ALBERT CAMUS Biography - Educators, philosophers & public speakers


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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 a 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 the Belcourt section of Algiers.


In 1923 Camus was accepted into the lycee and eventually to the University of Algiers . However, he contracted tuberculosis in 1930, which put an end to his soccer activities (he had been a goalkeeper for the university team) and forced him to make his studies a part-time pursuit. He took odd jobs including private tutor, car parts clerk, and work for the Meteorological Institute. He completed his licence de philosophie (B.A. in 1935; in May of 1936, he successfully presented his thesis on Plotinus, Néo-Platonisme et Pensée Chrétienne for his diplome d’études supérieures (roughly equivalent to an M.A. by thesis).


Camus joined the French Communist Party in 1934, apparently for concern over the political situation in Spain (which eventually resulted in the Spanish Civil War) rather than support for Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In 1936 the independence-minded Algerian Communist Party (PCA) was founded. Camus joined the activities of Le Parti du Peuple Algérien , which got him into trouble with his communist party comrades. As a result, he was denounced as “Trotskyite", which did not endear him to communism.


In 1934 he married Simone Hie but the marriage ended due to Simone’s morphine addiction. In 1935 he founded Theatre du Travail – “Worker’s Theatre” – (renamed Theatre de l’Equipe in 1937), which survived until 1939. From 1937 to 1939 he wrote for a socialist paper, Alger-Republicain, and his work included an account of the Arabs who lived in Kabyles in poor conditions, which apparently cost him his job. From 1939 to 1940 he briefly wrote for a similar paper, Soir-Republicain. He was rejected from the French army because of his illness.


In 1940, Camus married Francine Faure and he began to work for Paris-Soir magazine. In the first stage of World War II (the so-called Phony War stage), Camus was a pacifist. However, he was in Paris to witness how the Wehrmacht took over. On December 19, 1941, Camus witnessed the execution of Gabriel Peri, an event which Camus later said crystallized his revolt against the Germans. Afterwards he moved to Bordeaux alongside the rest of the staff of Paris-Soir. In this year he finished his first books, The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. He returned briefly to Oran, Algeria in 1942.


During the war Camus joined the French Resistance cell Combat, which published an underground newspaper of the same name. He took the moniker Beauchard. It was here that he became acquainted with Jean-Paul Sartre. Camus became the paper’s editor in 1943. When the Allies liberated Paris, Camus reported on the last fights. He resigned from Combat in 1947 when it became 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 the United States to lecture about French existentialism. Although he leaned left politically, he was not a member of any party and his strong criticisms of communist doctrine did not win him any friends in the communist parties and eventually also alienated Sartre.


In 1949 his tuberculosis returned and he lived in seclusion for two years. In 1951 he published The Rebel, a philosophical analysis of rebellion and revolution which made clear his rejection of communism. The book upset many of his colleagues and contemporaries in France and led to the final split with Sartre. The dour reception depressed him and he began instead to translate plays.


Camus’s most significant contribution to philosophy was his idea of the absurd, the realisation that life has no meaning, which he explained in The Myth of Sisyphus and incorporated into many of his other works. Some would argue that Camus is better described not as an existentialist but as an absurdist.


In the 1950s Camus devoted his effort to human rights. In 1952 he resigned from his work for UNESCO when the UN accepted Spain as a member under the leadership of General Franco. 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 maintained his pacifism and resistance to capital punishment everywhere in the world.


When the Algerian War of Independence began in 1954 it presented a moral dilemma for Camus. He identified with pied-noirs, blamed the French government for the conflict and favored greater Algerian autonomy or even federation, though not full-scale independence. He believed that the pied-noirs and Arabs could coexist. During the war he advocated civil truce that would spare the civilians, which was rejected by both sides regarded as foolish. Behind the scenes, he began to work clandestinely for imprisoned Algerians who faced the death penalty.


From 1955 to 1956 Camus wrote for L’Express . In 1957 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, officially not for his novel The Fall, published the previous year, but for his writings against capital punishment. When he spoke to students at the University of Stockholm, he defended his apparent inactivity in the Algerian question and stated that he was worried what could happen to his mother who still lived in Algeria. Apparently French left-wing intellectuals used this as another pretext to ostracize him.


Camus died on January 4, 1960 in a car accident. The driver of the Facel Vega was also his publisher and close friend Michel Galliardi , who also perished in the accident. Camus was interred in the Lourmarin Cemetery, Lourmarin , Vaucluse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France. His children, the twins Catherine and Jean, survived him. They hold the copyrights to his work.