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Sartre Penned by Camus, 1953-1955 Per Nykrog T HE EARLIEST TRACES of La Chute are to be found in Camus’ diary from 1953.1At that time the project—probably vague—had the working title Le Pilori. Il faut le blâmer. Il faut blâmer sa vilaine manière de paraître honnête et de ne l’être pas. A la première personne—Incapable d’aimer. Il s’y force, etc. Clearly, Camus is thinking of someone in particular, but whom? A little later in the diary, he notes: “ Ce que l’homme supporte le plus diffi­ cilement, c’est d’être jugé.” So several essential traits of the book about Jean-Baptiste Clamence —Johannes Baptista, Vox clamantis in deserto (Matt. 3, 3, etc.), cf. “le faux prophète qui crie dans le désert et refuse d’en sortir” (169)—were in position from the earliest moments: the use of first person narration; the intention to pillory someone, specifically for being a treacherous doubledealer ; and first and foremost the lead theme of the text, the practice of judging self and others. Over the following years, the project seems to have taken form. In November 1954, Camus notes, again in his diary: “ Existentialisme: quand ils s’accusent, on peut être certain que c’est pour accabler les autres: des juges-pénitents.” At that time, the title of the project evolves as well: Un puritain de notre temps—then: Un héros de notre temps. The latter title is obviously borrowed from the novel by Lermontov and, in order to explain the rela­ tionship between the two books, Camus planned to comment on it in an epigraph taken from the same Russian novelist, stating that the text is “ effectivement un portrait, mais ce n’est pas celui d’un homme. C’est l’assemblage des défauts de notre génération dans toute la plénitude de leur développement.” The “ récit” was finished in 1955. It had been intended to be one of the texts for L ’Exil et le Royaume—which means that it could be ex­ pected to picture a fundamental, and fundamentally tragic, dialectic— but it had become too large for a collection of short stories, and so it had to be published as a volume by itself. The title was still Un héros de notre temps. The definitive title, La Chute, was suggested by a friend, after a hectic last-minute search (Lottman 572). VOL. XXIX, NO. 4 65 L ’E spr it C réa te u r It is a good title: it refers obviously to Clamence’s life story as he tells it through the six “ conversations” he has with the nondescript readerlistener in the text. That story is, indeed, dominated by a “ fall” leading from an earlier, happy-go-lucky (but somewhat phony) existence to the deplorable (and even more phony) state in which we find Clamence in the present time of the text. That this story has a lot to do with Camus’ own “ fall,” from tri­ umphant international glory in the late 1940s into personal defeat and humiliation in the mid 50s, is fairly obvious. This “ fall” was precipitated by the scorching criticism leveled against him by Jeanson and Sartre in 1952, after the publication of L ’Homme révolté (1951), and it was fur­ ther aggravated after 1955 by Camus’ own inability to deal with the state of full-scale war in Algeria.2 But maybe this makeshift title, however appropriate, gives the reader’s attention a wrong focus. Camus’ own planned titles emphasize something else: the caricature of a complex (and puritanical) “ hero of our time” ; not so much the “ fall” itself as the states before and after it. The ironical portrait of Clamence in his heyday before his “ fall” — Part Two of the text—is easily recognizable as a sarcastic caricature of Camus himself as he was and appeared to others in the days of La Peste (1947). What I want to do here is to focus on the traits of Clamence as he is in the present time of the text, isolating them from what is told about his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 65-74
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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