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Albert Camus on the Three Antidotes to the Absurdity of Life

“In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity.”

Albert Camus on the Three Antidotes to the Absurdity of Life

What an astrophysicist might have the perspective to eulogize as “the incredibly improbable trip that we’re on” the rest of us might, and often do, experience as simply and maddeningly absurd — so uncontrollable and incomprehensible as to barely make sense. What are we to make of, and do with, the absurdity of life that swarms us daily? Oliver Sacks believed that “the most we can do is to write — intelligently, creatively, evocatively — about what it is like living in the world at this time.” And yet parsing the what-it-is-like can itself drive us to despair. Still, parse we must.

More than a decade before Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) became the second-youngest laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded him for work that “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times,” he contemplated the relationship between absurdity and redemption in a 1945 interview by the French journalist Jeanine Delpech, included at the end of his Lyrical and Critical Essays (public library) — the superb posthumous collection that gave us Camus on how to strengthen our character in difficult times and happiness, despair, and the love of life.

Albert Camus

Three years before the interview, twenty-eight-year-old Camus had stunned the world with his revolutionary philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus, which begins with one of the most powerful opening sentences in all of literature and explores the paradox of the absurd in life. “I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion,” he writes — something that prompted his interviewer to ask whether a philosophy predicated on absurdity might incline people to despair.

Camus — who years earlier had asserted that “there is no love of life without despair of life” — answers:

All I can do is reply on my own behalf, realizing that what I say is relative. Accepting the absurdity of everything around us is one step, a necessary experience: it should not become a dead end. It arouses a revolt that can become fruitful. An analysis of the idea of revolt could help us to discover ideas capable of restoring a relative meaning to existence, although a meaning that would always be in danger.

Speaking at the close of the meaningless brutality of World War II, six years before he formulated his ideas on solidarity and what it really means to be a rebel, Camus considers the only act of courage and rebellion worth undertaking:

In a world whose absurdity appears to be so impenetrable, we simply must reach a greater degree of understanding among men, a greater sincerity. We must achieve this or perish. To do so, certain conditions must be fulfilled: men must be frank (falsehood confuses things), free (communication is impossible with slaves). Finally, they must feel a certain justice around them.

I have often wondered whether Camus had read W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” written in 1940, which includes this searing stanza so kindred to Camus’s sentiment:

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Complement this particular fragment of Camus’s endlessly rewarding Lyrical and Critical Essays with Albert Einstein on our mightiest counterforce against injustice and Naomi Shihab Nye on choosing kindness over fear, then revisit Camus’s abiding ideas on happiness, unhappiness, and our self-imposed prisons, the most important question of existence, the lacuna between truth and meaning, and the touching letter of gratitude he sent to his boyhood teacher shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize.

BP

The Best of Brain Pickings 2017

The courage to be yourself, a Stoic’s antidote to anxiety, how friendship transforms us, in praise of solitude, and more.

We read for the same reasons we write — to think, to feel, to locate ourselves within ourselves and in relation to the world. Of the 258 pieces I wrote this year, these are the “best” — a hybrid measure of those which ignited the most ardent response in readers and those which I most cherished composing. Please (re)enjoy, and here is to a vitalizing new year.

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In Praise of the Telescopic Perspective: A Reflection on Living Through Turbulent Times

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Rachel Carson’s Brave and Prescient 1953 Letter Against the Government’s Assault on Science and Nature

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Big Wolf & Little Wolf: A Tender Tale of Loneliness, Belonging, and How Friendship Transforms Us

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The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel

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A Stoic’s Key to Peace of Mind: Seneca on the Antidote to Anxiety

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Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Forgotten Treasure at the Intersection of Science and Poetry

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Love After Life: Nobel-Winning Physicist Richard Feynman’s Extraordinary Letter to His Departed Wife

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The Wisdom of Trees: Walt Whitman on What Our Silent Friends Teach Us About Being Rather Than Seeming

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The Doom and Glory of Knowing Who You Are: James Baldwin on the Empathic Rewards of Reading and What It Means to Be an Artist

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Simone de Beauvoir on How Chance and Choice Converge to Make Us Who We Are

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The Universe in Verse: Complete Show

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The Trouble with “Finding Yourself”

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This Is a Poem That Heals Fish

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Polish Poet and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska on How Our Certitudes Keep Us Small and the Generative Power of Not-Knowing

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Atom, Archetype, and the Invention of Synchronicity: How Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung and Nobel-Winning Physicist Wolfgang Pauli Bridged Mind and Matter

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Bruce Lee’s Never Before Revealed Letters to Himself About Authenticity, Personal Development, and the Measure of Success

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The Binary Code of Body and Spirit: Computing Pioneer Alan Turing on Mortality

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The Invention of Zero: How Ancient Mesopotamia Created the Mathematical Concept of Nought and Ancient India Gave It Symbolic Form

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The Story Behind Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and the Poet’s Own Stirring Reading of His Masterpiece

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A Partnership Larger Than Marriage: The Stunning Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell

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Marcus Aurelius on How to Motivate Yourself to Get Out of Bed in the Morning and Go to Work

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The Writing of “Silent Spring”: Rachel Carson and the Culture-Shifting Courage to Speak Inconvenient Truth to Power

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Albert Camus on the Three Antidotes to the Absurdity of Life

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The Art of Being Alone: May Sarton’s Stunning 1938 Ode to Solitude

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Create Dangerously: Albert Camus on the Artist as a Voice of Resistance and a Liberator of Society

“To create today is to create dangerously… The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of so many ideologies… the strange liberty of creation is possible.”

Create Dangerously: Albert Camus on the Artist as a Voice of Resistance and a Liberator of Society

“Those who tell you ‘Do not put too much politics in your art’ are not being honest,” Chinua Achebe observed in his superb forgotten conversation with James Baldwin. “If you look very carefully you will see that they are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is… What they are saying is don’t upset the system.” Half a century earlier, W.H. Auden both simplified and amplified this insight when he asserted that “the mere making of a work of art is itself a political act.”

The artist’s essential responsibility to leap society forward by upsetting the system is what Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) explores in a timeless, immensely insightful piece titled “Create Dangerously,” composed in Auden’s time but acutely relevant to our own. Originally delivered as a lecture at a Swedish university in December of 1957 — weeks after Camus became the second-youngest laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded him for work that “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times” — it was later included in his indispensable essay collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (public library).

Albert Camus

Two decades before Audre Lorde called on artists to uphold their responsibility toward “the transformation of silence into language and action,” Camus writes:

An Oriental wise man always used to ask the divinity in his prayers to be so kind as to spare him from living in an interesting era. As we are not wise, the divinity has not spared us and we are living in an interesting era. In any case, our era forces us to take an interest in it. The writers of today know this. If they speak up, they are criticized and attacked. If they become modest and keep silent, they are vociferously blamed for their silence. In the midst of such din the writer cannot hope to remain aloof in order to pursue the reflections and images that are dear to him. Until the present moment, remaining aloof has always been possible in history. When someone did not approve, he could always keep silent or talk of something else. Today everything is changed and even silence has dangerous implications. The moment that abstaining from choice is itself looked upon as a choice and punished or praised as such, the artist is willy-nilly impressed into service. “Impressed” seems to me a more accurate term in this connection than “committed.” Instead of signing up, indeed, for voluntary service, the artist does his compulsory service.

[…]

It is easy to see all that art can lose from such a constant obligation. Ease, to begin with, and that divine liberty so apparent in the work of Mozart. It is easier to understand why our works of art have a drawn, set look and why they collapse so suddenly. It is obvious why we have more journalists than creative writers, more boy-scouts of painting than Cézannes, and why sentimental tales or detective novels have taken the place of War and Peace or The Charterhouse of Parma.

And yet, five years before Baldwin asserted that “a society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven,” Camus insists that there is more to gain than there is to lose in the artist’s commitment to social justice:

To create today is to create dangerously. Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of so many ideologies (how many churches, what solitude!), the strange liberty of creation is possible.

Art by Ben Shahn from On Nonconformity

A century after Emerson scoffed that “masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence [and one must not] concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them,” Camus considers the forces that warp creative work and lead to a “surrender of the artist.” In a sentiment of sundering pertinence to our own age of so-called “social media” — that ultimate tyranny of the masses — he writes:

What characterizes our time, indeed, is the way the masses and their wretched condition have burst upon contemporary sensibilities. We now know that they exist, whereas we once had a tendency to forget them. And if we are more aware, it is not because our aristocracy, artistic or otherwise, has become better — no, have no fear — it is because the masses have become stronger and keep people from forgetting them.

Coupled with various other social forces, this tyranny of popular opinion works “to discourage free creation by undermining its basic principle, the creator’s faith in himself.” (Writing in the same era, E.E. Cummings captured the importance of protecting that basic principle beautifully in his advice to artists: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”) Out of this syphoning of creative freedom and courage, Camus argues, arises the dangerous falsehood that art is merely a luxury. Nearly two decades after Rebecca West insisted in the midst of WWII that “art is not a plaything, but a necessity… not a decorative adjustment, but a cup into which life can be poured and lifted to the lips and be tasted,” Camus considers what led modern society to so misapprehend the essence and purpose of art:

If it adapts itself to what the majority of our society wants, art will be a meaningless recreation. If it blindly rejects that society, if the artist makes up his mind to take refuge in his dream, art will express nothing but a negation. In this way we shall have the production of entertainers or of formal grammarians, and in both cases this leads to an art cut off from living reality. For about a century we have been living in a society that is not even the society of money (gold can arouse carnal passions) but that of the abstract symbols of money. The society of merchants can be defined as a society in which things disappear in favor of signs. When a ruling class measures its fortunes, not by the acre of land or the ingot of gold, but by the number of figures corresponding ideally to a certain number of exchange operations, it thereby condemns itself to setting a certain kind of humbug at the center of its experience and its universe. A society founded on signs is, in its essence, an artificial society in which man’s carnal truth is handled as something artificial. There is no reason for being surprised that such a society chose as its religion a moral code of formal principles and that it inscribes the words “liberty” and “equality” on its prisons as well as on its temples of finance. However, words cannot be prostituted with impunity. The most misrepresented value today is certainly the value of liberty.

Art by E.E. Cummings from his essay on the agony of the artist.

Echoing philosopher and political activist Simone Weil — whom Camus considered “the only great spirit of our times” — and her insight into the crucial difference between our rights and our responsibilities, Camus laments the consequence of this commodification of art and liberty:

For a hundred years a society of merchants made an exclusive and unilateral use of liberty, looking upon it as a right rather than as a duty, and did not fear to use an ideal liberty, as often as it could, to justify a very real oppression. As a result, is there anything surprising in the fact that such a society asked art to be, not an instrument of liberation, but an inconsequential exercise and a mere entertainment?

He examines the social charade that engulfs creative work, inflating ego while deflating art:

Art for art’s sake, the entertainment of a solitary artist, is indeed the artificial art of a factitious and self-absorbed society. The logical result of such a theory is the art of little cliques or the purely formal art fed on affectations and abstractions and ending in the destruction of all reality. In this way a few works charm a few individuals while many coarse inventions corrupt many others. Finally art takes shape outside of society and cuts itself off from its living roots. Gradually the artist, even if he is celebrated, is alone or at least is known to his nation only through the intermediary of the popular press or the radio, which will provide a convenient and simplified idea of him. The more art specializes, in fact, the more necessary popularization becomes. In this way millions of people will have the feeling of knowing this or that great artist of our time because they have learned from the newspapers that he raises canaries or that he never stays married more than six months. The greatest renown today consists in being admired or hated without having been read. Any artist who goes in for being famous in our society must know that it is not he who will become famous, but someone else under his name, someone who will eventually escape him and perhaps someday will kill the true artist in him.

And yet Camus condemns the simplistic divide between artistic authenticity and what we today may call “selling out” — to wholly reject society, including its currencies of celebrity, is to perpetrate another sort of hubris that divorces art from its raw material. In a sentiment Baldwin would echo several years later in reminding us that what made Shakespeare the greatest poet in the English language was that he “found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people,” Camus writes:

As a result of rejecting everything, even the tradition of his art, the contemporary artist gets the illusion that he is creating his own rule and eventually takes himself for God. At the same time he thinks he can create his reality himself. But, cut off from his society, he will create nothing but formal or abstract works, thrilling as experiences but devoid of the fecundity we associate with true art, which is called upon to unite.

Instead, Camus argues, the artist must contact the reality of his or her time, wresting from it something timeless and universal:

[The artist] has only to translate the sufferings and happiness of all into the language of all and he will be universally understood. As a reward for being absolutely faithful to reality, he will achieve complete communication among men.

This ideal of universal communication is indeed the ideal of any great artist. Contrary to the current presumption, if there is any man who has no right to solitude, it is the artist. Art cannot be a monologue. When the most solitary and least famous artist appeals to posterity, he is merely reaffirming his fundamental vocation. Considering a dialogue with deaf or inattentive contemporaries to be impossible, he appeals to a more far-reaching dialogue with the generations to come.

But in order to speak about all and to all, one has to speak of what all know and of the reality common to us all. The sea, rains, necessity, desire, the struggle against death — these are the things that unite us all. We resemble one another in what we see together, in what we suffer together. Dreams change from individual to individual, but the reality of the world is common to us all. Striving toward realism is therefore legitimate, for it is basically related to the artistic adventure.

Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm

Echoing his polymathic compatriot Henri Poincaré’s assertion that “to invent… is to choose” and affirming Ursula K. Le Guin’s conviction that “we will not be free if we do not imagine freedom,” Camus argues for the artist’s responsibility to imagine superior alternatives to the status quo, the system, the present reality:

Reality cannot be reproduced without exercising a selection… The only thing needed, then, is to find a principle of choice that will give shape to the world. And such a principle is found, not in the reality we know, but in the reality that will be — in short, the future. In order to reproduce properly what is, one must depict also what will be.

[…]

The artist chooses his object as much as he is chosen by it. Art, in a sense, is a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world. Consequently, its only aim is to give another form to a reality that it is nevertheless forced to preserve as the source of its emotion. In this regard, we are all realistic and no one is. Art is neither complete rejection nor complete acceptance of what is. It is simultaneously rejection and acceptance, and this is why it must be a perpetually renewed wrenching apart. The artist constantly lives in such a state of ambiguity, incapable of negating the real and yet eternally bound to question it in its eternally unfinished aspects.

[…]

The loftiest work will always be… the work that maintains an equilibrium between reality and man’s rejection of that reality, each forcing the other upward in a ceaseless overflowing, characteristic of life itself at its most joyous and heart-rending extremes. Then, every once in a while, a new world appears, different from the everyday world and yet the same, particular but universal, full of innocent insecurity — called forth for a few hours by the power and longing of genius. That’s just it and yet that’s not it; the world is nothing and the world is everything — this is the contradictory and tireless cry of every true artist, the cry that keeps him on his feet with eyes ever open and that, every once in a while, awakens for all in this world asleep the fleeting and insistent image of a reality we recognize without ever having known it.

Art from Kenny’s Window, young Maurice Sendak’s picture-book debut about dreams and the parameters of the possible.

This tension — between the present and the future, between what is and what can be, between suffering and the transcendence of suffering — is the seedbed of art. Camus writes:

The artist can neither turn away from his time nor lose himself in it… The prophet, whether religious or political, can judge absolutely and, as is known, is not chary of doing so. But the artist cannot. If he judged absolutely, he would arbitrarily divide reality into good and evil and thus indulge in melodrama. The aim of art, on the contrary, is not to legislate or to reign supreme, but rather to understand first of all. Sometimes it does reign supreme, as a result of understanding. But no work of genius has ever been based on hatred and contempt. This is why the artist, at the end of his slow advance, absolves instead of condemning. Instead of being a judge, he is a justifier. He is the perpetual advocate of the living creature, because it is alive.

[…]

Perhaps the greatness of art lies in the perpetual tension between beauty and pain, the love of men and the madness of creation, unbearable solitude and the exhausting crowd, rejection and consent… On the ridge where the great artist moves forward, every step is an adventure, an extreme risk. In that risk, however, and only there, lies the freedom of art.

Art by Marianne C. Cook from a rare 1913 edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Six years before John F. Kennedy asserted in one of the greatest speeches ever given that the artist is society’s foremost voice of resistance against injustice, Camus adds:

Art, by virtue of that free essence I have tried to define, unites whereas tyranny separates. It is not surprising, therefore, that art should be the enemy marked out by every form of oppression. It is not surprising that artists and intellectuals should have been the first victims of modern tyrannies… Tyrants know there is in the work of art an emancipatory force, which is mysterious only to those who do not revere it. Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and this is its whole secret. And thousands of concentration camps and barred cells are not enough to hide this staggering testimony of dignity. This is why it is not true that culture can be, even temporarily, suspended in order to make way for a new culture… There is no culture without legacy… Whatever the works of the future may be, they will bear the same secret, made up of courage and freedom, nourished by the daring of thousands of artists of all times and all nations.

All the essays collected in Camus’s Resistance, Rebellion, and Death vibrate with uncommon insight into art and life that seems to grow timelier with the passage of time. Complement this particular portion with Simone de Beauvoir on the artist’s duty to liberate the present from the past, Ursula K. Le Guin on the power of art and storytelling to transform and redeem, and Toni Morrison on the artist’s task in times of political turmoil, then revisit Camus on what it means to be a rebel, the three antidotes to the absurdity of life, and the most important question of existence.

BP

Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Albert Camus on the Antidote to Violence

“If he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward.”

Neither Victims Nor Executioners: Albert Camus on the Antidote to Violence

“Progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated and reimagined if it is to survive,” Zadie Smith wrote in her spectacular essay on optimism and despair. Seventy years earlier, just after the close of World War II, another genius of the times addressed this predicament and its attendant question of what reimagining progress looks like as we behold the future from the precarious platform of the present.

In November of 1946, a decade before he became the second-youngest laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded him for work that “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times,” Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) wrote a series of short essays for the journal of the French Resistance, which were later published as Neither Victims nor Executioners: An Ethic Superior to Murder (public library).

Albert Camus, 1946 (Photograph: Cecil Beaton)

At the outset of the war, Camus considered what it means to have strength of character in difficult times. Now, at its grim end, he examines what it takes to maintain that strength and make it a heritage to future generations in the aftermath of extreme moral weakness at the level of a whole civilization. He begins his final installment in the series, titled “Toward Sociability,” with an inquiry into the vital interplay of reason and emotion in inciting the movements that bring about social change:

Yes, we must raise our voices. Up to this point, I have re­frained from appealing to emotion. We are being torn apart by a logic of History which we have elaborated in every detail — a net which threatens to strangle us. It is not emotion which can cut through the web of a logic which has gone to irrational lengths, but only reason which can meet logic on its own ground. But I should not want to leave the impression, in con­cluding, that any program for the future can get along without our powers of love and indignation. I am well aware that it takes a powerful prime mover to get men into motion and that it is hard to throw one’s self into a struggle whose objectives are so modest and where hope has only a rational basis — and hardly even that. But the problem is not how to carry men away; it is essential, on the contrary, that they not be carried away but rather that they be made to understand clearly what they are doing.

In a sentiment he would later ferment into the assertion that “real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present,” Camus counters the dangerous notion that the present must be made a sacrificial offering to some abstract ideal future:

To save what can be saved so as to open up some kind of future — that is the prime mover, the passion and the sacrifice that is required. It demands only that we reflect and then decide, clearly, whether humanity’s lot must be made still more miserable in order to achieve far-off and shadowy ends, whether we should accept a world bristling with arms where brother kills brother; or whether, on the contrary, we should avoid bloodshed and misery as much as possible so that we give a chance for survival to later generations better equipped than we are.

A decade before he reached a warm hand across the Iron Curtain of the Cold War in his beautiful letter of cross-cultural solidarity to Boris Pasternak, Camus writes:

We are asked to love or to hate such and such a country and such and such a people. But some of us feel too strongly our common humanity to make such a choice. Those who really love the Russian people, in gratitude for what they have never ceased to be — that world leaven which Tolstoy and Gorky speak of — do not wish for them success in power-poli­tics, but rather want to spare them, after the ordeals of the past, a new and even more terrible bloodletting. So, too, with the American people, and with the peoples of unhappy Eu­rope. This is the kind of elementary truth we are liable to forget amidst the furious passions of our time.

Art by Eugenio Carmi from The Three Astronauts, Umberto Eco’s vintage semiotic children’s book about world peace

Five years before Hannah Arendt considered loneliness as the common ground for terror and how dictators use isolation as a weapon of oppression in her own postmortem of WWII, Camus adds:

Yes, it is fear and silence and the spiritual isolation they cause that must be fought today. And it is sociability (“le dialogue”) and the universal intercommunication of men that must be defended. Slavery, injustice and lies destroy this inter­course and forbid this sociability; and so we must reject them.

Exactly forty years later, in his magnificent Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel would echo Camus and insist that “silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Half a century after Tolstoy asserted in his forgotten correspondence with Gandhi about violence and human nature that “love is the only way to rescue humanity from its ills,” Camus argues that framing the violence of the present as a necessary evil of what will eventually be “History” is a grave disservice to posterity:

Modern nations are driven by powerful forces along the roads of power and domination. I will not say that these forces should be furthered or that they should be obstructed. They hardly need our help and, for the moment, they laugh at at­tempts to hinder them. They will, then, continue. But I will ask only this simple question: what if these forces wind up in a dead end, what if that logic of History on which so many now rely turns out to be a will o’ the wisp? What if, despite two or three world wars, despite the sacrifice of several generations and a whole system of values, our grandchildren — supposing they survive — find themselves no closer to a world society? It may well be that the survivors of such an experience will be too weak to understand their own sufferings. Since these forces are working themselves out and since it is inevitable that they con­tinue to do so, there is no reason why some of us should not take on the job of keeping alive through the apocalyptic histor­ical vista that stretches before us, a modest thoughtfulness which, without pretending to solve everything, will constantly be prepared to give some human meaning to everyday life. The essential thing is that people should carefully weigh the price they must pay.

A year after he contemplated the three antidotes to the absurdity of life, Camus concludes the essay with a mighty reminder that we choose our future with our actions in the present — and that violence is a choice, as is its counterpoint:

All I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice. After that, we can distinguish those who accept the conse­quences of being murderers themselves or the accomplices of murderers, and those who refuse to do so with all their force and being. Since this terrible dividing line does actually exist, it will be a gain if it be clearly marked. Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless strug­gle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly per­suasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thou­sand times the chances of success than has the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honorable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.

Complement Neither Victims nor Executioners with Camus on happiness, despair, and the love of life, consciousness, the most important question of existence, and what it really means to be a rebel, then revisit Rebecca Solnit on resisting the defeatism of easy despair and Toni Morrison on the artist’s task through turbulent times.

BP

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