Although in his lifetime Albert Camus’ position in the forefront of French writing seemed secure, it was by no means unchallenged. French literary history has a long record of fratricide.From a political or ideological bias, a difference in taste or aesthetic theory, or sometimes from undisguised envy, French writers have flung at each other anathemas that make the literary feuds of other cultures seem genteel and that, incidentally, constitute an important body of writing in themselves. This internecine warfare is bot surprising in a country where the word is so highly valued.
The most violent attacks upon Camus came from Communist or Communist minded intellectuals. Ideologies played a central part in the perennial French debate over the issues of literature, to the point of often crowding out aesthetic considerations. So committed are almost all French writers to some form of leftist belief, that the reasons for self-examination are compelling, if not imperative.
In Camus’ case, his guilt in Socialist eyes was clear. Camus built much of his intellectual program areound a condemnation of Marxist thought and Soviet practice, an indictment he began composing after he had abandoned his early hopes for a common cause between the Communists and other left wing parties in the post war reshaping of France. But, Camus was also a menace in the eyes of the extreme Right which abhorred his insistence upon the end of privilege and the transformation of the moral climate of capitalism.
The longest section of ”The Rebel” is a sustained, merciless critique of both the aberrations of Marxist philosophy and the inhuman nature of Soviet power. The book was denounced by the Communist press, and in those journals, such as Sartre’s ”Les Temps Modernes”, whose agonizing tightrope act over the Marxist abyss was one of the wonders of Post WWII France. Even before that, Sartre, calling Camus a ”lap dog of reaction”, had broken with him over the issue of support for the French Communist Party, which Sartre originally insisted and later contrived to justify, was the worker’s best hope; but with great acuity, Camus saw as their chief betrayer.
That Sartre should have launched as heavy an attack as he did indicated his recognition of the extent to which Camus was displacing him from his position of authority on politico-intellectual matters. The vendetta, a op-sided affair since Camus seldom responded to Sartre, held the attention of a great many French people, who saw in it a microcosm of their severest crisis of thought; a crisis that still exists among the fractious left.
On the other hand, some philosophers had also attacked Camus’ theoretical writings for their lack of system, their artist’s approach to matters of speculative thought. Camus replied that he is indeed not a philosopher, but precisely a man who wishes to oppose the abstractions of philosophy and to give thought a basis in experience.
What did trouble Camus was the media exposure; one of the more unfortunate aspects of the cult of letters in France. Novelist Julien Gracq, A Prix Goncourt winner, described this as the the effect ” la Gloire” being the equivalent of a drug that is alaways at hand along with the atmosphere of murmuring; an over stimulated and unstable crowd, with the feverish clamor of stock exchange trading floor. Very revealing, with regard to the rift between Sartre and Camus and perhaps throws some light on anti-semitism and racism on the French left, through the bias crystallizing tribalism in a new context:
”In 1941, just a few years after the publication of La Nausée, Sartre was tenured to the post of a Jewish professor dismissed during the application of anti-Semite legislation by Vichy. Sartre is accused of being on good terms with the Occupants and is described as an arriviste in the advancement of his theatrical career during the war. Ingrid Galster’s recent study, Sartre, Vichy et les intellectuels, sifts through the idées reçues of the reception under the Occupation of Sartre’s play, Les Mouches (1943). Sartre’s name, it appears, was included under the column “deutschfreundlich” in archived dossiers of German propaganda. During these black years, and throughout their respective careers, the divide between Sartre et Gracq could not have been wider. If Sartre’s writing was urban, Gracq’s was rural; If one was politically engaged, the other withdrew. If this dichotomy was applicable to other zeitgeists, the mismatch would be of Rousseau and Voltarian dimensions.” ( Tracy Adam )" title="camus9" src="http://madamepickwickartblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/camus9.jpg" alt=""In the office of Combat, 1944. From left: Albert Camus, Jaques Baumel, André Malraux and Albert Ollivier (sitting). (Courtesy René Saint-Paul)"" width="640" height="460" />