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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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Appendix: ‘Reflections on Generosity’ (1939) 293


Appendix: ‘Reflections on Generosity’ (1939)1 Introduction In Chroniques algériennes, under the title ‘Crise en Algérie’, Camus col- lected a series of articles that he had published in Combat following the abortive nationalist uprising in Sétif in May 1945.2 In a postscript to the first of these articles, he criticized another newspaper which had hastened to accuse Ferhat Abbas, president of the Amis du Manifeste,3 of having directly organized what Camus – who had not witnessed the events in question – called the ‘disturbances’ (troubles; IV, 339). In a later article on the Manifesto party, Camus recalled that before the war, Abbas had been ‘one of the most resolute supporters of the policy of assimilation’, and that at that time, he had run a newspaper, L’Entente (‘Understanding’), ‘which defended the Blum-Viollette Bill and demanded that a democratic politics in which the Arab might find rights equivalent to his duties should finally be established in Algeria’ (IV, 347).4 What Camus did not mention is that 1 The following is a translation, with some revisions, of my article ‘“Réflexions sur la générosité”: un article peu connu d’Albert Camus’, Bulletin de la Société des Études Camusiennes 81 (May 2007), 9–14. I am grateful to Catherine Camus for giving me permission to publish my translation of ‘Réflexions sur la générosité’ and to Agnès Spiquel for having transcribed the text of the original from a copy of L’Entente in the Bibliothèque...

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