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It now seems apparent, some thirty years after his untimely death in an automobile accident at the age of 46, that Albert Camus has survived the sectarian debate about the scope and legitimacy of his place in the pantheon of modern French writers. Whereas the Sartrean vogue has lost some of its luster (primarily as a result of his doctrinaire support of marxist-leninist dictatorships), Camus's star continues to rise in the critical firmament. As the twentieth century draws to a close, we can focus with greater clarity upon the essential components of his literary reputation and renewed appeal to contemporary audiences. In the historical context of the Second World War and its aftermath, Camus's passion for political and social justice made him the moral arbiter of his times. Somewhat reluctantly, amidst warring ideologies and imminent nuclear holocaust, Camus took on the mantle of prophet in a world of nihilism and despair where Christian morality had seemingly failed and the strong flagrantly exploited the weak. Refusing transcendental values, he sought to reaffirm the need for human dignity within the revolutionary process. In his essay, The Rebel, he denounced the enslavement of the masses by the false gods of historical determinism, both east and west. [End Page 314] He stood firm against the proponents of the statist rationale who made capital punishment a politically acceptable means to a collectivist end. Sadly perhaps, his humanity and divided loyalties weighed heavily upon him as he tried to negotiate a solution to the Algerian conflict in the 1950s without success. He would, if forced to choose, side with his mother (a pied-noir or European resident of Algeria) against the Arab revolutionaries whose terrorist activities paralleled those that Camus had seemingly approved in his play, The Just Assassins.
As an artist Camus was a master of style and narrative form who breathed new life into the moribund novel of ideas, imbuing his writings with mythic and allegorical dimensions that strike a responsive chord in each successive generation of readers. Today's youth can easily share his concern for the ecological survival of the Mediterranean basin as well as the neo-pagan cult of sun worship that infused his novels and lyrical essays. Camus's solidarity with the wretched of the earth, his quest for a peaceful equilibrium between the political forces of the right and the left, the intuitive celebration of life stripped of hypocrisy and molded to the fundamental rhythms of nature—these facets of his work are synchronized with modern sensibilities. It is therefore this open-ended dialogue with the human condition, this clear-eyed interrogation of life's absurdist dilemma coupled with humor and compassion that makes Camus so appealing to the specialist and layman alike.
These two slim volumes by well-known Camusian scholars bear witness to the fascination that Camus, as a thinker and artist, still exerts on the general public. Aimed primarily at the "cultured" reader (or, to be sure, the advanced undergraduate-fledgling graduate student), these essays adhere to the traditional guidelines which are mandatory in biographical, thematic studies of this sort. As a result, they are delightfully free of ponderous taxonomies and arcane jargon that one so often finds in critical treatises on Camus's thought and art.
Alba Amoia offers a functional, albeit highly personal, overview of Camus's life and works in the "Literature and Life: World Writers" series issued by Continuum Publishing Company (Frederic Ungar). She begins with a standard biographical and literary chronology, followed by plot and content summaries of major works which are interspersed with interpretive commentary, brief end notes, and a bibliographical listing (without annotations) of translated works and secondary sources, mostly in French. All quotations are judiciously translated into English. Professor Amoia rejects the conventional notion that Camus was little more than a European artist born in Algeria and views him primarily within a North African and Hellenic framework. Intellectually akin to the neo-platonic thinkers such as Plotinus that shaped his intellectual preferences...