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French Forum 26.2 (2001) 115-116

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Albert Camus: paradigmes de l'ironie--révolte et négation affirmative

Gay-Crosier, Raymond. Albert Camus: paradigmes de l'ironie--révolte et négation affirmative. Toronto: Paratexte, 2000.

Raymond Gay-Crosier's Albert Camus: paradigmes de l'ironie--révolte et négation affirmative is an intelligent, thorough, scholarly look at Albert Camus' rebellion as a practical tool for social progress. The twelve chapters consist of essays published over the past fifteen years, grouped here as a "prologue," "la révolte en question," "pratiques," and an "épilogue." The cohesion of the essays is remarkable (the first one is highly theoretical and defines his methodology) and throughout the collection they return again and again to L'Homme révolté, arguably Camus' most important and still timely work that is currently celebrating its 50 th anniversary.

Gay-Crosier defines "la négation affirmative" as the paradigmatic formulation of Camus' discursive irony and he affirms that it is the very essence of the idea of rebellion that Camus developed in his controversial essay L'Homme révolté. From irony as a referential act and negation as an affirmative corollary, Gay-Crosier discusses the manifestations of rebellion in the Camusian oeuvre: the scope of its generative, regenerative, and ludic effects; its lyricism, its codes, paradoxes, and theatrical disguises; its contained anarchism, cultural contexts, and historical practices. In his detailed, eloquent, and exhaustive analyses he defends Camus' much maligned "pensée de midi," his irony, and his sense of "la mesure."

Irony was also one of André Gide's tropical strategies, and his "mentir vrai" informs not only his work, as well as Camus', but also figurative language generally, because the masks of language necessarily conceal appearance in order to unveil the truth. Camus' truth is "Mediterranean" and his "mesure" always sustains and maintains contradictions in life even as he rejects abstract philosophical syntheses, whether Hegelian or Sartrean. Camus defended mankind, not History (revolutions are its tyrannical exemplars), and his clashes with Jean-Paul Sartre and Francis Jeanson are manifestations of this fundamental difference. Sartre stressed ideology whereas Camus refused [End Page 115] to sacrifice men and women to the consuming moloch of History. In Les Temps Modernes Jeanson dismissed the ideas in L'Homme révolté as inefficacious, and Sartre wrote that Camus was the victim of a "morne démesure," thereby transforming the balance and harmony of "la pensée de midi" into its opposite. As Gay-Crosier astutely observes, Camus' "mesure méditerranéenne," under Sartre's pen, became a "démesure intellectuelle et morale."

However, the apparent negation of the rebel's "no" becomes the "yes" of a collective cogito. "I rebel therefore we are" transcends the solipsism of its Cartesian premise in order to affirm the solidarity of mankind. This affirmative value echoes from essay to essay as Gay-Crosier defines "la pensée de midi" in its multifarious aspects, whether he is discussing the play Caligula, Georges Bataille, Le Premier Homme, or European culture, always emphasizing the fact that "la pensée grecque s'est toujours retranchée sur l'idée de limite." That and Camus' formula "parler répare"--a formula that mends the rebel's solitary cry--posit a community of men and women linked together by their humanity and suffering. Language can be therapeutic and it frequently defines the actions that ensue from it. As Gay-Crosier notes, "le révolté refuse le monde absurde, non pas pour le nier mais pour lui imposer un style de vie." This proportionate life style can apply not only to politics and metaphysics but also to economics whenever enlightened individuals and groups move from the practices of production/consumption to those of a creative society where dignity and justice prevail.

The book contains some typos, but these are minor irritations compared to the timeliness, scholarly range, and intelligence of the essays. The "paradigmes de l'ironie" is a compelling study that will appeal to all Camus readers.


Ben Stoltzfus
University of California, Riverside



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