Albert Camus is often associated with the word “existentialism”. But Camus himself never wanted to be labelled. Instead he is said to have wanted to be remembered as a thinker in his own right, rather than a follower of any kind of ideology.
Born in Algeria, Camus grew up in very poor circumstances. He was eventually accepted into school and even the University of Algiers. He studied part time and worked odd jobs, and eventually in 1935, joined the French Communist Party. From there he went on to be associated with the French anarchist movement, and to write for anarchist publications. During this time, he was one of the few French editors to openly express opposition towards the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. It was in the years after this, around 1947, that Camus met and became friends with Jean-Paul Sartre.
In 1951, Camus published his first philosophical analysis of rebellion and revolution, “The Rebel”. It was in this work that he made absolutely clear that he rejected communism. The Rebel wasn’t well received in the left-wing literary community, and eventually led to his split with Sartre. Depressed by how badly his work had been received, Camus started translating plays instead.
But he was to accomplish great philosophical works again. His first major contribution to philosophy was the idea of the absurd. He explained the absurd as the result of our desire for clarity and meaning within a world and conditions that offers neither. He explained this in “The Myth of Sisyphus” and later in other works such as “The Stranger” and “The Plague”. The Stranger (L’Étranger) is to this date one of the most famous examples of absurdist fiction.
It should be said however that while L’Étranger is perhaps one of the most famous examples of absurdist fiction, Camus was not the originator of “absurdism”, and he never liked the reference to himself as a philosopher of such. In fact, after he published The Myth of Sisyphus he didn’t really show any more interest in absurdism.
In the 1950’s Camus decided to devote more of his time and efforts to human rights. He openly criticized the UN’s acceptance of Franco’s Spain, but he also got involved in plenty of other issues around the world. Camus during this time also continued to maintain pacifism and resistance to capital punishment all around the world.
Between 1955-1956 Camus wrote for L’Express (France’s first weekly magazine, it was modeled on the American magazine “Time”). Shortly after this, in 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature – for his writings against capital punishment in the essay “Réflexions sur la Guillotine”.
Camus died in a car crash in 1960. After his death, two novels were published – “A Happy Death” and “The First Man”.
Albert Camus - books (novels):
The Stranger (L'Étranger), also known as The Outsider
The Plague (La Peste)
The Fall (La Chute)
A Happy Death (La Mort Heureuse) (published after the death of the author)
The First Man (Le Premier Homme) (incomplete, published after the death of Camus)