November 7, 2009
In a 1945 essay, the French-Jewish author, philosopher, and journalist ALBERT CAMUS (1913-60) asked, “What is a man who revolts?” His answer: “First of all, it’s a man who says no. But if he refuses, he does not only renounce something, he is also saying yes.” If it’s at all possible to articulate the disposition that we’ve dubbed HiLobrow, then this hardboiled, self-contradicting aphorism might do the trick; and Camus himself was a nay-sayer and dissenter who nevertheless affirmed his fervent beliefs and engaged with issues of the day. Though his editorship of the wartime journal Combat made him a symbol of the French Resistance, he resigned after the war because he mistrusted mass politics. He was lumped in with nobrow contemporaries similarly hostile to a priori conceptions, yet he fell out with the Surrealists and the Existentialists because he regarded their romanticism as deluded. Camus pissed everyone off: the Nietzschean, neo-aristocratic themes of his 1951 philosophical treatise, The Rebel (which should be required reading for would-be hilobrows), upset his progressive comrades; meanwhile, the heroic absurdism of The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and fictions such as The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947), offered no purchase to Cold War proto-neocons. An anarchist sympathizer, Camus renounced dehumanizing worldviews, whether fascist, socialist, or capitalist-triumphalist. Yet he remained a utopian thinker who, in 1947, around the time that he fell in with a dispersed Argonaut Folly (whose members included George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, and Simone Weil in absentia) eccentrically orbiting Dwight Macdonald’s magazine Politics, declared that “We must all of us create outside of parties and governments communities of thought which will inaugurate a dialogue across the boundaries of nations; the members of these communities should affirm through their lives and their words that this world must cease to be a world of policemen, of soldiers and of money, and become a world for man and woman, of fruitful work and reflective leisure.” Can I get an AMEN, somebody?
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