History of the Text
Absurdism in French Algeria: In 1913, Albert Camus was born in French-controlled Algeria. Colonized since the 1830s, the Algeria that Camus knew was deeply impoverished and divided along lines of race and class. Always interested in politics and literature, Camus was forced to drop out of university due to tuberculosis. After working in anti-colonial journalism and community theater in Algiers, Camus found himself living in Paris during World War II. Though the Great Depression and Nazi occupation quelled the intellectual momentum in Paris that had been ignited at the end of World War I, Camus was nonetheless influenced by the philosophy of the existentialists and the literary style of both the surrealists and the Lost Generation. Influenced by his experiences with poverty, illness, colonized Algeria, and occupied France, Camus developed the philosophical paradigm of absurdism through his collected theatrical, expository, and fictional works.
- Existentialism and Absurdism: Sharing café au laits with the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Camus took on existentialism as his primary philosophical influence. Expansive in its considerations, existentialism developed in response to the chemical warfare and mechanized weapons unleashed during World War I. Existentialists approached ethics and morality with an acceptance of the notion that there is no continued existence of human life or consciousness after death. Existentialism questions the extent to which objective facts can be known and doubts whether individuals can truly understand themselves or others. Further, existentialist theory generally asserts that life is meaningless but that in embracing that meaninglessness, one can find value, or at least pleasure, in the human experience.
Though Camus’s work reflects these ideas, he approached philosophy in the context of Nazi-occupied France and viewed absurdism as distinct from existentialism. While existentialism at large often concerns itself with human nature in the abstract, Camus’s work more often deals specifically with human motivation and decision-making in the social sphere. Camus labelled his philosophical ideology absurdism in response to the irrationality and chaos he observed when considering the effects human choices have on society.
- Influenced by the Lost Generation: Paris during the 1920s is known for its flowering artistic culture. In the same way that Pablo Picasso pushed the boundaries of what could be captured on a two-dimensional canvas, so too did writers from around Europe and the United States gather in the cafés and salons of Paris to challenge the boundaries of the written word. Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were among those Americans who became known as the Lost Generation. Hemingway described his style by comparing it to an iceberg, suggesting that, when literature is well-wrought, readers can grasp the gravitas of a story with minimal description, interior monologue, or exposition in the text. This notion, exemplified by Hemingway’s clipped, simplistic style, informed the way Camus developed Meursault’s detached, unrelatable characterization in part 1 of The Stranger.
- Influenced by Surrealism: Though more subtle than the influence of the...
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