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50 years after death, Camus again at heart of controversy - Daily News Egypt

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50 years after death, Camus again at heart of controversy

Fifty years after his death, the writer Albert Camus is again the focus of controversy, as the left accuses French President Nicolas Sarkozy of trying to co-opt a thinker they claim as their own. Camus, when he died in a Paris car crash on January 4, 1960, aged only 46, was one of the leading …


Fifty years after his death, the writer Albert Camus is again the focus of controversy, as the left accuses French President Nicolas Sarkozy of trying to co-opt a thinker they claim as their own.

Camus, when he died in a Paris car crash on January 4, 1960, aged only 46, was one of the leading literary figures of his day, having won the Nobel Literature Prize in 1957.

But Sarkozy s proposal in November to honor him by having his remains installed in the Pantheon, the resting place for French national heroes, provoked a wave of protest from France s left.

Many commentators argued that Sarkozy was trying to exploit the left-wing philosopher s legacy for political gain, and among those objecting was the writer s son, Jean Camus.

His daughter Catherine however objected that the critics were themselves using the memory of her father for their own ends.

I have seen my father being transformed into an anti-Sarkozy missile, she told RTL radio.

But she did admit she was surprised that the president had proposed to honor her father in this way.

Men of power do not usually like Camus, she said.

Born on November 7, 1913, in Algeria, Camus came from a very poor background. But his potential was quickly spotted by a teacher who encouraged him to develop his talents.

He published his first book at the age of 24, then moved to Paris.

When much of France was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, he became active in the Resistance writing for and editing the underground newspaper Combat.

By the end of the war in 1945 Camus had already published a number of key works, including The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, both in 1942.

The Stranger – also titled The Outsider in some English editions – became an international bestseller.

The story of a curiously emotionless man, a white Algerian, who shoots an Arab dead, it is told in the spare and limpid style for which Camus became known.

Camus s writing, both his fiction and non-fiction, was about the search for meaning in life and the need to revolt.

While associated with the left, he was nevertheless very much his own man intellectually.

In 1945, when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, he was one of the few western intellectuals to denounce it.

But unlike many radical writers of his generation, he also denounced the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, clashing bitterly on this question with Jean-Paul Sartre, the other leading French intellectual of the day.

For his biographer Olivier Todd, Camus was “a dangerous writer, challenging the ideological dogma that the end justified the means.

He forces us to question a lot of our convictions, he told AFP.

The idea of his remains finishing up in the Pantheon is anathema to Todd.

That has nothing at all to do with his personality, he insisted.

Catherine Camus has still not said whether she would like to see her father honored in this way.

But she regrets the fact that, despite Camus s popularity among French readers, the archives over which she presides currently attract far more interest from foreign academics than French researchers.

In this anniversary year however, she is looking forward to renewal of interest in her father.

She herself published a book on him in December. His French publishers Gallimard have announced they are reissuing some of his works.

And his unfinished novel The First Man, is being adapted for the cinema by the Italian director Gianni Amelio.

Topics: Gamma Islamiya

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