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Albert Camus’s ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’

A Text and its Contexts


Neil Foxlee

This book was shortlisted for the R.H. Gapper prize 2011.
On 8 February 1937 the 23-year-old Albert Camus gave an inaugural lecture for a new Maison de la culture, or community arts centre, in Algiers. Entitled ‘La nouvelle culture méditerranéenne’ (‘The New Mediterranean Culture’), Camus’s lecture has been interpreted in radically different ways: while some critics have dismissed it as an incoherent piece of juvenilia, others see it as key to understanding his future development as a thinker, whether as the first expression of his so-called ‘Mediterranean humanism’ or as an early indication of what is seen as his essentially colonial mentality.
These various interpretations are based on reading the text of ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in a single context, whether that of Camus’s life and work as a whole, of French discourses on the Mediterranean or of colonial Algeria (and French discourses on that country). By contrast, this study argues that Camus’s lecture – and in principle any historical text – needs to be seen in a multiplicity of contexts, discursive and otherwise, if readers are to understand properly what its author was doing in writing it. Using Camus’s lecture as a case study, the book provides a detailed theoretical and practical justification of this ‘multi-contextualist’ approach.


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Acknowledgements ix Abbreviations xi Introduction 1 Chapter 1 Towards a Multi-Contextualist Approach 7 Chapter 2 ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’: An Annotated Translation 37 Chapter 3 Humanist and Postcolonial Approaches 51 Chapter 4 The Context of French Discourses on the Mediterranean 75 Chapter 5 Gabriel Audisio’s Mid-1930s Writings on the Mediterranean 111 Chapter 6 The Interwar French Intellectual Debate on Culture 139 viii Chapter 7 The Interwar East–West Debate 163 Chapter 8 The Algerian Political Context 205 Chapter 9 Biographical Contexts 223 Chapter 10 The Legacy of ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in Camus’s Later Work 261 Conclusion 285 Appendix: ‘Reflections on Generosity’ (1939) 293 Bibliography 303 Index 325

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