Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice (review)
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Reviewed by
Carroll, David. Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Pp. 237.

David Carroll's new book on Camus is an important contribution not only to Camus studies but to contemporary reflections on postcolonial theory. The book is a model of scholarship and erudition, and it is also the record of a personal change in point of view. After reading the attacks on Camus's politics that branded him a "colonialist sympathizer" (in their different ways, Albert Memmi, Conor Cruise O'Brien, and Edward Said enact this form of criticism in their respective studies), Carroll set out to re-read Camus and to discover for himself the degree to which these attacks and criticisms could be called justified, the degree to which they were grounded in a serious and nuanced reading of Camus's writings – both the journalistic essays and the fictions that deal primarily with Algeria. Not the least of the many qualities displayed in Albert Camus the Algerian is the intellectual honesty of its author. Whereas Carroll demonstrates, convincingly as far as I am concerned, that O'Brien and Said were off the mark in their attacks (and essentially, that they did not read Camus), his purpose is not, however, to lionize Camus or to gloss over the political ineffectiveness of his "third way" proposals during the very difficult period of escalation of the Algerian War. Carroll is not saying that Camus's pleas for dialogue when dialogue had become politically and practically impossible are in some way politically admirable; what he is saying is that there is a territory of thought prior to or beyond the political to which Camus is appealing in his writings – both in his essays and in his fictions. We might call this territory the domain of the ethical – a domain in which the central notions are those of community, dialogue, responsibility, and the sharing of strong feelings, including that of anguish. (I shall return to this notion later.) What Carroll has done better than any critic I know is to demonstrate that Camus's appeals to human feelings (revolt, for example, begins in a strong personal feeling: je me révolte) are not symptoms of political evasion, but rather are attempts to establish an ethical ground for human action and limits for behavior, precisely in those situations in which warring factions are tempted to act in the name of an absolute Truth. [End Page 159]

Albert Camus the Algerian is a focused study but not a limited study. Carroll concerns himself exclusively with those writings by Camus that have an explicitly Algerian dimension (this means, for example, that when it comes to L'Exil et le royaume, neither "Jonas" nor "La Pierre qui pousse" are considered), and in so doing ensures that his forays into postcolonial theory have the distinctness and specificity of the Algerian context as their ground. At the same time, however, the fact that Carroll not only analyzes numerous journalistic pieces such as "Réflexions sur la guillotine," "Ni victimes ni bourreaux," and "Trêve pour les civils," as well as various politically relevant sections of L'homme révolté, but also addresses L'Etranger, La Peste, three short stories from l'Exil et le royaume, and Le Premier Homme, leads to his reader's gradual and ever increasing conviction that Carroll is proposing a new reading of Camus – one that bases itself on an intelligent interpretation of Camus's attachment to the Algerian soil, viewed both in its socio-political reality and also in mythical terms.

After a short introduction, in which Carroll states succinctly the essential goal of his book ("My purpose here is to challenge the reductive terms of the polemics over Camus' politics, and by doing so come to a better appreciation of both Camus' Algerian fictions and their political implications" [14]), he divides his study into seven chapters, whose headings read as follows: 1. The Place of the Other; 2. Colonial Borders; 3. Exile; 4. Justice or Death?; 5. Terror; 6. Anguish; 7. Last Words. The first chapter includes an interesting reading of L'Etranger, notably the second half of the novel (the incarceration...