Albert Camus's 1957 work shows his outrage over the suffering of Algeria's Arab and Berber populations.
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"Algerian Chronicles" may have suffered the fate of being published at a time when those who most needed to hear what it had to say were entirely unable to read it with an open mind. It is possible that, now that some decades have passed, it will find a second life.Skip to next paragraph
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We Americans would be well advised to pay it serious attention. After more than a decade in which the United States has chosen to respond to the specter of lawless terrorism with forms of violence some have regarded as state-sanctioned terrorism – years during which, as in the Algerian war, the violence inflicted by each side has been used to justify the violence inflicted by the other, and during which the use of torture by American military and security forces has been not only condoned but applauded by a large segment of the American citizenry – Camus's reflections on these subjects seem to address us directly:
The reprisals against the civilian population of Algeria and the use of torture against the rebels are crimes for which we all bear a share of responsibility. That we have been able to do such things is a humiliating reality that we must henceforth face. Meanwhile, we must refuse to justify these methods on any grounds whatsoever, including effectiveness. Once one begins to justify them, even indirectly, no rules or values remain.
If nothing else, "Algerian Chronicles" brings us closer to Camus the man. Like Camus's other posthumously published writings – the unfinished novel "The First Man" in particular – it helps to remind us that the question of Algeria loomed in Camus's mind long before it seized the attention of France as a whole and that it first appeared there not as a political question, nor even as a question of identity (assuming that those two can be meaningfully distinguished), but as a sensual reality, a place whose sounds, smells, and landscapes remained with Camus throughout his life. Camus's feeling of doubleness and isolation, his sense of being a "stranger" in French society, stem from the dual reality of being both French and Algerian, a duality that would have been difficult to reconcile even if he had not lived during a time when the communities in which these identities were grounded were in such prolonged and violent contention with each other.
"For Algeria," he once wrote, "I have unbridled passion and I surrender to the pleasure of loving: Can one love a country like a woman?" But Algeria was, for Camus, not only the beloved and elusive Other. It was an aspect of the self, not only mentally and emotionally but physically, so that he felt, quite literally, that the struggles that were taking place there were tearing him apart.
"Believe me," he wrote to a friend during these years, "when I tell you that Algeria is where I hurt at this moment, as others feel pain in their lungs."
Troy Jollimore is Associate Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Chico. His most recent books are Love's Vision and At Lake Scugog: Poems, both from Princeton University Press.