Category Archives: Existentialism

The Novels of Albert Camus: a course that I will be teaching at Hutton House

The Novels of Albert Camus: a course that I will be teaching at Hutton House at LIU-Post this Fall

We will read and discuss the three major novels written by Albert Camus. These are: The Stranger, The Plague, and The Fall. We will explore their dramatic development, stylistic originality, and philosophical significance, while locating them within the complex structure of Camus’ life and thought. 

Background on these works can be found in my Camus: a critical examination.

6 Sessions, on Wed, from 1-3pm, from September 12 to October 17, 2018

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Addressing the Crisis of Our Civilization: Existentialism of Sartre and Camus

None can doubt that our civilization is in crisis — daily challenged by economic and social dislocations, technological transformations, political upheavals, ideological contestations, violent confrontations, environmental dislocations, and the ever present danger of nuclear annihilation. What are we to make of all this? And what are we to do about it?
Few have wrestled more personally, profoundly, and creatively with these challenges than the two Noble Prize winners that we will use as our guides in this course. Albert Camus received his Award for “the clear-sighted earnestness (with which he) illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” His one-time friend, then dedicated antagonist, Jean-Paul Sartre, the first person to have rejected that Prize, was the most prominent French Philosopher of the 20th Century. We will explore in some detail their lives, personal and political conflicts, celebrated novels and essays, philosophical theories, and positive proposals for addressing the crises of our civilization.

This course will be offered by me as part of the Hutton House Lecture Series at LIU/Post in 9 sessions, on Wednesdays, from 1-3pm, from September 6 through November 1, 2017.

Robert Zaretsky’s A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest For Meaning

Robert Zaretsky’s A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest For Meaning is a pleasant personal exploration of the significance of Camus’s work. It is built around five central Camusian themes: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, and Revolt. Zaretsky’s presentation is pleasant, and for the most part adequate, if not particularly remarkable. He does offer a few helpful additions to the usual presentations, most particularly with the focus he puts on the importance for Camus of the work of Simone Weil. As he importantly observes, “Camus considered the analysis of human needs and duties in L’Enracinement to be a revelation.” To which he adds that “he found Weil’s treatment of ancient Greece no less revelatory,” namely, her “conceptions of limit, measure, equilibrium, which ought to determine the conduct of life” in the West, but do not.

But it is precisely here, however, that Zaretsky’s then goes importantly astray, and it is to correct that serious misrepresentation that I felt compelled to write this review. First, Zaretsky makes the important error of translating “la mesure” as “moderation”, which reduces Camus engaged politics of struggle to an anemic plea for moderation. And then he compounds that error by claiming that Camus insists we must “never allow our rebellion to turn into revolution,” (P. 180) thus treating rebellion and revolution as essential antagonists.

Both conservatives and “liberals” — the latter particularly in the United States — on the one hand, and Marxists and radicals in general, on the other hand, have sought to present Camus as counter-posing revolt and revolution precisely in the manner of Zaretsky. The former to praise him for his opposition to radical revolution, and the latter to rake him over the proverbial coals as a bourgeoise sellout to capitalist oppression.

But Camus emphatically rejected precisely that interpretation of his work, and went to great pains to insist that there was a critical and crucial connection between rebellion and revolution, which we fail to recognize at our peril. No where is that effort clearer than in his (initially unpublished) response to the controversy over The Rebel. (For the English translation of that essay, see my Sartre and Camus: An Historic Confrontation.) Rather, it is only “absolutist”, ideologically inspired Revolution that Camus targets with his criticism, while insisting that fruitful rebellion ought rightfully to lead to revolutionary transformations so long as such revolutions remain true to the spirit of outrage and the demand to respect human dignity that initiated the rebellion. Hence, there is a necessary unity in tension between the spirit of rebellion and the institutionalization of revolution that needs always to be maintained. And Zaretsky completely misses that connection, and thus eviscerates the force of Camus’ analysis. (For an extensive discussion on these issues, see my “Camus: A Critical Examination.)

Review of Robert Zaretsky’s A Life Worth Living — Belknap Press of Harvard University: Cambridge, MA 2013

 

Courses on “What Must We Do Now,” and on the Thought of Albert Camus

Hutton House Course proposals for Fall 2015

Hutton House is a nationally recognized adult education program at LIU/Post, in Brookville, Long Island. For information, contact its Director, Kay Sato, at kay.sato@liu.edu.

WHAT MUST WE DO NOW.

For those who are concerned about the current direction of American society, this two part course will analyze the roots of our current crises and then seek to present a vision, strategies, and a practical program of economic, social and political reconstruction. We will draw upon actual theories and programs that, though “under the radar” of public attention, are currently challenging traditional economics and politics, and can even be locally initiated.

Two sessions — on Wed., September 16 & 23, from 1-3pm

AN EXPLORATION OF THE THOUGHT AND LIFE OF ALBERT CAMUS

As the Western World is now seeing a revival of interest in the work of this Nobel Prize recipient, it would seem an appropriate time to explore the contemporary relevance of his life and thought. We will focus on his major works — The Stranger, The Plague, The Fall, and The Rebel — as they develop the key stages of his thought. In addition to exploring his concepts of “the absurd,” and “revolt”, we will consider his personal roots, as set forth in his uncompleted fictionalized autobiography, The First Man, the manuscript that was found with his body at the time of his tragic death. The frame for this discussion is provided by the comprehensive study of his work that is found in my “Camus: A Critical Examination.”

Five sessions, on Wednesdays from September 30 – October 28 from 1-3pm.

Dr. David Sprintzen. Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at LIU Post. Founder and officer of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, and an officer with LI Jobs with Justice and Citizen Action of New York. Author of books on Albert Camus and American Philosophy, and numerous articles on contemporary society.