Title

The Coward in Albert Camus's Carnets

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2016

Abstract

Camus evokes the traits of the coward on the very first page of his Notebook I (May 1935). Twenty-one years old at the time, he describes the conditions of poverty which constitute “the true sense of life” and subsequently names what, for him, amounts to the makings of this fundamental truth: “ What counts [...] are the unpleasant disgraces, the little acts of cowardice, the thoughtless considerations given to the other world (that of money). I believe that the world of the poor is a rare one, if not the only one that is withdrawn into itself, an enclave of society” (OC II, 795). During the more than twenty years that follow, the word “coward” (lâche) appears in various forms and derivations over thirty times in the writer’s notebooks (published by Gallimard under the title Carnets). This study proposes to examine the coward in Camus’s Carnets—a figure the proves all the more significant on account of its stark opposition to the Absurd man and the Rebel, and the fact that Camus himself was harshly criticized during the French-Algerian War (1954-1962) for not having chosen a more decisive stance in a conflict that found him torn between two ultimately unsatisfactory positions. Consideration of the first occurrence of the term in Camus’s Carnets will, in conjunction with careful examination of several subsequent uses of the word, afford us to identify two principle traits of the coward—namely, that he is neither silent nor resistant. This practical estimation of the coward will allow us to uncover the tracks of his literary counterpart in Camus’s works and to demonstrate the ways in which the coward in the Carnets comes to represent the antihero with respect to the two emblematic figures at the core of Camus’s philosophical writings. In conclusion, it is the seemingly limiting, contradictory characteristics by which these philosophical Camusian “heros” are defined that will lead us to reflect on Camus’s “fall” under the impetus of postcolonial francophone criticism, and the reasons why Camus and his works are so often cited today, whether it be in the context of the Arab Spring or catastrophic natural disasters such as the tsunami that struck Japan or the earthquake in Haiti.

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