Is life meaningless? And other absurd questions - Nina Medvinskaya
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Albert Camus was born in 1913 in Algeria, formerly a French territory, as a second generation French citizen. His father died in World War I shortly after his birth, and Camus was raised by his mother and grandmother in Belcourt, a working class neighborhood. His mother was partially deaf, and could neither read nor write, but fervently encouraged Camus’ literary endeavors. Camus dedicated his last novel to her, writing, “For you who could never read this book.” Although he grew up poor, Camus valued this experience; “Poverty, first of all, was never a misfortune for me; it was radiant with sunlight. I owe it to my family, first of all, who lacked everything and who envied practically nothing.” Check out this podcast episode to hear more about Camus’ upbringing and life.
One of Camus’ first loves was football; he was taken by the camaraderie and collaborative nature of the game. To learn how football influenced his philosophy click here, plus check out this rare footage of Camus at a football game! In addition to sports, Camus was a gifted student. His primary school teacher noticed Camus’ academic potential and helped him secure a scholarship to a prestigious high school. At the end of his first academic term, Camus fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In poor neighborhoods this was considered a death sentence, but Camus convalesced and returned to school. However, he was plagued with tubercular fits and a keen awareness of his mortality for the entirety of his life.
In his early twenties, Camus toyed with communism which he would soon after denounce, and immersed himself in theater which would prove to be a life-long passion. In addition to writing his own plays, Camus adapted several works including Dostoevsky’s Demons, a novel he greatly admired. Check out Camus speaking on his love for the theater here! Camus’ young adulthood also planted seeds for romantic turmoil which would ensue throughout his life. He married Simone Hié, a young woman addicted to morphine, and divorced her once he learned of her infidelities. Since then, Camus was never faithful to a woman again. Read here about his correspondences with the Spanish French actress María Casares, his most cherished lover.In 1940, Camus left Algeria and moved to Paris, taking on an editorial job at the newspaper Paris-Soir. Shortly after he arrived, Camus began to feel World War II’s effects as the Germans occupied Paris.
Since he couldn’t serve in the army due to his TB, Camus instead joined the French Resistance. He wrote many articles for the underground newspaper Combat, eventually becoming its editor-in-chief, as he grappled with the idea of justice amidst a catastrophic period in history. For more on Camus’ Combat articles, read this.Once World War II ended, Camus found himself a celebrated writer with The Stranger making him a household name internationally. You can watch Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of the novel here! Camus detailed his life, writings, and developing ideas regarding his cycles in the posthumously published Carnets, his journals. He envisioned each cycle as galvanized by a myth; Sisyphus, Prometheus, and Nemesis would ignite the spirit of each one consecutively. Learn more about Camus’ cycles and his relevance here!
In 1957 Camus received the Nobel Prize for literature, which he was initially hesitant to accept believing it was awarded him prematurely. Listen here to an excerpt from his acceptance speech. Shortly before his sudden death, Camus’ life was gaining exciting traction. He was on the cusp of completing his most personal and lengthy novel, The First Man, aimed to serve as the first piece in his third Cycle. And unbeknownst to him, he was soon to be granted his very own theater to run in Paris. Camus’ last minute decision to forego his train ticket and travel by car cost him his life. In the ruins of the crash, the unfinished manuscript of The First Man was found. We’re left with his words to guide us through the uncanny realities of living and dying. “The human heart has a tiresome tendency to label as fate only what crushes it. But happiness likewise, in its way, is without reason, since it is inevitable.”
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