Albert Camus: From Existentialism to Postcolonialism
If many of his postwar peers have disappeared from view, Albert Camus occupies a visible, and seemingly invincible, position in the Western literary canon. His novel The Plague, with its narrative of epidemic and human powerlessness to stop it, feels particularly relevant in a world currently besieged by COVID-19. But it’s not just the pandemic: Camus’s work, with its vivid renditions of the absurdity of the human condition, feels perennially resonant. While other postwar works seem stylized and dated, Camus’s novels remain potent vehicles for exploring key existentialist themes: of freedom, nothingness, authenticity, value, and responsibility.
To read Camus strictly as an existentialist, however, is to neglect the colonial context in which he wrote, as well as the colonial backdrop that sets the stage for his work. In this course, we will read Camus’s The Plague and The Stranger, as well as selections from his other literary and political writings, as we explore the many frameworks through which Camus’s work can be understood. How do we balance, on the one hand, Camus’s initial position as one Europe’s foremost existentialist writers with, on the other, his later inclusion in the postcolonial literary canon? Does existentialism provide a basis for colonial critique? What’s Camus’s relation to both the French colonizer and the Algerian colonized? In addition to Camus, we’ll read theoretical writings discussing questions of hospitality, hybridity, and imperialism—including texts by Tahar Ben Jelloun and Edward Said. We will ask: what does Camus’s work have to offer for contemporary debates on violence, epidemic, terrorism, justice, and national identity?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm GMT
November 17 — December 08, 2020