Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Albert Camus: From Aesthetics to "Criticity"

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Albert Camus: From Aesthetics to "Criticity"

Article excerpt

In 1932, a nineteen year old Albeit Camus wrote an "Essay on Music," perhaps the first sustained attempt at articulating his ideas regarding aesthetics. It is instructive to see where his thinking started, youthful affectations included, the better to ascertain where he stood on these matters ten years later, when he published The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus. This essay argues that this movement from self-expression to self-questioning is also the movement from a form of mimesis-as-representation to mimesis-as-production, or what the Brazilian intellectual, Luiz Costa Lima, has elsewhere traced as the shift from aestheticization to "criticity."

In the "Essay on Music," Camus begins at a point between realism and idealism. He rejects realism outright, and he remains consistent in this stance for the remainder of his Ufe; only his arguments for doing so alter over time. In 1932, he states: "According to [reaUsm], Art ought to concern itself exclusively with the imitation of Nature and the exact reproduction of ReaUty. This is a definition that not only demeans Art, but, further, destroys it."1 However, this initial rejection of realism is based on a naive Romanticism (fitting perhaps for a nineteen year old aspiring dandy and tuberculosis sufferer): "To reduce Art to a servile imitation of Nature is to condemn it to produce only the imperfect. The greater part of the aesthetic emotion, in fact, is a product of our personaUty. The beautiful is not in Nature; it is we who put it there."2

Rejecting realism, Camus tentatively accepts idealism, but with certain reservations: "This ideaUst theory too often transforms itself into a moral theory, stimulating works that are flat, false, and boring because they want too badly to provide examples diat are healthy, respectable, and destined to be imitated."3 And yet, he goes on to define art as an "expression of the ideal," based upon the personality of the artist, and as a form of escapism:

It will simply be an expression of the ideal. It will be the creation of a Dream World attractive enough to conceal from us the world in which we live with all its horrors. And aesthetic pleasure will reside exclusively in contemplation of this ideal world. Art will be the expression, the objectification of things such as we feel they ought to be. It will be personal and original basically because the ideal, for each of us, varies... And we insist on the role reserved for personality in Art.4

Camus then turns to a comparison between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, pointing out that Nietzsche derives his aesthetics (especially in The Birth of Tragedy) from Schopenhauer; and that Schopenhauer, in turn, derives his ideas from Plato: "He [Schopenhauer] studies Art from a metaphysical point of view in relation to the Platonic "World of Ideas.". . . And when it has been accomplished we have a vague feeling of deliverance."5 Here, Camus sides with Schopenhauer to the extent that Schopenhauer agrees with Plato: by adding the world of will to an otherwise Platonic metaphysic. Camus then sides with Nietzsche, but only as far as Nietzsche agrees with Schopenhauer. Camus distances himself from Nietzsche only when Nietzsche (after The Birth of Tragedy) moves away from Schopenhauer.

But already certain contradictions are present in Camus' thinking. His judgment regarding Nietzsche could be applied to himself: "It is only possible to understand these contradictions in Nietzsche's work - clear and bUnding as they are - when one remembers that he is a poet as much as a philosopher, and consequently liable to fall prey to numerous contradictions."6 But as Camus is yet neither a poet nor a philosopher his contradictions are more revealing. Camus agrees with Nietzsche that the decline of tragedy comes with Socrates and the introduction of rationalism. Interestingly, Camus is willing to blame Socrates, even though Socrates is (in The Birth of Tragedy) only a foil for Platonic rationalism. …

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