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Text and Meaning in Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus (part 1)
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Nobel Laureate Albert Camus. 
(photo by Henri  Cartier-Bresson)

          “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must
          imagine Sisyphus happy.” ––Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus may have died tragically when the car in which he was a passenger crashed on January 4, 1960, but the novels, plays, essays, articles and notebooks he left behind continue to help lend clarity to individual and collective conflicts within the world in 2013. November 7 marks the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth and even though his works are already taught in high schools and universities around the world, the occasion of his centennial has prompted numerous events that have been taking place throughout the year.

On November 7 and 8, the Albert Camus Society will host a Centennial Conference from 9:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on both days at the Swedenborg Society Building in London. Tickets to the event, which will feature presentations on Camus by scholars from the United Kingdom, America, and Europe, are sold out according the Society’s website.

France began its observations as early as February with a variety of tributes. Similarly, events such as symposiums in Budapest, a week-long festival in Athens, Greece, and numerous literary conferences and readings have been held at colleges and universities in the United States. Camus also held the distinction of appearing on the front cover of the September/October 2013 issue of Philosophy Now, A Magazine of Ideas.   

Only in His Homeland

By the same token, although Camus’ literary prominence was certified with a Nobel Prize in literature in 1957, he cannot be described as one of the more celebrated authors in his birthplace of Algeria. According to Joshua Hammer (as well as the lack of any evidence to the contrary) writing in the Smithsonian Magazine’s September issue: 

“…despite Camus’ monumental achievements and deep attachment to his native land, Algeria has never reciprocated that love. Camus is not part of the school curriculum; his books can’t be found in libraries or bookshops. Few plaques or memorials commemorate him.” 

The sense of alienation from his homeland is one Camus knew well enough while he lived even as he celebrated its uniqueness in essays like 1936’s “Summer in Algiers.” He wrote of “this country where everything is given to be taken away. In that plenty and profusion life follows the sweep of great passions, sudden, exacting, and generous. It is not to be built up, but to be burned up.”

Moreover, his homeland provided the backdrop for his nearly universally-acclaimed novels, The Stranger and The Plague. If later in life he became more like an expatriate of Algeria rather than a resident cultural icon, it was a destiny he shared with any number of history’s greatest authors. Among those who would eventually make their way to Paris as Camus did were: Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes, and many other African American creative artists following the supposed conclusion of the Harlem Renaissance. 

NEXT: Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus Part 2

by Aberjhani