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Camus: "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life."
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Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria on November 7, 1913. He would learn early the sometimes senseless nature of life. Within a year of Camus' birth, his father, an impoverished agricultural worker of Alsatian origin, was killed in Europe fighting at the first battle of the Marne. His mother moved the family to the Belcourt district of Algiers where they lived with her mother who had also been widowed.
In primary school, Camus was fortunate enough to cross paths with a teacher, Louis Germain, who recognized the young boy's intellectual potential and encouraged him in his studies. By the time Camus received his baccalauriat in 1930, he was reading the likes of Gide, Montherlant and Malraux.
After taking a short break necessitated by a bout with tuberculosis, Camus continued his education at the University of Algiers. During this period, he supported himself by a wide variety of jobs which included giving private lessons, working for the Meteorological Institute, and selling spare parts for cars. It was also during this period that he, along with a number of other young left-wing intellectuals, founded the Theatre du Travail in Algiers. Camus' first experience as a playwright came when this group created a "collective play" entitled R§Űvolte dans les Asturies.
After earning a degree in philosophy, Camus relocated to Metropolitan France and took up journalism. In 1938, he accepted a post with the left-wing newspaper Alger-Republicain where he served alternately as sub-editor, social and political reporter, leader-writer, and book-reviewer. After World War II broke out, Camus used his literary talents to support the French Resistance, taking on the editorship of Combat, an important underground paper. After the war, however, he gave up politics and journalism and devoted himself to writing. He soon established an international reputation with such works as The Stranger (1946), The Plague (1948), The Rebel (1954) and The Myth of Sisyphus (1955).
Although known primarily for his novels and philosophical works, Camus was also a man of the theatre. He served at various times as actor, director, playwright and translator for the stage. The themes of Camus' dramatic works hinge around man's realization of the "absurd" nature of the universe, and the inevitable clash of this realization with his desire for understanding. However, Camus' dramatizations of the "absurd" are very different from the "theatre of the absurd" of such playwrights as Ionesco or Beckett. Like Sartre, Camus prefers characters who are capable not only of perceiving their plight, but of articulating it clearly.
The two most important of Camus' plays are Caligula (performed 1945, written 1938) and Cross Purpose (1944). In Caligula, a young Roman emperor comes face to face with the terrible lack of meaning in the universe after the senseless death of his beloved sister Drusilla. In order to teach the world the true nature of life, Caligula goes on a murderous spree, killing his subjects indiscriminately. After this act of rebellion fails, he chooses to court his own assassination.
In Cross Purpose, Camus' second play, a man returns home after travelling the world for 20 years. His mother and sister keep an inn where, unbeknownst to him, they murder and rob rich travellers so that they will one day be able to move to the sea-shore. Unable to find the right words to reveal his identity, the prodigal son decides to spend the night in his family's inn posing as a stranger, thus becoming the next victim. When his identity is discovered, a string of suicides is set into motion--a theme which Camus would later explore in his philosophical work, The Myth of Sisyphus.
Camus wrote two other original plays, State of Siege (1948) and The Just Assassins (1949). After this, his work for the stage consisted solely of translations and adaptations. The most brilliant of these were adaptations of Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun (1956) and Dostoevsky's The Possessed (1959). In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He responded with characteristic humility, insisting that he would have voted for Malraux.
On January 4, 1960, Camus was killed in an automobile accident while returning to Paris with his friend and publisher Michel Gallimard. He was only forty-six years old and had written as recently as 1958, "I continue to be convinced that my work hasn't even been begun." Adding to the tragedy was the fact that Camus disliked cars and had intended to return to Paris by train until Gallimard convinced him to change his mind. The return half of a rail ticket was found unused in his pocket.
Interview with Glucksmann + Dostoevsky in Manhatten
ShowCases -- selected playwrights!No, I do not teach Camus, but I use his play The Possessed for Theatre UAF Fall 2003 production. Existentialism is a term applied to a group of attitudes current to philosophical, religious, and artistic thought during and after WW II. In modern expression it had its beginning in the writing of the nineteenth century Danish Theologian Soren Kierkegaard. The German Philosopher Martin Heidegger is important in its formulation, and the French novelist-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has done most to give it its present form and popularity. Existentialism has found art and literature to be unusually effective methods of expression in the novels of Franz Kafka, Dostoevsky, Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir, and in the plays and novels of Sartre, it has found its most persuasive media.
Useful Questions to Ask Yourself about a Script Under Review
1. Is there anything special about the title? Does it focus on a character, the milieu, or a theme? Is it taken from a quotation or is an allusion? Does it contain a point of view or suggest a mood?
2. Make a note of unrealistic elements and consider their meaning. Does it include documentary material and, if so, to what effect?
3. Is there a main theme? Consider the tempo of the various sections?
4. How many acts and scenes are there? What motivates the divisions of the play and how are they marked (curtains, blackouts, etc.)?
5. What are the retrospective elements of the play and are they explicit or implicit?
6. Is there secondary action and what is its relationship with the main action?
7. Consider the characters entrances and exits and how they are motivated?
8. Is there any difference between playing time (the time it takes to perform the play) and illusory time (the time the action is supposed to take)? What is the relationship between the two, if any?
9. Where is the play enacted? Is the playwright vague or exact about the environment? Is this important?
10. How does the playwright economize with the number of roles? Could any be omitted or doubled? What function do the various secondary characters have?
11. Who is the protagonist? The antagonist?
12. What are the relationships among the characters and how do they change?
13. Is the play in verse, prose, or a mixture?
14. Is the play a translation? Can you compare it to the original? With other translations? Are there significant differences?
15. Is the playwright making significant points of interpretation with the use of punctuation? With breaks and overlaps? With silence?
The Myth of Sisyphus
I. Absolute Individuality and Absolute Freedom.
Existentialist conceptions of freedom and value arise from their view of the individual. Since we are all ultimately alone, isolated islands of subjectivity in an objective world, we have absolute freedom over our internal nature, and the source of our value can only be internal.
II. The Existentialist View of Human Nature. Existentialism is defined by the slogan Existence precedes Essence. This means:
We have no predetermined nature or essence that controls what we are, what we do, or what is valuable for us.
We are radically free to act independently of determination by outside influences.
We create our own human nature through these free choices.
We also create our values through these choices.
The Existentialist View (We create our own nature.): We are thrown into existence first without a predetermined nature and only later do we construct our nature or essence through our actions.
Facticity (throwness): We find ourselves existing in a world not of our own making and indifferent to our concerns. We are not the source of our existence, but find ourselves thrown into a world we don't control and didn't choose.
Anxiety: We are faced with the lack of any external source of value and determination. We are faced with the responsibility of choosing our own nature and values, and, in doing so, we are faced we must face the awesome responsibility of choosing human nature and values for all men in our free choices.
Despair: In seeing the contrast between the world we re thrown into and which we cannot control and the absolute freedom we have to create ourselves, we must despair of any hope of external value or determination and restrict ourselves to what is under our own control.
The problem: How can we be free if our bodies, our abilities, and our environment are determined?
Even though all these factors may be determined, we are more than simply these things. Our real self lies beyond the reach of external determination in virtue of its absolute individuality.
Our freedom is a freedom of synthesis: even though the many factors that go into making us and our experience are determined, we can arrange them as we like. We are free to make of them, and ourselves, whatever we will.
B. What is Happiness?
The problem: How can man be happy in a world devoid of external significance and meaning?
The solution: The loss of external value allows us to get value from within ourselves, a value that is greater because it cannot be taken away by external forces.
C. How ought we to act?
The problem: If our only moral rule is to act authentically, to choose our own values instead of taking them from external sources, can't we really do anything we want, no matter how evil or selfish?
In choosing our own nature we must choose human nature for all humanity. In order to act freely, we must not let our action be determined by any of our particular desires or interests. We must act as any free agent would act, hence we must act as we would like other people to act.
In order to be free ourselves, we must desire the freedom of other people. To treat another person merely as an object for my use is to make an object of myself. To be free I must respect the freedom of others.
Even though my actions are free, they are not completely arbitrary. Just as the artist, while free to create, follows the constraints imposed by her medium, so our actions, while not governed by rules, are constrained by the choices we and others have made.
"Atheistic existentialism, which I represent, is more coherent. It states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept, and that this being is man, or, as Heidegger says, human reality. What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means that, first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be. Thus, there is no human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, but he is also only what he wills himself to be after this thrust toward existence.
Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism. It is also what is called subjectivity, the name we are labeled with when charges are brought against us. But what do we mean by this, if not that man has a greater dignity than a stone or table? For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future. Man is at the start a plan which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss, a piece of garbage, or a cauliflower nothing exists prior to this plan; there is nothing in heaven; man will be what he will have planned to be. Not what he will want to be. Because by the word "will" we generally mean a conscious decision, which is subsequent to what we have already made of ourselves. I may want to belong to a political party, write a book, get married; but all that is only a manifestation of an earlier, more spontaneous choice that is called "will." But if existence really does precede essence, man is responsible for what he is. Thus, existentialism's first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. And when we say that a man is responsible for himself, we do not only mean that he is responsible for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men."
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