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Camus conference 2013


9.30am - 5.30pm

  • 2 day conference
  • International speakers

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Journal of Camus Studies | JCS

Journal of Camus Studies

The Journal of Camus Studies

Formerly the Journal of the Albert Camus Society, the JCS is published annually and is available in print or as an ebook. For more information on purchasing or contributing visit the Camus Journal page.

Camus Society Conference 2014 | Abstracts

KIMBERLY BALTZER-JARAY: "Dark Authenticity:  Being True to Yourself as Evil, Cruel, or Just a Giant Douchebag Asshole."

The typical definition of authenticity consists of being true to yourself as an individual, and of course as many of us know part and parcel with authenticity are freedom and responsibility:  acting and thinking freely, being responsible to others and to yourself today and who you will become. But why is it that everyone assumes that authenticity is only for the good guys? I would argue that villains, creeps, psychos, and douchebag assholes have as much ability to be authentic, even if their way of being true is not the ideal. Camus is the only existentialist that speaks to this idea; Beauvoir doesn't address it really in her plays and Sartre's fictional characters who are assholes are often inauthentic as they are too ignorant of others, too filled with regret and shame, or purely performing for others. 

When one looks at Camus' works, most of his central characters are not nice, likeable people - they are often assholes, jerks, and unsavoury individuals. Sometimes it is rather difficult to reconcile liking them at all or defending their behaviour. For example, Meursault in The Stranger, Mersault in A Happy Death, and the infamous Sisyphus found in the myth of the same name are all people who are assholes in one way or another, and yet Camus celebrates them as authentic or finding their authentic selves.  Camus is the only existentialist who would possibly advocate authenticity in a dark sense. 

This paper seeks to rekindle and carry forward the discussion of dark authenticity, one that seems to have ceased with Camus' death. I would argue it is wrong to see authenticity as something only for the good guy, for the knight in shining armour who saves the day with valour and a pure heart.  Darth Vadar, Walter White, Hannibal Lector, Khan, Sade, Satan and the like deserve to be recognized as authentic even if it is in a dark, malevolent sense. For so long the darkly authentic have been labeled as mental ill, damaged by a past, or somehow 'not like us' and that isn't really fair: These labels take away authenticity, they strip the very individual of being an agent in their own life, and they render authenticity one-sided.  We may not like any of the people listed above, but not liking them doesn't mean they cannot be authentic.  So, let's go to the dark side and give the evil, cruel, diabolical, nasty, naughty and the douchebags their chance. 


ERIC BERG: "Contextual Organization of the Works of Albert Camus."

Traditionally, the works of Albert Camus have been organized in two ways: chronologically and by genre. In this paper I have organized Camus' works contextually into three categories: Nature, Death, and Social Justice. The idea came through reading Camus describe the writers work work as a “…slow trek to rediscover-through the detour of art-those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” By applying these three “first” conceptual organizational categories to the works of Camus I will illuminate connections between works that cross the traditional chronological and thematic barriers. This method of organization, further strengthens the sense of continuity in the works of Camus.


PETER FRANCEV: "Subtle Religious Symbolism in Camus's Novels 'The Stranger' and 'The Plague'."

In Albert Camus's novel, The Stranger, there may not be any overtly religious symbols present (other than the chaplain at the end of Part II); however, upon closer inspection, one will find a multitude of religious symbols and symbolism in the text. In The Plague there are several religious symbols: there is Jacques's martyrdom for the purpose of the use of the anti-plague serum; there is also the grotesque way in which he dies, spreading his arms out in a crucified fashion; of course, there are Paneloux's two sermons, and there is Paneloux himself. It is the purpose of this paper to examine those such symbols and frame them within the contexts of both of these novels, specifically the idea of food as symbolic of communion in The Stranger and the meaning behind Paneloux's name in The Plague .


GIOVANNI GAETANI: "Camus, Christianity, and the Christian Critics: Chronicle of a Presumed Misunderstanding"

The relationship between Camus and Christianity is already complex in itself, given that Camus bases his particular refuse of Christianity neither on deification of rationality nor on simple blasphemy, as many militant atheists would instead do – by the way, Camus was not one of them. Nevertheless, this same relationship becomes even more complex when it comes onto the field the Christian critics army who has (more or less appropriately) tried to defend Christianity from Camus' criticism. In the first part of my paper I will show the five classical arguments against Camus' point of view on Christianity, while in the second one I will instead focus my attention on the last of them, that is, the so called ‘crypto-Christian' interpretation, in which some authors argue that Camus was about to convert himself to Christianity not long before he died.


GEORGE HEFFERNAN: "Camus's Philosophy of the Absurd, Existentialism, and Philosophy of Existence: A Question of Vexed Connections."

In The Myth of Sisyphus , Albert Camus characterizes what he regards as the contradiction between human rationality and cosmic irrationality as “the absurd”. He argues that the irrational world prevents human reason, which longs for a unitary understanding of existence, from attaining knowledge of the self, the universe, and God. In doing so, he criticizes those whom he refers to as “existential philosophers”, among whom he includes Kierkegaard, Husserl, Shestov, Scheler, Jaspers, and Heidegger. He claims that they try to bridge the gap between human understanding and incomprehensible reality by resorting to a “leap” to the transcendent, for example, God, immortality, or essences. According to Camus, “existential philosophers” begin by affirming the absurdity, anxiety, and despair of human existence, but end by denying these threats of annihilation in so far as they seek an escape that salvages the meaning of life from a source beyond the world. For his part, Camus condemns “existential philosophies” as forms of “philosophical suicide”. To the contrary, he argues that the contradiction between the human need for meaning and the cosmic fact of indifference remains irreducible, and that only “the absurd human being” with “a philosophy of the absurd” can engage in a creative revolt against it. On Camus's narrative, the philosophy of the absurd requires reason to become lucid and limit itself, whereas irrational existentialism permits reason to become confused and negate itself. Thus Camus's approach to the absurd, which eschews all nostalgia for the transcendent, involves an attempt to articulate an “inexistential philosophy”. The purpose of this paper is to examine the vexed connection between Camus's philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, a prominent, if not the dominant, Western European philosophy of his life and times. Yet the paper also looks at the contemporaneous philosophy of existence, because, as it turns out, it is not possible to clarify the connection between the philosophy of the absurd and existentialism without examining the connections between both of these styles of philosophizing, on the one hand, and the philosophy of existence as a distinct third style, on the other hand. The paper proposes that it is useful and fruitful to understand the philosophy of the absurd and existentialism as two different approaches to the basic concerns of the philosophy of existence. Finally, the paper suggests that Camus conflates existentialism and the philosophy of existence in a way that makes it easier for him to criticize the former but harder for the readers to understand the latter.


MACIEJ KALUZA: "From Absurdity to Ethics: A Survey of Interpretations of Development of Camus's Thought and a Proposition of Analysis of the Notion of Absurd in Relation to the Concept of Memory."

Ever since the publication of Myth of Sisyphus, the scholars have proposed varying interpretations of the conclusion of Camus's philosophical enterprise, focusing on the problem of absurdity. In my presentation, I would like to highlight several major understandings of development of Camus's thought and relation between absurdity and further propositions of ethics, founded on the concept of revolt. I would like to start with careful reconsideration of two earliest propositions: Sartre's An Explication of The Stanger and Maurice Blanchot's essay from Faux Pas . Together with J. Cruickshank's analysis of the notion of absurd, and the idea of proposing the concept of 'preservation of the absurd' I briefly outline the line of argument these scholars have chosen to interpret Camus. I will then continue to Hochberg's (1965) analysis, and his proposition to rethink the absurd project by proposing the possibility of development of ethics in Camus's absurd condition, based on values of life and freedom. This line of reasoning will be consequently revised with the help of arguments, proposed by Duff and Marshall (1982) and analysis of T.W. Busch (1999). Eventually I will refer to Sprintzen's concept of ‘exigence ontologique' (1988) and D. Carroll's (2007) proposal of rethinking the idea's behind the Myth of Sisyphus , reaching to new ways of proposing the development by: A. Sagi (2002), R. Srigley (2011), Bowker (2013) and D. Foley (2008). Having considered these important and often conflicting contributions to understanding and interpreting the idea behind possibility of living on basis of absurd experience, I will refer to the problem behind Camus's notion of meaning in relation to human life. My proposition of considering the development of Camus will be then proposed, reaching, not only to early works from the ‘absurd' period, but also to important conclusions Camus made in his later analysis, especially in his essay The Enigma (1950) and some important remarks from his Notebooks. My proposition will be focused primarily on the role of memory in the process, related with the problem of absurdity and the meaning of such notion in relation to the stated importance of preservation of the absurd.


SIMON LEA: "Humiliation and Shame in the Literature of Camus."

Camus is known throughout the world as a philosopher of the absurd; perhaps the philosopher of the absurd. It is more accurate, and useful, to consider him a philosopher of humiliation. After all, his concern with the absurd waned over the years whereas the problem of honour, shame, degradation and humiliation remained at the forefront of his work until his untimely death. Furthermore, Camus's interest in the absurd was in how it could be the harbinger of pride, nobility and grandeur or, depending on your attitude: humiliation, degradation and even death. It was just one part of a more complex attempt to get to grips with the grandeur and the degradation of human life. This paper explores Camus's understanding of a particular form of humiliation: shame. From A Happy Death through to The First Man I explore the tension between Camus's notion of personal honour and commitment to group honour; and the conflicts that come about when Camus's code of honour clashes with Society's sense of morality.


ZACHARY PURDUE: "'Phenomenological Ethics' Is Either a Misnomer or Wrong: On Sherman 's Camus."

In his 2009 book Camus, David Sherman attempts to parse out Albert Camus' approach to ethics. Sherman claims that Camus begins with a virtue ethic in the tradition of Aristotle, Philippa Foot and Alasdair MacIntyre. Then, Sherman claims, Camus' alleged virtue ethic loses its theoretically necessary practice-informing web of shared values when the atrocities of World War II shatter Europe's unifying humanitarian commitments. Sherman argues that, following this loss, all that remains of Camus' alleged virtue ethic is a “bare seeing”—the immediate knowing of a particular act as immoral (e.g., the gut reaction to watching a child be murdered)—what Sherman calls a “phenomenological ethics.”  Using this “phenomenological ethics” as a foundation, according to Sherman, Camus then rebuilds his ethic, which takes the form of a nontraditional virtue ethic. A longer version of this essay details a more comprehensive criticism; this truncated version takes special issue with Sherman's notion of a “phenomenological ethics”. This essay gives a brief overview of Sherman 's project in Camus, followed by a more detailed analysis of his claims regarding the alleged “phenomenological ethics.”  Next comes a discussion of previous philosophical research regarding what constitutes ethics or moral theory in order to explore what it means to call something ethics or moral theory in the context of philosophy.  This motivates the primary thesis in this essay, which is that Sherman 's claim that Camus has a “phenomenological ethics” is not well-founded.


LUKE RICHARDSON: "Camus's Prometheus: The Myth of Anti-Modernity."

From his earliest adolescent writings to Carnet entries made just weeks before his death, Camus' use of the vocabulary of Greek mythology was a critical part of his philosophical and literary expression. Sisyphus, the eponymous hero of Camus' 1942 essay on the Absurd, is by far the most famous example of this tendency. My paper today, will however, focus on another myth which has received far less critical attention but plays an arguably more significant and lasting role in Camus' imagination: the myth of Prometheus.

The Promethean theme runs through Camus' literature, from a theatrical adaptation of Aeschylus in the 1930s, through the essays of L'Été , and ultimately as a significant and recurring motif of the philosophy of Revolt in 1951's L'Homme révolté . The Titan is the only mythic figure to occur in a number of Camus works and over a broad chorological span. But how are we to understand Camus' interaction with the myth? Or his recourse to myth in the first place? This paper will explore these questions, considering how the shift from Sisyphus to Prometheus that occurs in the late 1940s symbolises a greater shift in Camus' thought from the Absurd to Revolt, the ways in which the Promethean theme is subtlety developed and manipulated to articulate Camus' philosophical conclusions, and finally how Prometheus became an embodiment of Camus' deep misgivings about the culture of modernity.


TROY WELLINGTON-SMITH: "'I wouldnt do it for nothin.' Camusian and Kierkegaardian Suicide in Cormac McCarthy's 'Suttree'."

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Fiction Prize, Cormac McCarthy is widely considered to be America's greatest living author. Although he is best known for Western fiction, his first novels are set in Appalachia, and the crown jewel of this period is the bildungsroman Suttree (1979), which portrays “the stuttering spiritual progress of” the eponymous protagonist, “an intelligent and perceptive artist/philosopher-in-the-making” (Luce 194).

Citing McCarthy's belief that dying is “the major human concern,” Kenneth Lincoln claims that the novelist has read Albert Camus (8). J. Douglas Canfield, however, is more cautious, stating, “I know of no direct biographical evidence that McCarthy read the existentialists. But they were certainly in the air in the 1950s and 60s when he was enrolled at the University of Tennessee and beginning his writing career” (260–61). Indeed, Frank W. Shelton reads Suttree as a deliberation over “the meaning of life and the possibility of suicide, a possibility discussed by Camus in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus' [1942]” (71). William Prather, however, finds Shelton 's argument to be too narrow, in that it discusses only actual suicide as a response to an absurd world. Camus, Prather notes, also discusses the possibilities of metaphysical suicide and defiance (104). Following Vereen Bell, who refers to Hooper the ragpicker as “the novel's oracular voice of nihilism's despair” (40), Shelton actually does touch on metaphysical suicide qua nihilism in his discussion of this character (80), but Prather widens the Camusian scope to include other characters and other forms of metaphysical suicide, such as religion (105–07), hope (107–08), and love (108–09).

After detailing the Camusian tradition in the critical interpretation of Suttree, I will broaden the discussion of suicide in the novel to include the ur-existentialist Søren Kierkegaard and his The Sickness unto Death (1849), a book that anatomizes the metaphysical suicide of despair and renders actual suicide in metaphysical terms. In a reading of both the novel's secondary characters and its antihero, this paper will argue that the suicidal despairsuffusing Suttree—even if it were not patently Kierkegaardian—could in any case be elucidated by a Kierkegaardian hermeneutic that compliments the Camusian one.

Abstracts from past conference can be found here: 2013 | 2012

Back to Camus Conference 2014

By Peter Francev | 2014