In his author’s foreword to the 1955 English edition of The Myth of Sisyphus (translated from the French by Justin O’Brien), Albert Camus addresses his American readers very bluntly:
“The fundamental subject of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face.”
A few sentences later he makes it clear where he stands on the issue: “Although ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ poses mortal problems, it sums itself up for me as a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.”
Consider how his use of the image of a “desert” applies so profoundly to different reading audiences in the year 2013. For one, it brings to mind those American soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen who fought well enough to survive the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but who were unable to survive the weights of post-traumatic stress and sense of displacement that followed them home.
It also brings to mind the teenage (some younger) suicide bombers and their adult counterparts wholly convinced (or sometimes not) that the greatest contribution they can make to any hope for freedom or honor is self-destruction. Camus does not suggest any interpretation of the “desert” to which he refers in such terms but he does not need to when readers recall the place of his birth and the years during which he grew into maturity during the 20th century.
On Origins and Survival
Between the time of his birth on November 7, 1913, in Mondovi (now known as Drean in the El Taref Provence), Algeria, and the original publication of Le Mythe de Sisyphe in 1942, the facts of war, poverty, and demographic distinctions had given Camus a great deal to think about. He lost his father Lucien Auguste Camus at the beginning of World War I and had no guarantee that he himself would survive World War II. Moreover, so far as survival was concerned, recurring bouts of tuberculosis starting at the age of 17 threatened his life as much as war did.
Whereas his father had been of French ancestry, his mother Catherine Camus came from a Spanish background. To the extent that he was born in Mondovi/Drean, Camus himself could be correctly described as African.Add to this the fact that Algeria throughout Camus’ lifetime was a French colony (1830–1962) where the relationship between the ruling country and indigenous Arab Muslim population could rarely be described as harmonious.
In short, cross-cultural diversity was a reality but a forced and very uneasy one. During this centennial of Camus’ birth and 53 years after his death, in this age of terrorism gone global under the guise of religious fervor, France still maintains a fragile relationship with both its Muslim neighbors and its resident Muslim population.
author of Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Albert Camus and Aberjhani’s Text and Meaning Series
- Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus Part 2
- Albert Camus Society Centennial Conference
- Celebrating Albert Camus on Facebook
- Why is Camus Still a Stranger in His Native Algeria?
- Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes’ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance Part 3
- Text and Meaning in MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech Part 1
- Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech Part 4