Pellucid Prose

“Two thirsts that cannot be long neglected if all one’s being is not to dry up, the thirst to love and the thirst to admire. For there is only misfortune in not being loved; there is misery in not loving.” – Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa

Lyrical and Critical Essays by Camus, translated by Ellen Conroy Kennedy, is a book that sheds a limpid, lovely light on the world. Camus, the “sad and pessimistic” philosopher is really not after all, as anyone who has read The Myth of Sisyphus can attest. The first half of this book is comprised of lyrical essays on travel. Camus’ ability to recover one’s deepest feeling of love and admiration for the environment, city or country, is unsurpassed. In particular his love of Algiers expresses a universal passion of place that strikes the core:

When Algeria is concerned, I am always afraid to pluck the inner cord it touches in me, whose blind and serious song I know so well…No, you must certainly not go there if you have a lukewarm heart of if your soul is weak and weary! But for those who know what it is to be torn between yes and no, between noon and midnight, between revolt and love…a flame lies waiting in Algeria.” – A Short Guide to Towns Without a Past

The effect that Camus’ writing has is to reawaken a passionate love of love and passion. As he writes, “It is futile to weep over the mind,” and “Too many people confuse tragedy with despair. ‘Tragedy,’ Lawrence said, ‘ought to be a great kick at misery.'” Of course my heart always perks up at any mention of D.H.Lawrence, but the point is – the absurdity of pertinacious pessimism. We can despair at the state of the world only when we truly love the world simultaneously. If all of one’s sensibilities are dead – that is tragedy.

The second half of the book consists of critical essays and interviews. One of the books Camus critiques is Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone. I happened to read this book a few years ago right after I read The Stranger, and was well into it when I noticed the back cover describing it as a book considered as a trio of sorts along with 1984 and The Stranger. I had inadvertently read them all back to back and taken as a group there is much to consider about the state of the world then and now. What authors such as Orwell, Camus and Silone try to tell us, warn us, remind us of…is the preciousness of feelingBread and Wine is a wonderful book in its own right as a novel with an anti-fascist heart that breathes with a humanitarian’s sorrowful love of the world.

“The anguish that grips the Italian revolutionary is precisely what gives Silone’s book its bitterness and somber brilliance.” – On Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine

For Camus, the beauty of the world is what holds us to it. Although he grew up in poverty, he acknowledges his advantage of spending those years under the sky of the magnificent Mediterranean sun. As an adult he sees with perfect clarity that poverty is never as debilitating as when it is accompanied by a lack of beauty, “Everything must be done so that men can escape from the double humilation of poverty and ugliness.”  

Most of the essays in this book were written at the inception of Camus’ career as a young man, but this edition compiled in 1958, proves the inspiring passion and simple truth of his philosophy. It shines through, and remains –  true.

“Once you have had the chance to love intensely, your life is spent in search of the same light and the same ardor. To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one’s self exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack.”  – Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa

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