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Albert Camus: Philosopher, Resistant, and Litterateur

Lecturer: Matthew Sharpe

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2013

This course will take a philosophical look at Albert Camus’ work, challenging staid images of Camus as an existentialist, atheist thinker, or a great litterateur whose writing is as beautiful as its underlying thought is shallow and irrelevant to us today.  Camus’ debt to Greek thought will be emphasised, and his lifelong engagement with  Christian theology, Gnosticism, and the history of Western thought.  We will reflect upon the variety of literary media Camus used to interrogate philosophical claims, and stage and evaluate the possible attitudes people take towards the enigmas and difficulties we face in a cultural world no longer united by a single hegemonic theology.  Camus’ philosophy, we will argue, is best seen as a unique syncretic unity of motifs from classical Greek tragic thought, scepticism, and humanism, animated by his own unique aesthetic and ethical sensibilities and experiences, as a pied noir Algerian, between Europe and Africa.  The classes will proceed through Camus’ oeuvre chronologically, focusing on Camus’ own division of his work into a series of cycles based around a single key philosophical theme, a figure from Greek mythology, and engagement with specific biblical themes; and divided formally between grouped philosophical essays, a play or plays, and a novel or novels.

Course Schedule

Week 1. images of Camus, outline of the argument; the young Camus: Nuptials, Nietzsche, Augustine and Plotinus
Week 2. the first cycle: Mersault, Sisyphus, Caligula
Week 3. the opening of the second cycle: Resistance, Combat, The Plague and The State of Siege
Week 4. Man in Revolt 1: Camus contra romanticism, de Sade, and Nietzsche; contra Stalinism and Hitlerism and/as secularised political theology
Week 5. Man in Revolt 2: The Just, or Prometheus revisited: Camus' tragic neoHellenism
Week 6. Towards a third cycle: The Fall, Exile, Nemesis and the Kingdom

Recommended Reading:
Readings for specific classes will be listed, and where possible provided, in the first class.  People are invited to read as much of Camus’ entire, well-known translated oeuvre as they are fortunate enough to have the time to read, but for this course, I would specifically recommend:

  • Camus, Selected Essays and Notebooks, or; Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays
  • Camus, Caligula and Other Plays
  • Camus, The Fall

 Level of Difficulty: Introductory