Albert Camus's 'The New Mediterranean Culture': A Text and its Contexts (Modern French Identities)
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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.
appropriate, titles in French have been translated into English. Except where indicated, all translations are mine. The terms Occident and Orient, it should be noted, have been translated as ‘West’ and ‘East’ respectively. 2 Introduction Given the vast amount of secondary literature on Camus,2 it should be noted at the outset that ‘The New Mediterranean Culture’ was described in an article published by Ray Davison in 2000 as ‘under-discussed’3 and that the only previous study of the work in
Audisio’s views separately, as the basis for a later examination of Camus’s own position on this question. Given that relatively little has been written on Audisio in his own right, a few words should be said first about his background. This seems particularly appropriate in view of Jean Déjeux’s claim that Audisio’s vision of the Mediterranean is a myth created partly in response to his personal situation.5 As Audisio himself reveals in Jeunesse de la Méditerranée, he was born (in 1900) of mixed
French Algeria, p. 181; Dunwoodie’s translation. Quoted by Déjeux, ‘De l’éternel Méditerranéen …’, p. 686. 114 chapter 5 The Polemical Context of Jeunesse de la Méditerranée In ‘Patrie Méditerranée’ (‘Mediterranean Homeland’), the first of the essays that make up Jeunesse de la Méditerranée, Audisio outlined his conception of a Mediterranean homeland ( JM, 9–24). Contrasting the differences that separated Frenchmen from different regions of France with the similarities that linked the
Maritain et Henri Massis’, Les nouvelles littéraires, 13 October 1923, rpt in Lefèvre, Une heure avec …, Première série (Paris: Nouvelle Revue Française, 1924), pp. 43–63 (p. 60). 35 Lefèvre, p. 61 (italics in original). 36 Léon Chestov, La Nuit de Gethsémani: essai sur la philosophie de Pascal (Paris: Grasset, 1923). 176 chapter 7 destructive doctrines, it was necessary to go back to ‘civilizing our Europe through the teaching of Aristotle and Saint Thomas [Aquinas]’.37 Rolland and Valéry