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Camus, Albert (1913-60)
Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1957 for having 'illuminated the problems of the human conscience
in our times'.
By mythologizing the experiences of a secular age struggling with an increasingly contested religious tradition, he dramatized the human effort to 'live and create without the aid of eternal values which, temporarily perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe'(1943).
Thus the challenge posed by 'the absurd' with which he is so universally identified. Camus' most celebrated work is L'Étranger (The Stranger) (1942).
Depicting the 'metaphysical' awakening of an ordinary Algerian worker, Camus concretizes the Pindarian injunction, provided as life's answer to 'the absurd' in an epigram to Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) (1943): 'Oh my soul do not aspire to immortal heights but exhaust the field of the possible.' But if the 'absurd' defines our world, it was never treated by Camus as a conclusion, only 'a point of departure'. What else have I done except reason about an idea I discovered in the streets of my time? That I have nourished this idea (and a part of me nourishes it still) along with my whole generation goes without saying.
I simply set it far enough away so that I could deal with it and decide on its logic. (1954) How and what morality is still possible, then, in view of the experience of 'the death of God' which has given birth to the experience of absurdity? While the absurd leaves humans without justification and direction, rebellion bears witness to the refusal of human beings to accept this incipient despair. By demanding an end to oppression, rebellion seeks to transform - by revolution if necessary - the conditions that gave rise to it.
Rebellion thus testifies to the human being's incessant demand for dignity.
But it is often a vain yearning without a revolutionary transformation of the institutional structures of exploitation and oppression.
Yet that transformation only promises further and even greater humiliation if it is not continually guided by the spirit and concerns of rebellion.
Appalled by the totalitarian direction of many modern revolutionary movements, Camus thought he detected a messianic nostalgia lurking at the core of Western rebellions.
He saw them driven by an often unexpressed need to replace the failed vertical transcendence of Judaeo-Christianity with a new horizontal transcendence. L'Homme revolté (The Rebel) (1951) his major work in political theory, thus seeks to diagnose a way of thinking that has led rebellious thought from its initial generous impulses down the path of destruction, thus undermining one of the few sources of hope in our post-Christian world. Rebellion and revolution have often, however, been falsely seen as polarized for Camus.
Their opposition, rather than being necessary and celebrated, as has been claimed by both right- and left-wing detractors, is the death of both of them.
The ground of any meaningful development of rebellion must be the implicit community of humans. »
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