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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 6 The Interwar French Intellectual Debate on Culture 139

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chapter 6 The Interwar French Intellectual Debate on Culture Maurras and Latinity As shown in Chapter 3, some postcolonial critics have interpreted ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ by situating it in a literary-historical context. In their view, Camus’s lecture is to be understood as a virtual manifesto for the so-called École d’Alger, a loose literary grouping born in reaction to the previous school of Algerianism, which was in turn influenced by the writer Louis Bertrand. The emphasis on Algerianism and Bertrand as counter-influences on Camus’s thinking, however, has overshadowed the role of the one counter-influence Camus explicitly identifies in his lecture, Charles Maurras. An essayist, poet and political journalist, Maurras was the spiritual leader of the notorious far-right Action Française movement, whose origins can be traced back to the Dreyfus Affair. Its far-ranging influence has been summed up by Eugen Weber: ‘between 1899 and 1944 [Action Française] provided the fundamental doctrines of practically the whole Extreme Right in France and of important nationalist and traditionalist groups in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Switzerland, as well as the theoretical background of the National Revolution of Vichy’.1 Camus would have been familiar with Maurras’s ideas through his uncle, Gustave Acault, with whom 1 Eugen Weber, Action Française: Royalism and Reaction in Twentieth-century France (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1962), Preface, p. vii. See also Stephen Wilson, ‘Action Française in French intellectual life’, Historical Journal 12:2 (1969), 328–50. On Maurras himself, see Michael Curtis, Three against the...

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