- Albert Camus’s ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’: A Text and its Contexts by Neil Foxlee
Adopting a nuanced historicist approach to Albert Camus’s controversial lecture, ‘La Nouvelle Culture méditerranéenne’, Neil Foxlee’s book reminds us of the prismatic pleasure found in reading a text from multiple angles at the same time; it demonstrates the inadequacies of viewing Camus from any single theoretical perspective. The book’s central argument is that an acceptable account of Camus’s lecture necessitates a multi-contextual reading in order to appreciate fully the ambiguities of his position regarding French Algeria and his concept of a Mediterranean culture. The second chapter of the book provides a useful annotated translation of the lecture, by the author, while the multi-contextual methodology structures the argument’s progression and Foxlee makes an indisputable case against reading Camus from any unified theoretical field, such as those of humanism and postcolonialism which have thus far dominated interpretations of this ‘highly charged piece of political rhetoric’ (p. 7). Countering such readings, Foxlee adapts Quentin Skinner’s ‘argumentative’ interpretive strategy, refining Skinner’s emphasis on subject matter to establish the necessity of close textual treatment, intertextual contextualization, and the inclusion of biographical information. The multiple contexts engaged with include French intellectual debates on civilization, the East/West question, Latinity’s place in Fascist thought, the contemporary Algerian political situation, and Camus’s intellectual development and personal background. Foxlee co-ordinates the ‘ideological pivots’ (p. 29) of corresponding and competing intertexts, engaging with the histories of these texts’ reception, to place difference – different agents, discourses, and socio-historical situations – at the heart of his interpretive work. The rigour of Foxlee’s reading ensures that throughout his discussion he effectively rewrites previous critical appropriations of the lecture, most notably in his demonstration of how Camus’s ‘Mediterranean culture’ needs to be interpreted, in part, as an admonition against the rise of Fascism and right-wing extremism in Algeria, in addition to the strength of doctrines of Latinity based on anti-humanist Eurocentric principles. Foxlee situates Camus’s ‘Mediterraneanism’ within the intellectual mobilities of this concept from Napoleon I to the Saint-Simonians’ Eurocentric versions of a unified East and West, through to the resonant inheritance of such discourses in the neo-colonial attitude of Nicolas Sarkozy Reading Camus’s Mediterraneanism within these contexts demonstrates the tension at play inside concepts themselves, as well as casting Camus’s lecture as a dialogue with historical forces extending beyond the remit of the lecture’s [End Page 260] inauguration of the Maison de la Culture in Algiers in 1937. Camus’s difference from his supporters, notably Gabriel Audisio, and his rivals, in particular Charles Maurras, is deftly illuminated, while the biographical chapter provides a convincing analysis of how Camus’s impoverished background and struggle with intellectualism lead to his eventual refusal of Communism to establish a philosophy based on ‘life’. In the final analysis it is ‘Camus’ as concept that emerges as a multivalent ideological nexus in its own right, while the field of historicist research is reinvigorated by the open but rigorous weave of Foxlee’s analysis. This book will be of interest to those working on Camus, but its importance lies in its argument for multi-contextual approaches to deciphering the rustle of historical texts.