Piet Mondrian, Night Landscape c.1907-1908
The heroes of Albert Camus’s books can be quite annoying: surly, self-dramatising Hamlets who like to think of themselves as strong, silent loners, wise to human folly. But although they are often arrogant, self-absorbed and predictable, they are also susceptible to the weather, and happy to be upstaged by unseasonable storms, torpid nights, fierce sunlight, or the chance of a swim in the limpid sea.
This persona first appeared in a collection of experimental stories called L’Envers et l’endroit, published in Algiers in 1937. Camus was 24, and already a virtuoso, his prose at once spare and musical. It was a style with a definite purpose: to track down the ‘irony’ that stalks the world, often unnoticed but always plain to see. He discovers it in a hotel in Prague when somebody dies in a neighbouring room, or facing the inhuman beauty of Italy, or observing a dying grandmother and her inattentive family in Algeria. He is always alert to ‘absurdity’, as he calls it; but then something will bring him up short. ‘Just look,’ he says, ‘just look at the smile of the sky.’
When the book was reissued twenty years later, Camus added a preface recalling his childhood. He was born in 1913, to an illiterate, fatherless family on a working-class estate in eastern Algeria. ‘I was poised midway between poverty and sunshine,’ he wrote, and it wasn’t until he saw what it was like to live in a cold climate that he understood social injustice. Poverty was proof that history is unfair: the sun was a reminder that ‘history is not everything.’Jonathan Rée reviews ‘Camus and Sartre’ by Ronald Aronson · LRB 20 January 2005
Ever get a salty swig of seawater in your mouth when you’re at the beach? Well this is what was in it. Check out this amazing photo of a single drop of seawater, magnified 25 times. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Photo by David Littschwager.