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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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Chapter 2 ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’: An Annotated Translation 37


chapter 2 ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ An Annotated Translation My reasons for including an annotated translation of Camus’s lecture are twofold. First, to remedy the defects, including omissions, of the two exist- ing translations of the lecture,1 both of which – like the text in the Pléiade edition – lack a critical apparatus, and second, to provide an easily acces- sible version of the text for reference purposes. I would like to express my gratitude to Catherine Camus for giving me permission to make this translation. As its subtitle makes clear, Camus’s lecture was given to inaugurate a new Maison de la culture (community arts centre) in Algiers, of which Camus was the general secretary. Forerunners of the eponymous postwar state institutions introduced by André Malraux when he was the French Minister of Culture, the Maisons de la culture were communist-inspired Popular Front organizations that sought to bring culture to the masses (Camus was a member of the Algerian Communist Party at the time). The text of Camus’s lecture was originally published in the first issue of Jeune Méditerranée (‘Young Mediterranean’),2 the newsletter of the Maison, under the heading ‘La culture indigène’ (‘Native Culture’); as the reappearance 1 ‘Native Culture. The New Culture of the Mediterranean’, in Albert Camus: Lyrical and Critical, ed. and trans. by Philip Thody (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1967), pp. 188–94. ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’, in Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays, ed. Philip Thody, tr. Ellen Conroy Kennedy (New York: Vintage,...

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