Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Gopnik about Camus

A entrevista retirada da Newyorker

The New Yorker: 
Adam Gopnik will be joining us in just a few minutes. For now, please submit your questions.
3:00
Adam Gopnik: 
Hello everyone. It's a pleasure to be back doing this. Questions have already come in, all of them intimidatingly deep and demanding. So please forgive me if I don't get to yours; take is a compliment to your depth and my superficiality.
3:01
Comment From Edward 
A lot of people find "The Myth of Sisyphus" to be elegantly written but philosophically very difficult - Camus's ultimate note of hope/happiness/contentment at the end has struck some as completely unjustified given the rest of his discussion (Susan Sontag comes to mind). Does Myth have many apologists in the modern philosophical community?
3:03
Adam Gopnik: 
I don't know if it has apologists; it certainly has admirers, me among them. What I would say is that it isn't exactly a note of "hope" that Camus arrives at; more a note of acceptance. You recall that very parallel moment in Beckett? " I can't go on/I'll go on" " We can't go on/We'll go on." That's not hope -- more just the truth about how we do go on, and I think that's what Camus is after. Sisyphus isn't ever going to get the boulder up the hill, but nor are we ever going to justify our lives. We just have to live them.
3:03
Comment From Jason Jones 
You mention a few times in regards to Sartre about a disdain from Anglo commentators. Though you mention Judt by name, isn't that pretty much par for the course with Continental philosophy in general, even with the sort of thaw we've seen in the last decade or so?
3:04
Adam Gopnik: 
Well, yes -- and , having been brought up by Anglo-American (Canadian) academics, I shared some of that disdain. What's magnificent in Camus is that he sees the problems of the world very much through the lens of Continental philosophy -- questions of being, time, existence, rather than of language and knowledge -- but manages to arrive at simple liberal truths that would have pleased Mill and Hume. He bridges two worlds by intuition, more than by intent.
3:04
Comment From Guest 
On the one hand, the Internet promotes connectivity, but on the other, it overflows all channels with a sea of irrelevant information. What would Camus say to the artist and the thinker that wants to matter if his/her voice will get drowned in this noise, which on top of it all, is constantly refreshing itself?
3:06
Adam Gopnik: 
Camus valued silence, and above all he valued slowness -- the capacity of the writer to take apart an issue rather than just being provoked by it towards another provocation. That's the great virtue of his editorial writing in the forties; he was one of the few non-hysterical writers in France, even though he began by writing clandestinely. The Internet, alas, is no friend to slowness -- I suspect that, more than its omnipresence, is what would have troubled Camus about it. On the other hand, it is ideal for the kind of compressed, short form writing that he reveled in.
3:07
Comment From Leon 
Hello Adam Gopnik. Welcome to the live chat! I am very glad to see you here. Please let us know how long it took you to research the life of Albert Camus and what unusual facts from Camus life did you discover?
3:08
Adam Gopnik: 
I've been a reader, and lover , of Camus since my own first exposure to him -- in high school, of course! -- when we read "The Plague" (which I foolishly failed to discuss in the piece.) It was during my years in Paris, though, that I came to love his notebooks, "Carnets", which seemed to me then a reservoir of calm common sense dressed up, beautifully, as deep uncommon reflection. I've been waiting for a chance to write about him since then, and , with the publication of Catherine Camus and Orfay's new books, finally seized on one.
3:08
Comment From Guest 
Given Camus' adamant claims that the purpose of an artist is not to explain the world, but simply hold up a mirror to it (Myth of Sisyphus), how do we view the swimming scene with Rieux and Tarrou (The Plague), where the philosophy of "mankind's plague" is explained in detail?
3:09
Adam Gopnik: 
One of Camus occasional weaknesses was for the over-didactic fictional scene. I fear that that was one of them.
3:09
Comment From François Fonlac 
The main topic in Albert Camus' work is the absurd. According to him the good attitude in front of the absurd has not to be pure negativity but to understand that absurd give birth to a profound insatisfaction which can awake human being. This insatisfaction is able to give birth to actions, and arouse passions, joys and his mission as a writer is to try to give an expression, a color, an illustration to the conquests of the absurd. Don't you think that absurd is back today in full speed and that this newspapers is giving to us every day a glimpse of rational irrationality on the absurd. In treating the absurdity of an electoral campaign for example on the same footage and in the same spirit than Camus. And don't you think that yourself as a journalist and as a writer place your work in the continuity of Albert Camus and under his wings?
3:11
Adam Gopnik: 
Yes, the absurd in our time does seem to have migrated, at least a little , from the world of war and occupation to the seemingly more trivial worlds of elections, media, etc. A follower? I do find Camus an inspiration for the notion that one can try and write journalism about the Big Questions, and also that one must search for a patient tone in an impatient world.
3:12
Comment From Jason G 
Can you give us a better picture of Camus as the man, not the artist? I know the two were so inextricably linked for him, but what was he like to friends and family?
3:14
Adam Gopnik: 
good and complex question...I'd say that if we'd known Camus we would have found him more remote, more removed from the daily run, that we might have expected or quite liked. He was one of those people whose moral force, so to speak, runs through their whole presence -- that's why I began talking about the seemingly trivial question of his appearance. Certainly, Sartre and Beauvoir and the rest were all impressed by his equipoise, his inner balance, a rare gift. But men of balance are often men who have to keep the balance by a lot of inner work: I don't know that I would have wanted to be his child, or his lover. He knew how to keep his distance.
3:14
Comment From Ben 
Who among modern thinkers channels that same aura of mystique and mystery often ascribed to Camus? Has the looming, forceful intellectual figure been replaced by the donnish, eggheaded academic?
3:17
Adam Gopnik: 
It's certainly interesting that the next generation of French writers who mattered to Americans were, almost without exception, intellectuals properly-so-called, or at least academics and-no-help-for it. Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva -- I don't know if they're donnish exactly, but certainly egg-headed. The idea of the journalist as a man of primary intellectual action seems to be vanishing , even in France, where the idea that a journalist with many opinions can be called a philosopher is one that appeals to me, for obvious reasons. It's one of the things that Camus has in common with his good friend, A.J. Liebling, a local hero here, who we don't think of as a philosopher exactly, though he was.
3:17
Comment From Amy 
Camus's philosophy seems to one of attitude. He wants us to have the right attitude to the absurd. Isn't this impossible? How can anyone control his attitude to something? Camus seems to be supposing an extremely free will, in that we can will our attitude. Our do I have it wrong?
3:18
Adam Gopnik: 
No, I think you're on to something. Camus's is a philosophy of attitude more than argument -- for him, life's questions are often questions of poise, and even of pose. And yes, his belief in 'free will' is rooted in his belief in our ability to will our attitude. Like the Green Lantern making wells and bridges and trains from the green stuff of will. Camus would have loved that comic.
3:19
Comment From Mark Ratledge 
Adam, How do we as readers (and philosophers, too) deal with what is missing or what has changed as a result of translations from French? (Or do we accept this lacking as an absurdity of the impossibility of translation?) And did Camus' Algerian roots result in his use of different vocabulary than say, a Parisian? cheers, Mark
3:21
Adam Gopnik: 
One of the things that's interesting/frustrating about writing about Camus is that the authority of his voice -- that poise-pose business -- is hard to get entirely in English. He writes a classical, abstract kind of French aphorism that can seem merely fatuous in crisper English. I actually had to translate a couple of them myself to give them what I thought was the right spin. ALgerian roots? Good question; I think there may be a slightly archaic tone to his French, compared to Sartre's, that may have something to do with his provincial education. (Cf,perhaps, Beckett's slightly archaic Irish-English.)
3:21
Comment From Andrew 
How would you compare and contrast Camus and Orwell?
3:23
Adam Gopnik: 
It's a natural juxtaposition, isn't it? Though I admire moments and passages in Orwell, his novels seem a bit parched, small , to me compared to Camus' , and he's a model of the sharp, "Roundhead", no-nonsense English style, where clarity is everything, whereas Camus is a model of the rounded, " Pascalian" enigmatic-evocative French style, where lucidity, a different thing, is all that counts (What's the difference? Clarity is instantly understood; lucidity is more slowly harvested, with pleasure, by the reader.)
3:23
Comment From James 
What do you believe to be the future of the public intellectual?
3:26
Adam Gopnik: 
I think that one of the things that's admirable about Camus is that he wasn't a P.I -- funny isn't it, how those two great inventions of the Forties, the Public Intellectual and the Private Investigator, the Bogart of Letters and the Bogart of the movies , both reduce to the same acronym?-- anyway, I think that Camus somehow managed to sound private even when he was being public. It was one of his goals. I don't think we need more, or any, public intellectuals; every pundit on Sunday morning is one of those. What we need is more private scholars, people who do the work of the mind without needing an academic affiliation, with its inevitable hobby-horsing and theoretical trendiness.
3:26
Comment From Katy 
I think that archaic tone is also related to the ex-colonies' concept of being "civilized." After the French left, it seems like there was a strong desire not to slip back into an "uncivilized" state, and the continuance of French education and careful language and pronunciation all find their root in this fear of being seen as barbaric.
3:26
Adam Gopnik: 
Good point
3:26
Comment From David C. 
What advice do you think Camus would give to someone living in our modern, hyper-connected society (at least in the U.S.)? Thanks.
3:28
Adam Gopnik: 
Camus loved the US -- and New York especially. It was critical, judicious love, but love all the same. He liked the hyper-connection that was already visible: radios, and movies and magazines...there's a lovely thing in Camus where he refers to New York as the "city of the three rivers" -- I've always wondered, which did he think of as the third, after the Hudson and East. The Harlem? I don't think any New Yorker would think of this city as the City of the Three Rivers. It's the kind of thing only a visitor would think of. All of us visitors to other cities write, I think, from an island in that third river.
3:28
Comment From Jason G 
If that terrible car accident hadn't happened, what do you think might have occurred in the rest of Camus' life (aside from win the Nobel Prize)? Do you have any indication of whether he was moving to a different philosophical emphasis or style in his writing?
3:30
Adam Gopnik: 
We always like to think that our heroes harvested too soon would have gone on to amaze us in some new way. But the sad truth is that we all have our sell-by date, and not every great writer (or great anything) has a second act. I was talking to my guitar-loving son about Jimi Hendrix last night, and about how tragic it is that he died after, really, only four years of recorded work -- but, you know, the truth is that had Hendrix lived he might well be an old guy playing " Little WIng" on acoustic at the Grammys for the eight thousandth time. Camus might have been like that, too.
3:30
Comment From Ken S 
Re: the public intellectual and your comment, I'm reminded of your powerful 2004 piece Last of the Metrozoids, in which you paralleled Kirk Varnedoe's important final public lectures and his teaching of young football players. The intellectual as teacher, for each of us, no other adjective needed, no? Still the most meaningful text about the essence of teaching I've read / tried to internalize.
3:30
Adam Gopnik: 
thanks.
3:31
Comment From Alyssa 
What does the last sentence of The Stranger mean to you? ("For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.")
3:31
Adam Gopnik: 
I think that it means that any connection is better than no connection at all, which is the disease the "hero" suffers from. Not sure if it's true, but that I think is the thought.
3:32
Comment From Edward 
I found your discussion of Camus's mistrust of those who thought that people should, if necessary, be sacrificed for the achievement of a utopian world. Recently, I've heard some Singularity believers verge on this sort of rhetoric - that we should all be engineers and contribute to the achievement of AI/immortality. You wrote a column about AI earlier this year. Is this a poor parallel? If not, would Camus have been as skeptical of this desire for a utopian society as those present in his day?
3:33
Adam Gopnik: 
Yes, indeed --we do seem to have traveled from political Utopianism, Camus' bete-noire, toward technological Utopianism. All those people who say that Twitter will change the world for good and all. I think Camus, yes, would have been deeply skeptical of that notion.
3:33
Comment From Adam R. 
Camus’ L’Etranger is probably his most read work, particularly in high schools. I often wonder whether it is the best choice… Meursault is not a conscious hero like Sisyphus or the 'Captain in the Growing Stone. Would you choose a different work to introduce Camus to students?
3:34
Adam Gopnik: 
As I said, I read " The Plague" first in High School , and though it's a little schematic, too allegorical , it's a better introduction to his work. As I say in the piece, for me the greatest Camus is the Camus of the journalism and notebooks. I'd start there.
3:34
Comment From Jeremy S 
Camus wrote that The Myth was essentially about suicide and that The Rebel was essentially about murder. Why was death such a central theme fro Camus, and how exactly did he say we should respond to it?
3:36
Adam Gopnik: 
Well, death was his central theme because he thought it was the central question. If we're mortal, and we are, what is the sense of thinking in terms of accomplishment, improvement, the better future, and all the other fatuous -seeming cliches of Progressivism, either in its liberal or Communist incarnation? His answer was, basically, because any other choice makes an absurd life ridiculous; choosing to act as though life were not absurd even if it is at least makes an absurd life tolerable, and maybe helpful to others in absurdities worse even than our own.
3:36
Comment From Yale Camus Seminar 
Hi Adam, This is Alice Kaplan's Camus Seminar. We have a comment on translation for you. In "Letter to an Algerian Militant," published in 1955, the "Algeria is the cause of my suffering at present as others might say their chest is the cause of their suffering." But the French reads, "J'ai mal à l'Algérie comme d'autres ont mal aux poumons"! Thoughts?
3:37
Adam Gopnik: 
Hey there -- nice to be in touch with the higher learning! Yes, I think in the original French Camus was registering something far more intense -- especially when you think that his history of tuberculosis had ended his beloved soccer career -- than mere " chestal" suffering. He means that he feels Algeria as intensely as consumption. You're right if you're implying that more than a little is lost in translation.
3:38
Comment From Jason G 
Was there a personality/character aspect to the continued disagreements between Camus and Sartre, philosophy aside? Camus strikes my mind's eye as quiet and aloof, while I picture Sartre as gruff and out-spoken.
3:40
Adam Gopnik: 
yes . indeed-- there was, as I say,t he classic plain man/handsome man division between them, that between the man for whom love comes easy and the one for whom it comes hard. And Sartre was, I would think, a pugnacious and able arguer, where Camus was not, or not quite in that way. The curious thing is that, for all of the attitudes of Sartre's that we find obnoxious now, the people who were closest to him didn't find him that way. Claude Lanzmann , in his new autobiography, still writes admiringly and even lovingly of Sartre, even though the cause of Israel, dear to CL's heart, was treated disdainfully by JPS. I think Sartre was one of those people whose mind was open to terrible ideas and good ones; one's own mind was sharpened in his company, even if it was by rubbing up against the roughest parts.
3:41
Comment From James 
on that note, Camus was sympathetic to the Algerian cause, but what was his desire for Algeria
3:41
Adam Gopnik: 
I think he wanted an Algeria that would be free, "multi-cultural", tolerant and Republican. What we all should want for everywhere.
3:41
Adam Gopnik: 
Republican, I mean, of course, in the French sense.
3:41
Comment From Yale Camus Seminar 
Thanks, Adam! We are debating other translations; we'll get back to you next week. We do have another question for you: What do you think Camus can teach other writers, in your opinion?
3:42
Adam Gopnik: 
One obvious thing and one surprising thing. The obvious thing -- to write sincerely and not be afraid of seeming insufficently subtle about the big questions. Right and wrong are often as plain as the nose, or nez, on your face. The surprising thing: that journalism can take a bigger alloy of philosophy , and still be cherished by its readers, than many editors imagine.
3:42
Comment From René 
why is my question not being answered??????
3:43
Adam Gopnik: 
What was it again?
3:43
Comment From René 
The 2010 Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa has always declared being a fan of Camus, my question is: Was Camus fluent in the spanish language, to the point of translating pieces of Spanish Literature? And was he also a fan of soccer?
3:44
Adam Gopnik: 
Oh, here it is -- I don't know about Camus and Spanish. I doubt that he was fully fluent. On soccer -- he loved the sport, and played goal keeper on a very good Algerian lycee team. A missed career.
3:44
Comment From Sreemanti Sengupta 
He reinds me of Shakespeare's Fool. Any thoughts?
3:44
Adam Gopnik: 
Hadn't thought of him quite that way, but , yes, he said the simple, arresting thing that turned out to be often the deeper truth than the storming hero knows.
3:44
Comment From Alyssa 
In what ways does Camus' absurdism differ from nihilism?
3:45
Adam Gopnik: 
Because he thinks that Sisyphus, all of us, should keep rolling that stone up hill , instead of just sitting down and letting it roll over us.
3:45
Comment From Brendan May 
What effect do you think Camus’s love and aptitude for sports had on his philosophical thinking? For a man who believed that one has to live an inherently absurd life as though it were not absurd, would a game of soccer merely be a way to distract oneself from this? Or would it have a more meaningful role?
3:47
Adam Gopnik: 
Camus' life as a sportsman was altered by his illness-- but ,you know, I do think that those who find deep satisfaction in sports as a younger man or woman never quite lose that sense of , what, instant-allness, that sports provide-- that sense that the lived moment is more important than the considered plan. Goalkeepers can't make plans on how to stop a shot; they live by instinct and elan, as Camus thought we should live our lives. Goals will get by, but we get up and try and stop the next one...hadn't thought of it before, but in a way the goalkeeper is a better image of Camus ideal man than Sisyphus is.
3:47
Comment From Jason 
Since the French elections are coming soon - do you think Camus, if still alive, would support Francois Hollande and the Socialist party?
3:48
Adam Gopnik: 
I suspect so -- certainly the best side of French Socialism , its care for "solidarity" and the common worker, would have appealed to him. He was, of course, a contemporary of Mendes-France, and Hollande is hardly of that timbre. (But then I don't suppose that Sarkozy is exactly of DeGaulle's timbre ,either.)
3:49
Comment From Jem Wierenga 
Re: Optimism discussed earlier and Absurdity just mentioned - do you think Camus believed we should simply be "choosing to act as though life were not absurd" to make it tolerable? I've always read his work believing he actually found pride and a sort of magnificence or triumph in resisting the seduction of apathy. It almost feels positive (in a neener-neener sort of way).
3:50
Adam Gopnik: 
Yes. He thought that apathy, or the alienation described in The Stranger so well, were the wrong responses to the absurd.
3:50
Comment From Graham 
Hi Adam, just to say how interesting, thanks, and no problem about not answering my questions! I'm new to Camus, studying at Birkbeck in London. He has me thinking! Which I'm sure was his intention.
3:50
Adam Gopnik: 
Has me thinking, too, and always has.
3:51
Comment From Edward 
I've heard that David Foster Wallace's college professor said of him: "I thought he was a philosopher with a fiction problem, but it turns out he was a fiction writer with a philosophy problem." Would you consider Camus the opposite - a philosopher with a fiction problem? Or did Camus value fiction as much as he did philosophy? If not, why do you think he chose fiction in the first place?
3:52
Adam Gopnik: 
That's a lovely quote about DFW, as my younger friends, for whom he is what J.D. Salinger was to an earlier (my own) generation. I think he was a writer first of all, if that makes any sense -- and writers fear systematized thought even as they play with it, make fun of the system thought of philosophy even as they flirt with it. DFW is an excellent example.
3:52
Comment From Alyssa 
Are you an absurdist?
3:53
Adam Gopnik: 
My children will tell you that I am absurd. Whether it rises to the level of a committment, I'm not sure.
3:53
Comment From James 
"Great novelists are philosopher-novelists who write in images instead of arguments."
3:53
Adam Gopnik: 
Yes.
3:53
Comment From Kenny P 
Was Camus a pacifist?
3:53
Adam Gopnik: 
No, I don't think you could call him that. He lived through the war, and saw the necessity of confronting evil with violence when one must.
3:54
Comment From afaf 
His mother was Spanish and he knew the language well.
3:54
Adam Gopnik: 
Yes. of course.
3:54
Comment From Yoli M. 
Any contemporary fictions writers you would recommend reading that channel Camus?
3:55
Adam Gopnik: 
Fine question...I think that Andre Glucksmann , in France, has much of his aphoristic intensity and total commitment to what we can only call humanism; and Paul Berman, here, has something like his complete independence of mind.
3:55
Comment From Jason 
What is the least-well-known essay/piece of Camus' that you recommend we look at?
3:56
Adam Gopnik: 
As I say in the little biblio. blog I posted, for me his editorial work, published as "Camus At Combat" are still not well enough known, and sublime of their kind.
3:56
Comment From Harvetta 
I read " his mother was mute and he had no mother tongue" (Assia Djebar).
3:56
Adam Gopnik: 
French was his mother tongue, even if not his mother's tongue.
3:56
Comment From liz2 
coming in very late here, ddidn't he support French Algeria?
3:57
Adam Gopnik: 
A little more complex than that. Yes, he thought that blind support of Algerian independence overlooked the human rights and needs of the 'pieds noirs'. No , he didn't think that colonialism was justified.
3:57
Comment From Anji 
Did Camus believe in a God?
3:58
Adam Gopnik: 
I think that Camus believed that the world had dignity, or could be made to have it, even if not purpose. Whether this can be called a religious belief, much less a belief in God -- and whether it could survive the true horrors of his time ( I just finished a book last night on the Nazi invasion of Russia) I don't pretend to know.
3:59
Comment From Adam R. 
Should Camus' absurdist hero be reactionary (like the goalie you describe) or more contemplative/ thoughtful? Where do you think Camus would find/define the balance between thinking about life and living (he was evidently a great thinker, but also enjoyed nature/ the ephemeral) ?
3:59
Adam Gopnik: 
Contemplative, certainly,a s a goalkeeper is contemplative -- he spends about eighty eight minutes in every game contemplating -- but alert to action,too, when life demands it.
4:00
Comment From Sarah K. 
What do you think of Camus's last, often critiqued as problematic, novel The Fall and the idea of judgment?


4:00
Adam Gopnik: 
I think that it is , unoriginally, problematic.. which suggests that Camus' frequent silence in his last years may have had some causes beyond Algeria. He had said a lot, and it may be , even , that he had said what he had been -- can we put it this way? -- created to say.
4:03
Adam Gopnik: 
I see we've come to the end of our time. Apologies to all of you who wrote and didn't get an answer --- though surely there is something rather Camusian in that! The unaswered question is a Camus-totem. It was my inability to probe deep enough, not your inability to ask something pertinent enough, that kept me silent. Thanks for joining this; it's kind of overwhelming, how much you came to ask, and how deeply you've thought about a man and mind dead now these more than fifty years. Thanks again. A.G.
4:04
The New Yorker: 
Thanks to readers, and thank you, Adam Gopnik!
4:04


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