Albert Camus (November 7, 1913 - January 4, 1960) was a French author and philosopher and one of the principal luminaries (with Jean-Paul Sartre) of existentialism.
Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria to French Algerian (pied noir) settler family. His mother was of Spanish extraction. His father Lucien died in the Battle of Marne in 1914 during the First World War. Camus lived in poor conditions during his childhood in Belcourt section of Algiers.
In 1923 Camus was accepted into lycee and eventually to University of Algiers. However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his soccer activities and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He worked in odd jobs like private tutor, car parts clerk and working for the Meteorological Institute. Still, he graduated in philosophy from the university in 1936.
Camus joined the French Communist Party in 1934, apparently because of the Spanish Civil War but he did not particularly support Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In 1936 independence-minded Algerian Communist Party (PCA) was founded. Camus joined activities of Le Parti du Peuple Algérien, got into trouble with his communist party comrades and was denounced as "Trotskyite", which did not endear him to communism.
In 1934 he also married Simone Hie but the marriage ended due to Simone's morphine addiction. In 1935 he founded Theatre de l'Equipe (Worker's Theatre) that survived to 1939. From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper Alger-Republicain and, for example, made an account of the Arabs who lived in Kabyles in poor conditions. This apparently cost him his job. 1939-1940 he briefly wrote for similar Soir-Republicain. He was rejected from the French army due to his illness.
1940 Camus married Francine Faure and begun to work for Paris-Soir magazine. In the first stages of the World War Two (also called The Phony War), Camus was a pacifist. However, he was in Paris to witness how the Wehrmacht took over. Afterwards he moved to Bordeaux alongside the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In this year he finished his first books. He moved briefly to Oran, Algeria 1942.
During the war Camus joined a French Resistance cell Combat, who published an underground newspaper of the same name. He took a moniker Beauchard. In this way he also got acquainted with Jean-Paul Sartre. He became the paper's editor in 1943. When Allies liberated Paris, Camus reported on the last fights. He resigned from Combat 1947 when it had become a commercial paper.
After the war, Camus became one member of Sartre's entourage and frequented Café Flore on the Boulevard St. Germain in Paris. Camus also toured United States to lecture about French existentialism. Although he leaned left politically, he was not a member of any particular party and his strong criticisms about communist doctrine did not win any friends in the communist parties. Eventually this also alienated Sartre.
1949 tuberculosis came back with a vengeance and he lived in seclusion for couple of years. 1951 he published The Rebel, a collection of his philosophical thoughts that annoyed his colleagues and contemporaries in France and led to final split with Sartre. The dour reception depressed him and he begun to translate plays.
Camus' most significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the Absurd explicated in The Myth of Sisyphus and incorporated into many of his other works. Some would even argue that Camus was not, in fact, an existentialist, and more of an Absurdist.
In the 1950's Camus concentrated on human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when UN accepted the Spain of general Franco as a member. In 1953 he was one of the few leftists who criticized Soviet methods to crush a worker's strike in East Berlin. In 1956 he protested similar methods in Hungary.
He also maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment everywhere in the world.
When Algerian War of Independence begun in 1954, it became a moral dilemma for Camus. He identified with pied-noirs, blamed French government for the conflict and favored greater Algerian autonomy or even federation, not full-scale independence. He believed that pied-noirs and Arabs could coexist. During the war he advocated civil truce that would spare the civilians. Both sides regarded the idea as foolish. Behind the scenes, he began to work clandestinely for imprisoned Algerians that faced death penalty.
1955-1956 Camus wrote for L'Express. In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He had had a novel the Fall published the previous year but Nobel committee cited his writings against guillotine. When he spoke to students in the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the Algerian question and stated that he was worried what could happen to her mother who still lived in Algeria. Apparently French left-wing intellectuals used this as another pretext to ostracize him.
Albert Camus died on January 4, 1960 in a car accident while he was passenger in a Facel Vega. Driver, his publisher and friend Michel Galliardi, died as well. He was interred in the Lourmarin Cemetery, Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France. Twin daughters, Catherine and Jean, survived him. They hold copyrights to his work.
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