Before Ethics Camus's Pudeur

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    Before Ethics: Camus's PudeurAuthor(s): Marc BlanchardSource: MLN,  Vol. 112, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 1997), pp. 666-682Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: 16-01-2018 15:49 UTC   JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a widerange of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity andfacilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at The Johns Hopkins University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve andextend access to MLN  This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:49:19 UTCAll use subject to   Before Ethics: Camus s Pudeur  Marc Blanchard  Ce que je veux dire: Qu'on peut avoir, sans  romantisme, la nostalgie d'une pauvrete  perdue.'  These are now the Camus years. Politics, ideology, the Cold War and  its aftermath, the debates on historicism and the plagues of Post-  everything, the Nobel Prize-perhaps the kiss of death for many authors-seemed to have relegated many once famous writers, in-  cluding Camus, to the back benches of twentieth century literature.2  But recently, due mostly to the publication, thirty-five years after his death, of the unfinished Le premier homme, there has been an unprec-  edented renewal of interest in Camus. Camus has reentered the  scene. It is also as though, after so many years of exile, especial following Francis Jeanson's bitter criticism of L'homme revolte  Sartre's leading Left Les temps modernes in the early fifties, one was a  to go back and revisit a work now largely fallen into critical oblivion.  ' All references to Carnets: Mai 1935-Mars 1951, Lithographies srcinales de Ca  (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, Andre Sauret/Gallimard, 1962-64), 9. This is the f  entry in the Carnets.  2 There are other French authors whom the Nobel has committed to oblivion: Rog Martin du Gard, and more recently, Claude Simon, about whom Isaac Bashevis Singe  said to have commented that giving the Nobel to Simon wasn't going to help the Fr  woman [sic]. Perhaps the remark is telling in our days of multiculturalism. Cam  perceived as part of the French national heritage, and while that heritage is a legiti  subject of discussion and controversy (see, for instance, the interest in fascism and a  garde discourses and their specific purveyors and peddlers-in France, Drieu, Ba Brasillach), to the extent that Camus did NOT take positions pro or contra wha  become the problem of the day, now that the Cold War is for all ideological intents purposes, dead and buried, he is relegated to the backstage of history.  3 Camus is a dead senior white male, and though Algerian by birth, left behind by epigones of Fanon, Genet, and the growing generations of Francophone and Maghr6  MLN 112 (1997): 666-682 ? 1997 by TheJohns Hopkins University Press This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:49:19 UTCAll use subject to   M LN  And yet, true to his hero, Camus the man remains a strang Three things come to mind. First Existentialism-but Camus an existentialist; then the Absurd-but the Absurd we see tod  absurd from Beckett's and Ionesco's plays, and that certainl  the kind of absurd Camus had in mind: neither Estrag  attendant Godot nor the characters of the Cantatrice chauve or Les chaises  have anything in common with Meursault of L'etranger or the latter's  early incarnation, Zagreus, in La mort heureuse; language instruction  and first year upper division French-generations of American  students have now grown up with their own memorized version of  L'etranger-but Camus, despite a successful trip to the East Coast right after WWII, was interested neither in the United States nor in  language teaching, and the future of French as a viable foreign  language in the U.S. is in doubt, as the scramble for (French) Studies bears out. We remain largely unaware of who Camus was.  In this paper, I want to concentrate on one of the lesser known  works of Camus, his Carnets or Notebooks, where, I will argue, the  author of philosophical treatises, playwright and novelist have all come to face one another in a series of unrehearsed improvisations  and annotations Camus kept committing to paper from 1935 till his  death.4 I have chosen the Carnets, because they maintain a distance between the private and the public man and show Camus without  appetite for the confessions and gossip which infect the journals and the diaries of his contemporaries.5  authors and their critics. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., has written lyrically about Fanonism,  and the legacy of Fanon has been mined more for his decanonization potential than  for what it did bring to canonical French thought in the fifties: an historical beginning  for what has now become a commodified discourse on creolization and metissage.  This generic anti-Camus parti-pris was brought home to me by one of my students, a  Tunisian national writing his American Ph.D on the alg6rienite of Camus, who was  told by an interviewing chair at the MLA convention that Camus was neither   maghrebin nor Francophone nor algerien but only pied-noir, and that he had  written nothing that could be of interest to francophonie in general.  The exact beginning of the Carets is a matter of some speculation. As Lottman has  shown, Camus embarks on Notes de lecture at age nineteen in 1933, where he  comments on his readings of the Greek classics, of his mentorJean Grenier's work Les  iles, as well as elaborates the first sketches of a maison mauresque or maison  d'6motions, which will reappear in L'envers et l'endroit and in Le premier homme.  r If comparisons are to be made, they should be made, not with Sartre, who, neither in his critical essays (Situations) nor in his autobiography ever wondered about who he  was, but to more introspective and confessional writers. One such comparison will  suffice. The following standard fare in interviews orjournals by Louis Aragon and Elsa  Triolet, the toasted duo of Modernist, Cosmopolitan and Leftist Paris during the  667 This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:49:19 UTCAll use subject to   MARC BLANCHARD  Keeping a diary is perhaps the most common activity among write  and many people who have never published anything nor intende make their daily records public commit a few lines to their life everyday, following Samuel Pepys, who, without introspection, insist  on producing a by-book of his life, something more than a me  randum and less than a well-formed book. For us, the readers, dia  of famous writers are especially attractive; they hold the promi  letting us peek at the private behind the public figure. Once we read Madame Bovary, we long to find out the most private side  Flaubert that he kept from us and reserved for his Corresponda  Once we have read Gide's L'immoraliste we are curious to read the  parts of the journal that recount the writer's struggle with his homo-  sexuality, his troubled relation with his wife, his shifting politics, and  his travails as the godfather of twentieth century French literature.  There are even writers for whom we have no alternative but to read  their diaries because due to circumstances not of their making, they never produced anything else. Today, for instance, Gramsci holds us  in awe with his Prison Diaries and his Notebooks. What fascinates us still is that, day after day, Gramsci was able less to talk to himself than to  keep a critical journal of the books he had read and to report on the experience of sharing a cell with people who were like himself born  poor but had never read a book. We marvel that his many years in jail  left him with enough gumption to analyze the world of theory and  Camus decades, never appears in the Notebooks. Take Aragon: Ainsi, encore qu'il eiut  fallu pres de trois ans, pour que le feu du Paysan de Paris se mit au manuscrit de La  defense, on ne peut rien comprendre a ce qui s'est alors passe pour moi si on ne tient  pas pour mon roman l'ensemble des demarches contradictoires, lesquelles m'ont  finalement amene a etre ce que je fus, ce que je suis. Mais tenons-nous-en aux  variations dontj'etais le siege, pour ce qui est du roman, de l'idee de roman.... (Je n'ai  jamais appris a ecrire ou les incipit [Paris: Skira, 1969], 62). Take Triolet: C'est entendu,  je me suis souvent trompee dans la vie.Je me suis trompee, parce qu'on m'a tromp6e. Ou plutot,je ne me suis pas tromp6e, on m'a trompee. Aveuglee par le soleil [sic] de la confiance,je n'y ai vu que du feu: le soleil. Voila qui n'a jamaisjoue dans mes ecrits.  Je m'y suis tenue a ce queje pouvais palper,je marchais les mains en avant comme une  aveugle, essayant de reconnaitre mon chemin.Je m'y suis tenue a l'ecart de tout ce que  je n'avais pas directement sous la main, de ce qui etait pour moi impalpable. Je n'ai  jamais eu a corriger mes romans. (La mise en mots [Paris: Skira, 1969], 23). No such  complacency in the Carnets and none to be expected if Camus had, like Aragon and Triolet, survived the sixties. When Camus has something to say about his illustrious  contemporaries, his tone is apologetic: Mounier me conseille dans Esprit de me  detourner de la politique, n'ayant pas la tete a cela (cela, en effet, est 6vident), et de  me contenter du role bien assez noble et qui m'irait si gentiment d'avertisseur. Mais  qu'est-ce qu'une tete politique? La lecture d'Esprit ne me l'apprend pas (Carnets 1948-  1951, 329).  668 This content downloaded from on Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:49:19 UTCAll use subject to
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