Synopses & Reviews
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Albert Camus declared that a writer's duty is twofold: "the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance against oppression." These twin obsessions help explain something of Camus' remarkable character, which is the overarching subject of this sympathetic and lively book. Through an exploration of themes that preoccupied Camus — absurdity, silence, revolt, fidelity, and moderation — Robert Zaretsky portrays a moralist who refused to be fooled by the nobler names we assign to our actions, and who pushed himself, and those about him, to challenge the status quo.
Though we do not face the same dangers that threatened Europe when Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger, we confront other alarms. Herein lies Camus' abiding significance. Reading his work, we become more thoughtful observers of our own lives. For Camus, rebellion is an eternal human condition, a timeless struggle against injustice that makes life worth living. But rebellion is also bounded by self-imposed constraints — it is a noble if impossible ideal. Such a contradiction suggests that if there is no reason for hope, there is also no occasion for despair — a sentiment perhaps better suited for the ancient tragedians than modern political theorists but one whose wisdom abides. Yet we must not venerate suffering, Camus cautions: the world's beauty demands our attention no less than life's train of injustices. That recognition permits him to declare: "It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable."
"University of Houston historian Zaretsky offers an invigorating blend of history, criticism, and biography in a stirring reassessment of the Nobel Prize winning existentialist writer Albert Camus. Each chapter revolves around a key theme from Camus's life and work: the absurdity of a meaningless existence; the silence of the universe and the silence of political noncommitment; political and moral moderation; fidelity to intellectual and moral principles; and revolt (rather than rebellion) as a response to power. Zaretsky supplements his discussions of individual works such as The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus with valuable historical and biographical detail, elaborating upon Camus's complex reactions to defining events, from the oppression of Jews in France during WWII to the violence in Algeria in the 1950s. Zaretsky demonstrates Camus's commitment to justice and the joy of existence, evident in his rejection of Soviet communism, as well as his principled opposition to terrorism and capital punishment. Camus emerges as a compassionate thinker who always ruthlessly interrogated his own beliefs and assumptions. Zaretsky's elegant prose and passion for the subject, meanwhile, will inspire both novices in existentialism as well as experts to revisit the contributions of this great French writer." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Exploring themes that preoccupied Albert Camus — absurdity, silence, revolt, fidelity, and moderation — Robert Zaretsky portrays a moralist who refused to be fooled by the nobler names we assign to our actions, and who pushed himself, and those about him, to challenge the status quo. For Camus, rebellion against injustice is the human condition.
About the Author
Robert Zaretsky is Professor of French History at the University of Houston.