The Mersault Investigation , book cover

Camus and The Stranger: From Existentialism to Post-Colonialism

Instructor: Elizabeth Marcus
Colors NYC
178 Stanton Street
New York, NY 10002

When Albert Camus visited New York seventy years ago, he was greeted as one of Europe’s foremost writers and existentialist philosophers. Widely embraced by the city’s literary and cultural establishment, Camus’s newly-translated book, The Stranger, was read as a vehicle for exploring key existentialist themes. The novel, which tells the story of a Frenchman living in Algeria who kills a local Arab on the beach, seemingly without reason or feeling, became a crucial text for thinking about freedom and authenticity. Camus has since been absorbed into the corpus of post-colonial literature as a French author with an uneasy but undeniable place in the French and even Algerian literary canon. This course will explore both frameworks for apprehending Camus’s work, as well as why and how his contribution to existentialism has largely been replaced by a focus on post-colonialism.

Over four weeks, we will read The Stranger, first published in French in 1942, alongside selections from Camus’s other literary and political writings. We will devote the final week to contemporary Algerian novelist Kamel Daoud and his newly published The Meursault Investigation, a response to The Stranger, which gives a name and story to the notoriously unnamed Arab who figures so centrally in Camus’s novel. We will consider Camus’s legacy and the ways in which his work has been interpreted, critiqued, and filtered through new lenses. Our theoretical readings will be centered around questions of hospitality, hybridity and imperialism, and will include readings from critics like Tahar Ben Jelloun and Edward Said. Finally, we will explore what Camus’s work has to offer to popular and scholarly conceptions of violence, terrorism, justice, and national identity.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
July 12 — August 02, 2016
4 weeks