Opinions & ViewsnTo Think Despair and Live HopenHerbert R. Lottman: Albert Camus;nDoubleday & Co.; New York.nby Stephen L. TannernIf they only knew who I really was,”nCamus once remarked to his secretarynand confidante. He was not an easy mannto understand. In fact, he has been muchnmisunderstood and his writings misconstrued.nFor example, though he firmlynand repeatedly insisted he was not annexistentialist, he remains, apparentlyninalterably, categorized as an existentialistnof the Sartre variety. Some considernhim primarily a moral philosopher;nothers insist he was above all a literarynartist. His name is almost synonymousnwith pessimism, yet in 1957 when henreceived the Nobel Prize for literaturenhe called himself “an irradicable optimist.”nCommunist philosophers havencalled him a reactionary, and reactionariesnhave said he was a communist.nAtheists have accused him of a disguisednChristianity, while Christians have deplorednhis atheism. His books have alwaysnevoked strikingly contradictorynresponses and interpretations. Just anfew years before his death, he admitted,n”To tell the truth I haven’t managed tonwork out my own internal contradictions.”nOne picks up this massive biography,nCamus’s first, with the hope of resolvingnsome of these contradictions. Butneven after nearly 700 pages of facts andninformation, Camus—the inner man—nremains elusive and ambiguous. Lottmannhas been ambitious and comprehensivenin his research of biographicalnfacts, but he is often indiscriminate innselection. Here is a characteristic sample.nHe provides a description andnhistorical summary since the 13thncentury of the village near which Camusndied in a high speed automobile accident,nStephen Tanner is Professor of Englishnat Brigham Young University.n6nChronicles of Culturenand such gratuitous detail blurs emergingnpatterns of attitudes and behavior.nAnd since Lottman chose not to offernany analysis of Camus’s writings, confiningnhimself to a few quotations fromnothers, the mind of Camus—the objectnof greatest interest and importance—isnonly faintly revealed. This book willnundoubtedly be a standard source fornbiographical information, but it doesnlittle to illuminate Camus’s contributionnto 20th-century thought.nAnd that contribution has been significantnand problematical. To a bewilderedngeneration disoriented by repeatedndestructive wars, the acceleratedngrowth of mass society, unparallelednadvances in technology, and a lack ofncommon standards or agreed values,nCamus’s work provided an ethics, ankind of philosophical stance. His conceptnof the absurd offered a category in whichnlogical, psychological, philosophical andneven social and political difficultiesncould be encapsulated. It offered a rationalenfor enjoying life even in thenpresence of death. It was really neitherna revolutionary nor a particularly moralnmessage, but it was singularly attractivenand exhilarating to a whole generationnthat was pleased to see it as revolutionarynand moral. Here was an ethics basednon revolt, not acquiescence; a hard ethicsnwithout transcendental illusions,nyet imbued with compassion andnaesthetic excitement and proffering thenhope of humanitarian revival. Camusnwas considered a lay saint and a kind ofncult was spawned by his work, specificallynthat of his early, absurd period.nHe remains a darling of Liberal Culture,nwhich views his work as a notablenexpression of the Western moral conscience.nDissenters in our society havensporadically hailed him, together withnHerbert Marcuse, as one of their forerunners.nAll of this says more about thensuperficial reading habits of many ofnCamus’s admirers than it does aboutnwhat Camus actually wrote.nnnJ. wo basic intellectual conceptsnunderlie Camus’s writing: the absurdnand revolt. The second is less understoodnthan the first, but even the firstnis often imperfectly understood. Camusndoes not offer nihilism. He makes itnclear in the preface to The Myth ofnSisyphus, the book that spells out thentheory of the absurd and describes thenabsurd man, that his commentary isnprovisional. To accept the absurditynof everything around us was for him anstep, a necessary starting point. It mustnnot become an impasse. Some of hisnimperceptive admirers fail to understandnthis. Ultimately, Camus assertsnthat life has value and meaning evennwhen it appears most devoid of them,nand he tries to repudiate the implicationsnof his vision of the absurd. Thenproblem is that he counters that vision,nso forcefully portrayed in works likenThe Stranger, only with abstract arguments.nAnd because he is intellectuallynhonest and rigorous the arguments arennot glib. Readers come from his booksnmore impressed with the despair andnnihilism than with the counterarguments.nEven when his thinking passednbeyond the absurd, he retained the negativencast of mind engendered by hisnencounter with it. The act of faith (innhis case not faith in God) required tonlive and find happiness is rarely madenconvincing in his imaginative work.nThe absurd and its spirit of radicalnnegation provide a temptation to whichnLiberal Culture is prone: to mistakenintensity of sensation (a means of beingnconfirmed in one’s own existence) fornthe rhythm and warmth of life.nLottman provides a clue for explainingnwhy Camus is misinterpreted whennhe says, “an author’s work is chronological….nThe heart of an artist is a battlefield,nhis books being successive imagesnof that battle.” This notion, incidentally,nwas shared by Camus himself, who believednthat a writer’s individual worksn