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Albert Camus’s ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’

A Text and its Contexts

Series:

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 4 The Context of French Discourses on the Mediterranean 75

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chapter 4 The Context of French Discourses on the Mediterranean The task of placing ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in the context of French discourses on the Mediterranean has been greatly facilitated by two separate but overlapping historical studies by Thierry Fabre and Émile Témime.1 Whereas Fabre includes Camus’s lecture in a general overview of French discourses on the Mediterranean up to the year 2000, Témime refers to it briefly in the context of the parallel he draws between the Mediterranean utopianism of Saint-Simonian thinkers such as Émile Barrault and Michel Chevalier in the 1830s and that of a group of intel- lectuals including Audisio and Camus a century later. At a 2004 colloquium on the Orientalism of the Saint-Simonians, Témime claimed that what he described as Audisio’s dream of a permanent dialogue between East and West in the Mediterranean ‘takes up that of the Saint-Simonians, some- times in identical words’.2 At the same colloquium, meanwhile, Michel Levallois drew a direct parallel between Camus and the Saint-Simonian 1 Thierry Fabre, ‘La France et la Méditerranée: généalogies et représentations’, in Jean- Claude Izzo and Thierry Fabre, La Méditerranée française (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2000), pp. 13–152, subsequently referred to as MF; Émile Témime, Un rêve méditerranéen: des Saint-Simoniens aux intellectuels des années trente (Arles: Actes Sud, 2002). A virtually identical version of Fabre’s study is available as a working paper at accessed 18 May 2010. 2...

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