Camus' Imperial Vision

Camus' Imperial Vision

Camus' Imperial Vision

Camus' Imperial Vision


Although the young Camus celebrated his godlike difference, Anthony Rizzuto reveals here that this leading existentialist gradually embraced the community of man.

In the early Camus (La Morte heureuse, Caligula, L'Etranger), Rizzuto identifies an imperial vision that requires utter detachment. It presumes the "ability to be reborn... purely out of one's will." Body and mind must be separated, memory stifled. In Le Mythe de Sisyphe the Camus hero evolves from a detached intellectual to a man of action. Camus urges commitment, argues against suicide. Yet the imperial vision persists; the protagonist is an actor-hero who creates himself, who shows himself not as he is but as he would be.

The plague, a mad moral equivalent to the Nazi invasion, forms human ties in La Peste. Camus preaches solidarity, shifts focus from the self to the group. Dr. Rieux, the protagonist, reflects Camus' new sense of commitment: he is not an elitist actor-hero but a man among equals. With L'Homme révolté, Camus affirms human nature and, for the first time, acknowledges the past: "The suppression of the past, whether historical or psychological, engenders not an emancipated future but a bloody fiction… Every modern revolution has… contributed to the further enslavement of man."

Camus' last novel, La Chute, satirizes both Sartre and his own earlier work. Here Camus attacks the concept of monologue, calling instead for dialogue- a democratic exchange of ideas. He also recants his ridicule of the Socratic dictum, "Know thyself." And reversing his earlier position, Camus concludes that the "division of sensation and intellect spawns cultural barbarism." No longer an aloof god, Camus has become a man.


By Quentin Anderson

In this trenchant book Anthony Rizzuto traces the path, brilliant as a comet's arc, along which Camus moved from the desolate isolation of L'Etranger to the embrace of the human condition in L'Homme Révolté, La Chute, and succeeding works. Its stages are marked by quotations from notebooks, novels, and stories that have an undiminished power to shock us into awareness: "Quand on n'a pas de caractère il faut bien se donner une méthode" -- which comes close to being an epigraph for the intellectual behavior of the 1980s. Rizzuto never allows us to forget that we are dealing with an artist who earned such clarity as this through an unremitting struggle with himself. Camus never bared his soul or took intellectual holidays. Only by setting himself at a remove from us could he make us privy to states of the human spirit that seem as remote as the stars -- or as the godhead to which he originally aspired. What in the end Camus wished to represent was, Rizzuto tells us, "the broken and cumulative curves of a man's inhabited life." in no other man of the writer's period does exquisitely executed imaginative accomplishment so closely follow the movement of public events . . .

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