Anthony Rizzuto traces those “constant coordinates” throughout Albert Camus’s life and works which demonstrate his life-long commitment to understanding human eroticism (and his own) as well as the role love plays in an individual’s life in relation to society. This collection of essays pursues in a more delimited and focused manner some of Rizzuto’s preoccupations in his Camus’ Imperial Vision (1981) and in more recent studies. Although Rizzuto acknowledges and even uses some of the conclusions of psychoanalytic studies, his own book focuses on Camus’s struggle with the ethical, social and political problems which result from the paradoxes and contradictions of his life and thought. His study reveals an overall evolution from an unquestioning and “imperially” selfish eroticism, through the discovery of human solidarity during the war, to doubts in his last years concerning his own ability to love anyone but his mother.
According to the title of the first chapter, Camus’s early works are characterized by “An Absence of Questions.” The young Camus asserted, often lyrically, “indisputable truths” and celebrated the timeless rituals of the creative (but not procreative) fusion of the body and nature. Rizzuto explores “this paradox of the human body condemned to death but incapable or unwilling to marry or reproduce . . .” (p. 5). Like his “young barbarian” pagan compatriots, Camus exalts the body and practices a “revolt against personality.” Unlike the pied noir, however, Camus indicts marriage and the family, placing the “sterile purity” of [End Page 233] depersonalized sensuality above the fertile, procreative love shared with another possessor of both body and character. Camus thus proposes to salvage the body from the body politic and historical time.
Women are beautiful and passive flowers, “crystals” through which nature reveals herself, “signs” pointing to the cosmos women incorporate, means for the male “I” to unite with “mother earth” in a quasi incestuous co-mingling. The woman with whom the narrator shares the rapturous experience of Tipasa is almost transparent, and Lucienne in A Happy Death exists primarily as a mouth in which Mersault searches for “the signs of her animal divinity.”
While Rizzuto’s analysis of early works is insightful and valuable, he falls short of proving that questions are absent from other important works composed at the same time. He glances only briefly at “Wind at Djémila” and fails to appreciate how its darker themes constitute a questioning of “Nuptials at Tipasa.” “Between Yes and No,” the very title of which reflects the hesitancy of Camus to advance “indisputable truths,” challenges the starkness of Rizzuto’s thesis. Rizzuto neglects to acknowledge that Camus is twenty-two and ill with tuberculosis. He had curtailed physical activity, and had loved and married a drug addict. In discussing the role of the body in the early works of this formerly passionate swimmer, soccer player, chaser of trucks and lover, some attention should have been paid to his biography. Moreover, most twenty-two year olds are not anxious to be procreative.
In chapters two and three, “Class, Love, and Sexuality” and “Men, Women, and Social Contracts,” Rizzuto focuses on the conflict between the misogynist pursuit of sexual conquest and the values of the dominant middle class society. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Rizzuto suggests, Camus explains and justifies the “indisputable truths” of Nuptials. Although Rizzuto goes too far when he notes that “Camus is proposing Don Juan as a model of the modern liberated lover” (p. 30) (Camus is explicit: “. . . these illustrations are not . . . models”), Don Juan’s ethics of quantity clearly threatens the bourgeois imperative to develop character and harness sexual energy for productive and reproductive purposes.
Camus was at a crossroads in 1942. One road led to isolation, sterility and purity outside history, and the other to people, fertility and a pluralistic and creative society. The woman companion in the first case is a means to a “downward transcendence” through the body and to the creation of the male’s misogynist identity. In the second, she is an essential, fully human companion. Before finding women worthy of love, however, Camus...