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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 10 The Legacy of ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in Camus’s Later Work 261

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chapter 10 The Legacy of ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in Camus’s Later Work At various points in this study, reference has been made to echoes of ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ in Camus’s later work. To give a full account of the legacy of the lecture in Camus’s subsequent writings, however, would require an extended study in its own right. To take just one example, one of the most important reasons for considering Camus’s lecture as a seminal text in his intellectual development is that it marks the explicit emergence of a theme that is widely seen as central to his work as a whole: his rejection of what he called ‘abstraction’ in favour of ‘life’.1 To trace the development of this theme through Camus’s later writings, however, would call for a detailed consideration not only of the many non-fictional texts in which Camus used the term,2 but also his imaginative works, most notably La Peste, whose narrator describes the ‘struggle between the happiness of each 1 According to Dunwoodie, for instance, ‘Camus’s entire œuvre is seen by many crit- ics as a struggle against the deadening abstraction of History and the straitjacket of unchallenged ideology in the name of life in the present’ (Writing French Algeria, p. 209). 2 The theme of abstraction is particularly prominent in Camus’s writings in the after- math of the Second World War, including L’Homme révolté. Why this should be the case is suggested by a notebook entry he made sometime between December...

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