It has been astonishing, distressing, amusing and gratifying to follow the commotion in France over Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the death of Albert Camus, who was killed in a car crash at 46, with reburial in the Pantheon. Astonishing to find Camus being so honored by the President of France --- elevated into the company of Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo and the other French designated immortals interred in the hallowed monument of the République in Paris. Camus had always felt like an outsider in Paris, and was indeed, as a French-Algerian of humble background and libertarian views, not the sort of hero usually immortalized by the State. Distressing because Camus disliked big awards (and considered declining his Nobel Prize in 1957), was suspicious of power and did not like politics, especially the sort of politics practiced by Sarkozy, who, as Camus’s son decried, was attempting to usurp Camus’s moral standing and lofty image to bolster the President’s sagging polls. Distressing, too, to think of moving Camus from his sunny and simple gravesite in a fragrant corner of Provence that reminded him of Algeria, back to the Paris in which he was so isolated at the end of his life, when he was being attacked on both the right and the left for his thinking on revolution and terrorism. At the same time, Camus would have been at least bemused to find Sarkozy attempting to ride his ethical coattails, and the question of his pantheonization provoking a discussion about the national identity and the sort of icon necessary to represent modern day multi-cultural France. The whole affair has quieted now, with Sarkozy duly reprimanded, the family seemingly divided and Camus still at rest under a bed of lavender. From all the testimonies of friends and followers, and all the special tributes on the newsstands, however, it is clear that Camus is not only loved and esteemed, but better understood than he was fifty years ago. The way the world has turned has served to clarify Camus, the man as well as the body of work that made people think. In France, on January 4, this very day of his death in 1960, the Journée Spéciale has just ended, and the event at the Pompidou, the play revivals, the documentaries, the re-release of Visconti’s film of The Stranger are still to come. It all makes me miss Camus once again, although quite remarkably, he is very much present.
Causes elizabeth hawes Supports
Women's Refugee Commission, Nature Conservancy