the contrary, a place without poetry.
To escape from poetry and rediscover the peacefulness of stones, we need other deserts, and other places with neither souls nor resting places.
Text by Albert Camus, The Minotaur or the Halt at Oran
Photos © Stephen Shore
Poverty, first of all, was never a misfortune for me: it was radiant with sunlight. Even my revolts were lit up by the sun. These revolts were almost always, I think I can say this in all honesty, revolts on everyone’s behalf, aimed at lifting up everybody’s life into the light. Quite possibly my heart was not naturally disposed to this kind of love. But circumstances helped me. To correct my natural indifference, I was placed half-way between poverty and the sun. Poverty prevented me from thinking that all is well under the sun and in history; the sun taught me that history is not everything. Change life, yes, but not the world which I worshipped as my God. It is thus, no doubt, that I embarked upon my present difficult career, stepping innocently on to a tightrope along which I now move painfully forward, unsure of ever reaching the end. In other words, I became an artist, if it is true to say that there is no art without refusal or consent.
–Albert Camus, from the preface to Betwixt and Between, Philip Thody trans.
What always amazes me, when we are so swift to elaborate on other subjects, is the poverty of our ideas on death. It is a good thing or a bad thing, I fear it or I summon it (they say). But also this proves that everything that is simple goes beyond us. What is blue, and how can we think “blue”? The same difficulty arises for death. Death and colours are things we cannot discuss. And, nevertheless, the important thing is this man before me, heavy as earth, who prefigures my future. But can I really think about it? I say to myself: I am going to die, but this means nothing since I cannot manage to believe it and can experience only other people’s death. I have seen people die. Above all I have seen dogs die. It was touching them that overwhelmed me. I then think of flowers, smiles, desire for women, and realize that my whole horror of death lies in my fervour to live. I am jealous of those who will live and for whom flowers and desire for women will have their full flesh-and-blood meaning. I am envious because I love life too much not to be selfish. What does eternity matter to me? You can lie in bed one day and hear someone tell you: “You are strong and I owe it to you to be sincere: I can tell you that you are going to die”; lie there, with the whole of your life clasped in your hands, all your fear in your bowels and a look of stupidity in your eyes. What does the rest matter? Waves of blood come throbbing to my temples and I feel I could crush everything around me.
But men die in spite of themselves, in spite of their surroundings. They are told: “When you are cured…”, and they die. I want none of that. For if there are days when nature lies, there are others when she tells the truth. Djemila is telling the truth this evening, and with what sad and insistent beauty! In the presence of this world I have no desire to lie or for other people to lie to me. I want to keep my lucidity to the last, and gaze upon my death with all the fullness of my jealousy and horror. It is when I cut myself off from the world that I fear death most, attaching myself to the fate of living men instead of contemplating the unchanging sky. Creating conscious deaths means lessening the distance which separates us from the world, and entering joylessly into fulfilment, alert to the exalting images which belong to a world for ever lost. And the sad song of the Djemila hills plunges the bitterness of this lesson deeper into my soul.
–Albert Camus, from The Wind at Djemila, Philip Thody trans.