Albert Camus, however, was never comfortable with his own role. Camus, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in and whose birth centenary falls on November 7, spent much of his life and work examining what he considered the only philosophical question worth asking: whether suicide is an appropriate response to an absurd world. Camus in trench coat, collar upturned as a perpetual cigarette droops from the corner of his mouth, has become the emblem of the stylishly engaged writer. But without it, that renascence would be without form and, consequently, would be nothing. Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle.
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As we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us and we are living in an interesting era. In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it. The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked. If they become modest and keep silent, they are vociferously blamed for their silence.
In the midst of such din the writer cannot hope to remain aloof in order to pursue the reflections and images that are dear to him. Until the present moment, remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When someone did not approve, he could always keep silent or talk of something else.
Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications. The moment that abstaining from choice is itself looked upon as a choice and punished or praised as such, the artist is willy-nilly impressed into service. Ease, to begin with, and that divine liberty so apparent in the work of Mozart. It is easier to understand why our works of art have a drawn, set look and why they collapse so suddenly.
Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of so many ideologies how many churches, what solitude!
We now know that they exist, whereas we once had a tendency to forget them. And if we are more aware, it is not because our aristocracy, artistic or otherwise, has become better — no, have no fear — it is because the masses have become stronger and keep people from forgetting them.
If it blindly rejects that society, if the artist makes up his mind to take refuge in his dream, art will express nothing but a negation. In this way we shall have the production of entertainers or of formal grammarians, and in both cases this leads to an art cut off from living reality.
For about a century we have been living in a society that is not even the society of money gold can arouse carnal passions but that of the abstract symbols of money. The society of merchants can be defined as a society in which things disappear in favor of signs. When a ruling class measures its fortunes, not by the acre of land or the ingot of gold, but by the number of figures corresponding ideally to a certain number of exchange operations, it thereby condemns itself to setting a certain kind of humbug at the center of its experience and its universe.
However, words cannot be prostituted with impunity. The most misrepresented value today is certainly the value of liberty. Art by E. Cummings from his essay on the agony of the artist.
As a result, is there anything surprising in the fact that such a society asked art to be, not an instrument of liberation, but an inconsequential exercise and a mere entertainment? The logical result of such a theory is the art of little cliques or the purely formal art fed on affectations and abstractions and ending in the destruction of all reality.
In this way a few works charm a few individuals while many coarse inventions corrupt many others. Finally art takes shape outside of society and cuts itself off from its living roots. Gradually the artist, even if he is celebrated, is alone or at least is known to his nation only through the intermediary of the popular press or the radio, which will provide a convenient and simplified idea of him.
The more art specializes, in fact, the more necessary popularization becomes. In this way millions of people will have the feeling of knowing this or that great artist of our time because they have learned from the newspapers that he raises canaries or that he never stays married more than six months.
The greatest renown today consists in being admired or hated without having been read. Any artist who goes in for being famous in our society must know that it is not he who will become famous, but someone else under his name, someone who will eventually escape him and perhaps someday will kill the true artist in him.
At the same time he thinks he can create his reality himself. But, cut off from his society, he will create nothing but formal or abstract works, thrilling as experiences but devoid of the fecundity we associate with true art, which is called upon to unite. Instead, Camus argues, the artist must contact the reality of his or her time, wresting from it something timeless and universal: [The artist] has only to translate the sufferings and happiness of all into the language of all and he will be universally understood.
As a reward for being absolutely faithful to reality, he will achieve complete communication among men. This ideal of universal communication is indeed the ideal of any great artist.
Contrary to the current presumption, if there is any man who has no right to solitude, it is the artist. Art cannot be a monologue. When the most solitary and least famous artist appeals to posterity, he is merely reaffirming his fundamental vocation.
Considering a dialogue with deaf or inattentive contemporaries to be impossible, he appeals to a more far-reaching dialogue with the generations to come. But in order to speak about all and to all, one has to speak of what all know and of the reality common to us all.
The sea, rains, necessity, desire, the struggle against death — these are the things that unite us all. We resemble one another in what we see together, in what we suffer together. Dreams change from individual to individual, but the reality of the world is common to us all. Striving toward realism is therefore legitimate, for it is basically related to the artistic adventure.
And such a principle is found, not in the reality we know, but in the reality that will be — in short, the future. In order to reproduce properly what is, one must depict also what will be. Art, in a sense, is a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world. Consequently, its only aim is to give another form to a reality that it is nevertheless forced to preserve as the source of its emotion. In this regard, we are all realistic and no one is. Art is neither complete rejection nor complete acceptance of what is.
It is simultaneously rejection and acceptance, and this is why it must be a perpetually renewed wrenching apart. The artist constantly lives in such a state of ambiguity, incapable of negating the real and yet eternally bound to question it in its eternally unfinished aspects. Then, every once in a while, a new world appears, different from the everyday world and yet the same, particular but universal, full of innocent insecurity — called forth for a few hours by the power and longing of genius.
This tension — between the present and the future, between what is and what can be, between suffering and the transcendence of suffering — is the seedbed of art. Camus writes: The artist can neither turn away from his time nor lose himself in it… The prophet, whether religious or political, can judge absolutely and, as is known, is not chary of doing so.
But the artist cannot. If he judged absolutely, he would arbitrarily divide reality into good and evil and thus indulge in melodrama. The aim of art, on the contrary, is not to legislate or to reign supreme, but rather to understand first of all. Sometimes it does reign supreme, as a result of understanding. But no work of genius has ever been based on hatred and contempt. This is why the artist, at the end of his slow advance, absolves instead of condemning. Instead of being a judge, he is a justifier.
He is the perpetual advocate of the living creature, because it is alive. In that risk, however, and only there, lies the freedom of art. Art by Marianne C. Six years before John F. It is not surprising, therefore, that art should be the enemy marked out by every form of oppression. It is not surprising that artists and intellectuals should have been the first victims of modern tyrannies… Tyrants know there is in the work of art an emancipatory force, which is mysterious only to those who do not revere it.
Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and this is its whole secret. And thousands of concentration camps and barred cells are not enough to hide this staggering testimony of dignity.
This is why it is not true that culture can be, even temporarily, suspended in order to make way for a new culture… There is no culture without legacy… Whatever the works of the future may be, they will bear the same secret, made up of courage and freedom, nourished by the daring of thousands of artists of all times and all nations. It takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and compose, and thousands of dollars to sustain.
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Create Dangerously: Albert Camus and the Power and Responsibility of the Artist
Every publication is a deliberate act, and that act makes us vulnerable to the passions of a century that forgives nothing. These are dangerous times to create art. Which is also to say, these are the best times to create art. But what makes these times dangerous anyway? After all, Camus gave his speech only a decade after WWII when fascism had almost conquered Europe, and the Soviet Empire was just beginning its rule over half the continent that would last the next half a century. The danger one experiences as an artist in the West pales in comparison to what an artist might experience in a country like Iran or China. After all, opprobrium on social media is hardly comparable to the punishment faced by dissidents living in a theocracy or dictatorship.
As we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us and we are living in an interesting era. In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it. The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked.