I’m here too late: in the day, in the year, in the century . . .
In the day because all the hotels are full and I end up tramping round in the dark, lugging my pack and money (all of it in cash, a great wad of hard currency), nervous of the hoards of youths who watch me meandering round, concentrating so intently on making it look as though I have lived here all my life and know exactly where I am heading that I soon have no idea where I am on the mapless streets of Algiers.
By the time I find a room it is too late to do anything except drag a chair out on to the balcony and gaze down at the still-warm street, the signs. Arabic: it looks like handwritten water, it flows. The characters have no beginning and no end. Even the sign for the Banque Nat-ionale d’Algiers looks like a line of sacred poetry: elongated, stretched out like a horizon of words. It is strangely comforting, looking at an alphabet that is totally incomprehensible, a liberation from the strain of comprehension. Plus there is nothing else to look at, no neon or bars, and nothing to hear. The only sound is of metal shutters coming down—even though, as far as I can see, all the shutters are already down.
I came here because of Camus. Algiers was his city, the place that formed him and sustained him. During one of his first trips abroad, to Prague, he ended up in a hotel like this and "thought desperately of my own town on the shores of the Mediterranean, of the summer evenings that I love so much, so gentle in the green light and full of young and beautiful women."
In bed, drifting on the edge of sleep, I think of November evenings in my own town that I hate so much, London, with its sky of sagging cloud, where all the beautiful women already have boyfriends.
Too late in the year because the seasons Camus celebrates are spring and summer, when even the poorest men walk like Gods beneath the heat-soaked sky.
It was only a few months ago, when I read the three slim volumes of so-called "Lyrical Essays"—Betwixt and Between, Nuptials, and Summer—that I realized how essential these Algerian summers were to an understanding of Camus. Before that I’d been happy to think of him vaguely in terms of Sartre, De Beauvoir, Paris cafés, existentialism, absurdity . . .
Everything that is most important about Camus, though, lies less in what identifies him with these names, these ideas, than in what distinguishes him and separates him from them—and that is the experience of growing up poor in Algiers. Everything that happened subsequently is drenched in this early experience of poverty and sunlight.
What for Camus was a source of strength is, for me, a source of neurosis. He grew up rich in beauty; I grew up under a miserly, penny-pinching sky, in the niggardly light of England where, for three months of the year, it gets dark soon after lunch and for three more it doesn’t bother getting light at all. For Camus the sky was a source of sustenance that he could draw on at will; for me it is a thwarted promise, something yearned for and glimpsed against the odds. Even in Algiers, on this autumn morning, I opened the shutters with trepidation and find an allotment sky, a sky catarrhed with cloud. A shadowless day of loitering rain.
Too late in the century because nothing of the culture celebrated by Camus survives.
Early in the Algerian War Camus tried to achieve a truce that would spare the civilian populations of both sides (a ludicrous proposal, De Beauvoir felt, since this was a war between civilian communities). After the failure of this initiative, and the disappearance of any middle ground between the FLN-led Muslims and the French pieds noirs Camus maintained a besieged neutrality. With the FLN victory of 1962—two years after Camus’s death—there was an immediate exodus of French Algerians and, as I walk the streets, it seems ridiculous to have expected to find any trace of Camus’s Algiers—like an American traveling to England in the hope of finding Dickens’s London. But still, with no other guide, I drift around the city, following the very precise advice he offered in 1947:
The traveler who is still young will also notice that the women there are beautiful. The best place to take full note of this is the Café des Facultés, in the Rue Michelet, in Algiers, on a Sunday morning in April. You can admire them without inhibitions: that is why they are there.
Ten years later the smart cafés of Rue Michelet became prime targets of the FLN’s bombing campaign; now, more than forty years later, on a drizzly Friday morning (the Muslim Sunday) in October, I seek out the Rue Didouche Mourad as it is now called. The café itself is crowded with smoke so I sit outside on a bench. Men in jeans and leather jackets go by, men limping, men lighting cigarettes, veiled women, women in flesh-colored tights, lugging shopping, men in leather jackets. And then, at night, the women disappear completely.
For Camus the beauty of the women was just part of his rapturous celebration of the wealth heaped on the senses here. Nowadays, struggling on in the name of Islamic socialism, Algeria is a place of austerity, one of the few countries on earth where you can’t get Coca-Cola. Instead there is a vile soda, so sweet that drinking a couple of glasses is probably only slightly less bad for your teeth than getting hit in the mouth with a bottle of the stuff. In a restaurant that night—womanless, smoky—I order a beer. It comes in a green bottle and that is the major pleasure it affords. The food—chicken, brochettes, couscous—comes on a plate and half of it stays there.
Back in my hotel—disoriented, bloated with starch, tired—I lie in bed and read Camus’s journal:
There is no pleasure in traveling. It is more an occasion for spiritual testing. If we understand by culture the exercise of our most intimate sense—that of eternity—then we travel for culture.
In the morning tattered clouds are flung across the sky; the bay is flooded with sun. Even wind seems a species of light. My balcony rail casts shadows of Arabic script. Even the ants out on the balcony drag a little side-car of shadow.
Below is a road where cars crawl along on mats of shadow; farther off are two long ranks of primrose-yellow taxis. Standing around, leaning on fenders, smoking and talking, tossing dog-ends into the gutter: this is the real business of a taxi-driver’s life; ferrying people around the city is a leisure-consuming distraction. Behind the taxis is a crowded railway station and, beyond that, the port. Still farther off, the bay curls round and vanishes in mist. A few steamers lounge in the blue water. The sea seems vertical, the ships form a pattern as if on wallpaper.
"Nothing of the culture celebrated by Camus survives"—except, I add now, stepping out into the sun-drenched streets, the light. All over the city are huge building sites where the sun pours into vast craters. It is tempting to think that what is being attempted is some sort of solar-containment, trapping the power of the sun and storing it. In fact, slowly and systematically, Algiers is being transformed: from Paris into Stockwell. Necessity is ousting beauty. Indifferent to what it falls on, the light, here and there, snags on the crumbling paintwork of the old French apartment blocks.
Shunting through the blazing streets, a taxi takes me to Belcourt, the area of Algiers where Camus grew up. I get out on the main street and ask a friendly postman—from now on the adjective will be assumed rather than written, everyone here is exhaustingly friendly—if he knows the street which, before the revolution, was called Rue
"Ici," he says, pointing to the ground. "Rue Belouizdad Mohamad."
I look up at the numbers and find that I am right outside No. 93. Camus’s father was killed in the Great War when Albert was less than a year old and he grew up here with his mother and grandmother. There is no sign or plaque. I ask someone if this is where Albert Camus lived and they do not know who I am talking about.
It is a one-story place with a small balcony overlooking the street, exactly as described in The Outsider when Mersault whiles away the Sunday after his mother’s funeral. Below are a dry cleaner and a watchmaker. Fig trees line the street. Clothes shops. Boys selling packs of cigarettes. People waiting for buses that stream by, looking and not looking. The sky cross-hatched by phone and tramlines.
Almost seventy years ago someone else turned up at this apartment, a teacher from Albert’s school, to ask the boy’s mother if he could try for a scholarship to attend high school. This was a turning point in Camus’s life and, as for many working-class children to whom the world of books is suddenly revealed, he never forgot the debt he owed his teacher.
The course of my own life was changed, similarly and irrevocably, by one of my teachers. The first author I came across who expressed the sense of class-displacement that ensued was D.H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers. A little later I could be heard reciting Jimmy Porter’s tirades from Look Back in Anger by John Osborne. Then, from Raymond Williams, I learned the political and moral consequences and obligations of being educated away from the life you are born into. Finally, in Camus, who made the most immense journey from his origins, I found someone who stated, in the most affirmative and human terms, the ways in which he remained dependent on them. This understanding did not come painlessly but eventually, in a sentiment that is wholly alien to the likes of Osborne, he achieved "something priceless: a heart free of bitterness."
That is why I came here: to claim kin with him, to be guided by him.
I walk toward the sea and never quite come to it. Always you are separated from the sea by an expanse of one thing or another: docks or roads. No trace of the plage de l’Arsenal where Camus glimpsed for the first time the beauty of the Mediterranean. Now there are only the all-consuming docks. Gradually the sky becomes stained with clouds. The call to prayer comes over a loudspeaker, distorted and mechanical, like a factory whistle ordering the next shift to work.
Eventually I come to a stretch of land—I don’t know what else to call it—by the sea. It is not part of the port but, although the sea laps against an area of sand, it is not a beach. This is sand in the building-site sense of the word. There is rubble and rubbish everywhere. Rush-hour clouds are queuing across the sky.
Matthew Arnold, staring out at the Channel, thought of Sophocles and the sea of faith that had since receded. I think of Camus and the beauty that each year is pushed further and further out into the oil-filmed sea. As the waves lap in I detect a note of weariness in the endlessly repeated motion. Perhaps the sea never crashed vigorously here but it is difficult not to think some vital force has been sucked from it.
Camus concludes his famous study of absurdity by saying we must imagine Sisyphus happy. Easier to imagine him here, thinking "Is it worth it?" for if he rolled his rock up this slope he would come to a heap of rubbish—and when it rolled back it would end up in another even bigger heap. Easier to imagine Sisyphus looking forward to the cigarette that will make his lungs heave under the effort of work and which, when he has tossed away the butt, will add to the rubbish below. But perhaps there is consolation even in this: the higher the mound of rubbish the less distance to heave his rock—until there is no hill to climb, just a level expanse of trash. This is progress.
As I continue walking the sun bursts out again, making the bank of cloud smolder green-black, luminous over the sea. Perched be-tween the road and the sea, between sun and cloud, some boys are playing football in a prairie blaze of light. The pitch glows the color
of rust. The ball is kicked high and all the potential of these young lives is concentrated on it. As the ball hangs there, moon-white against the wall of cloud, everything in the world seems briefly up for grabs and I am seized by two contradictory feelings: there is so much beauty in the world it is incredible that we are ever miserable for a moment; there is so much shit in the world that it is incredible we are ever happy for a moment.
For Camus, Oran, the city of The Plague, "capital of boredom besieged by innocence and beauty," was the mirror-image of Algiers: "a city of dust and stone" that had "turned its back on the sea." After independence 200,000 Europeans fled the city and for some time it appeared to be uninhabited, a city decimated by plague. Now, even the dust has gone, but here and there you detect a strange smell: like dry damp or damp dust. Perhaps this persistent whiff of the past is why it actually seems more European—more like the Algiers of Camus’s essays—than Algiers itself. Not that Europeans are actually in evidence but there are shops with things in them: clothes, records. There is even that most Parisian of institutions: a lingerie shop.
I take a room on the Rue Larbi Ben M’Hidi, formerly the Rue d’Arzew, a street of arcades and white buildings with yellow ornamentation. Camus lived here for a while—at number 67, above what is now an optician and a record shop that plays music so thin and tinny it sounds like it is coming from the headphones of a Walkman. From there I walk down to one of the main boulevards. It looks like a typical Mediterranean promenade—tiled pavements, palm trees, white buildings to the left, blue sky to the right. Everything tells you that the sea is just below to your right—but you look over and find two expressways, acres of docks and refineries and, beyond all of this, a massive breakwater. "The apparent aim, is to transform the brightest of bays into an enormous port," he wrote in 1939 and that has now been achieved. The sea has been forced out to sea.
A few minutes’ walk away, the Boulevard Gallieni has been re-named the Boulevard Soummam, but it is still an architectural wedding cake of a street, so wide that the sun congregates here for most of the day, not simply dropping in for an hour as it has to in the canyon streets of Manhattan. Camus watched the young men and women stroll here in the fashions and style of Hollywood stars, but now it is a place where people pace quickly along, not to display themselves but simply to get somewhere else. Women hurry by and then night comes and they vanish: no final blazing sunset of the feminine, just a slow fade into the masculine night.
On my next-to-last day I take a taxi to the Roman ruins at Tipasa, fifty miles along the coast from Algiers. As we begin the long curve and haul out of the city the weather is in the balance, then rain spots the windshield. It is difficult not to take the weather personally and on this day, when it is so important that the sun shines, I think of Camus returning to Tipasa, "walking through the lonely and rain-soaked countryside," trying to find that strength "which helps me to accept what exists once I have recognized that I cannot change it." For me, accepting the fact that it will rain today seems as difficult as coming to terms with the amputation of an arm or leg.
We drive through mountains and then out along a dull coast road. We pass half-finished buildings, the inverted roots of reinforcing rods sprouting from concrete columns: the opposite of ruins. Then, ten minutes from Tipasa, the clouds are rinsed blue and the sky begins to clear. Shadows cast by thin trees yawn and stretch themselves into existence. By the time I enter the ruins the sky is blue-gold, stretched taut over the crouched hump of the Chenoua mountain. The ruins are perched right on the edge of the sea: truncated columns, dusty blueprints of vanished buildings. The sea is sea-colored, the heat is autumnal: heat that has a cold edge to it. I walk through the remnants of ancientness until, close to the cliffs, I come to a brown headstone: shoulder high, two feet wide. On it, in thin letters is scratched:
Je comprends ici ce
qu’on appelle gloire
le droit d’aimer sans
mesure albert camus.
The monument was erected by friends of Camus’s after his death. Since then his name has been defaced with a knife or chisel and the weather-worn inscription from "Nuptials at Tipasa" is already difficult to read. Thirty years from now the words will have been wiped clean by the sun and the sea that inspired them.
If my trip had a goal then I have reached it. Every now and again there is a hollow boom of surf as if some massive object has just been chucked into the sea. Flies, impossible to ignore, tickle my face. Waves surf in on themselves. The horizon is a blue extinction of clouds. More than anything else it was the two essays Camus wrote evoking "the great free love of nature and the sea" at Tipasa that made me come to Algeria. Now that I am here I am aware of myself straining toward an intensity of response that I do not feel. The fact that it has been written about so perfectly inhibits my response to the place. What there is to discover here, Camus has already discovered (rediscovered in the second essay, "Return to Tipasa"). There is nothing left to feel, except "this is the place Camus wrote about in his great essays"; that and the peculiar intimacy of reader and writer.
We read books and sometimes recommend them to friends. Occasionally we may even write to—or about—the author to say what his or her books mean to us. Still more rarely we go to a place simply because of what has been written about it and that journey becomes both an expression of gratitude and a way of filling a need within ourselves. Coming here and sitting by this monument, rereading these great essays, testaments to all that is best in us, is a way of delivering personally my letter of thanks.
On my last morning in Algiers I make my way to the Martyrs’ Monument. On a hill overlooking city and bay, the monument—to the million Algerians who lost their lives in the war for independence—takes the form of three gigantic palm fronds leaning against each other. Beneath the apex formed by these fronds is the eternal flame, guarded by two soldiers who stand as if carved from flesh and blood, ripply and dreamlike through the heat haze of the flame. At the base of these fronds are massive statues of guerrillas of the FLN.
If ever a monument aspired to the condition of the tower block, it is here. Of all the war memorials I have visited none has affected me less strongly, more impersonally, than this one. It demands that we become martyrs to an aesthetic edict based solely on scale. It orders us to respond to the scale of the undertaking and we obey—with all the sullenness that obedience compels. What it gives to the memory is not a sense of individual sacrifice but of its own insistent might—the might of engineering, the collective strength of concrete, its imperviousness to the passage of time. It will out-survive everything else in the city, except—and this is all it shares with that other, fading monument in the ruins of Tipasa—the sky that frames it.
Albert Camus means something very different to us today than he did at the time of his death thirty years ago. Lesser works like the "Lyrical Essays" speak more intimately to us now than texts like The Myth of Sisyphus on which his reputation was based. Two recent books attempt, in very different ways, to relate him to the needs of the present.
Jeffrey C. Isaac’s intention in Arendt, Camus and Modern Rebellion is to bring the two writers into dialogue, to read them against each other. The somewhat arbitrary nature of this pairing—Orwell and Simon Weil might just as usefully have been brought into the frame—is unimportant, for Albert Camus and Hannah Arendt are, for Isaac, representative of that loose configuration of "resistance intellectuals" whose thought was shaped by—and sought to engage with—totalitarianism and the unparalleled horrors of twentieth-century warfare. Both were incessantly active in politics but essentially non-aligned; both developed a highly personal metaphysics of the human condition which was grounded in the political realities of the day. Both paid a high price for setting themselves in opposition to erstwhile allies: Camus for his stance on the Algerian war; Arendt for her insistence, in Eichmann in Jerusalem, on the part played by "Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people." Anticipating the postmodernist suspicion of grand ideological narratives, both retained, in spite of everything, a steadfast faith in the human subject that is alien to the characteristic discourse of postmodernity. Hence the need, suggests Isaac, to retrieve their political vision.
In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said positions Camus in such a way as to see how his work "reproduces the pattern of an earlier imperial history." Acknowledging that Conor Cruise O’Brien has shown Camus’s work to represent "either a surreptitious or unconscious justification of French rule or an ideological attempt to prettify it," Said purports to go further. He does this by going further back, by looking in detail at "earlier and more overtly imperial French narratives" which Camus’s books "are connected to, and derive advantages from." This run-up is more impressive than the actual jump. O’Brien is berated for letting Camus "off the hook," but Said’s analysis of Camus’s texts (as opposed to those that preceded him) falls far short of O’Brien’s own persuasive and precise analysis of The Plague, for example. The plague in Oran, as we all know, is a symbol of Nazi occupation but, from the point of view of the Arab population, as O’Brien points out, the French who resist this plague are also an occupying force: a symptom of pestilence.
In Said, by contrast, Camus’s writings barely feature; he is simply the terminus of an historical process, "an extraordinarily belated, in some ways incapacitated colonial sensibility." Although the purpose of this restorative interpretation is intended neither "vindictively" nor to "blame" Camus. Said soon comes to the conclusion that his "limitations seem unacceptably paralyzing." And while Said disavows any suggestion of authors being mechanically determined by history or ideology, the relative lack of emphasis placed on Camus vis-à-vis his predecessors cannot but suggest exactly this.
Let us be clear: there is no refuting the claim that in Camus’s fiction the indigenous population of Algeria is, through a sleight of the imagination as casual as Mersault’s murder of a nameless faceless Arab, conveniently disposed of. By situating Camus in a history of imperial strategy while studiously ignoring all the details of his life, however, Said similarly and conveniently disposes of Camus as an individual. With his personal anguish over the fate of Algeria thereby rendered irrelevant he becomes, in Sartre’s deliberately vindictive phrase, simply an "accomplice of colonialism." In Camus’s terms, Said admits sin but refuses grace.
Isaac, on the other hand, is acutely sensitive to Camus’s predicament. He judiciously plots his interventions in the Algerian crisis from his doomed attempt at organizing a civilian truce in January 1956 (while a mob of pied-noir militants bayed for his blood) to his eventual "defensive and hollow" opposition to Algerian independence. Neutrality was impossible: his condemnation of FLN terrorism—"which operates blindly" and which "one day might strike my mother or my family"—was seen as implicitly supporting the French army of pacification.
Hence Isaac’s exasperated reminder that Camus was a pied-noir. As Said would have it, we see Camus either accurately—as the confluence of a history of imperial dominion—or vaguely, inadequately, and ahistorically as a philosopher of the human condition. My own re-sponse is to locate him more precisely and more personally.
Camus’s father died in the Great War; raised by his illiterate mother and grandmother, he grew up in a working-class district of Algiers where poverty was redeemed by the wealth heaped on his senses by sea and sun.
He recorded these early experiences in three volumes of "Lyrical Essays" which contain some of his best writing. They also make clear why the Camus presented by Isaac is, for all the diligent range of reference, too abstract a figure. "If I can be said to have come from anywhere, it is from the tradition of German philosophy," said Arendt, thereby lending herself perfectly to the kind of academic exegesis at which Isaac excels. But Camus is not at his best in the philosophical works on which Isaac relies. Camus had to stifle himself in order to think his way through The Rebel. His, above all, is a sensual intelligence. The enduring power of The Outsider lies less in the sense of existential absurdity than the glare and heat of the beach and—even more strongly in the "draft version," A Happy Death—Camus’s evocation of sensual happiness.
In this respect Isaac’s contention that the "sentimental vision of the Mediterranean is an important lacuna in Camus’s writing" is an important lacuna in his analysis. Camus, whose gaze was always directed from Africa to Europe, from desert to sea, was both formed by this vision of the Mediterranean and gave it its most powerful expression. This vision could only have been articulated by someone in exactly Camus’s position, with his peculiar sensibility and with exactly the cultural-imperial legacy of French Algeria to draw on.
Although Camus’s vision depends on and is rooted in specific geo-historical circumstances—those of the pieds-noirs—he in no sense lays claim to that which he celebrates. On the contrary: "All I know is that this sky will last longer than I shall," he wrote in a characteristic passage. "And what can I call eternity except what will last longer than I shall?"
Of course Camus’s claim to greatness cannot rest solely on a kind of pied-noir pantheism. It resides in the manifold ways in which this sensualism was allied with the cause of human solidarity. But this commitment never evolved—because it was inextricably bound up with—a renunciation of the sensual. "If man needs bread and justice, and if we have to do everything essential to serve this need, he also needs pure beauty, which is the bread of his heart."
As we move toward the December of the century the "unconquerable summer" that Camus found within himself offers more warmth and light than ever before.
III. The First Man
In 1958, the year after he won the Nobel Prize, Albert Camus wrote a preface for a new edition of his first book, Betwixt and Between. Re-reading these early essays persuaded him that a writer’s work was nothing but a "slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." His own writing was nourished by "a single stream," Camus went on, and this stream was "the world of poverty and sunlight" in which he grew up in Algiers.
After years of creative sterility Camus had resolved to trace this stream back to its source in the novel which he was still working on at the time of his death in 1960. According to Herbert Lottman in his excellent biography, Camus referred to the work in progress, in all seriousness, as his War and Peace. Even in unfinished form it is a wonderful book. As Camus redrafted and completed it, The First Man would have become more of a novel and less of an autobiography; as it stands it is a great attempt to fulfill the ambition announced by Nietzche’s Ecce Homo: "how one becomes what one is." Seen in this light it doesn’t even matter particularly that the novel is incomplete. "The book must be unfinished," Camus noted to himself, conscious that such a project could be realized, definitively, only with the death that curtails its completion.
In the opening pages a husband ("he wore a three-button twill jacket, fastened at the neck in the style of that time") and pregnant wife are traveling in a wagon, "creaking over a road that was fairly well marked but had scarcely any surfacing." Tone and scene are surprisingly Hardyesque but the setting is Algeria, the edge of Africa, and the soon-to-be-born son is not a Jude but a Jacques who, years later, like Camus himself, will try to understand how he emerged from the obscurity to which his family had been condemned by history.
Camus’s father was killed at the Battle of the Marne when Albert was less than a year old. Exactly like Camus, Jacques Cormery is raised by his mother and grandmother in extreme poverty. He is a gifted pupil and one of his teachers persuades the mother to let her son try for a scholarship. As the lycée reveals the possibility of a life beyond the poverty and ignorance he was born into, so "the silence grew between him and his family." It’s a familiar theme but no account of this process is more moving than Camus’s. His mother was illiterate (a neighbor had to read the telegram announcing that Albert had won the Nobel Prize) and the profound feeling aroused by the book comes, partly, from the sense that it is written for the one person who cannot read it. "What he wanted most in the world," Camus noted, "was for his mother to read everything that was his life and his being, that was impossible. His love, his only love, would be forever speechless."
The urge to bring his past to life, to offer his family the gift of speech, of words, is therefore inseparable from the desire to achieve a clarity, a sensual immediacy and intensity that will, as far as possible, transcend the verbal. The sky, the light, offer supreme, silent expression of this hope. Words yearn to be the light they celebrate. Drenched in the sun and smells of Algiers, Camus’s last novel cries out with the same "famished ardor" that characterized crucial early essays like "Nuptials at Tipasa." These essays make clear how profoundly Camus’s sensibility was shaped by growing up in Algiers, but The First Man aims beyond the lyrical evocation of times past. In the essays the Sahara is, if you like, a vast beach; in them Camus is looking north, to the sea. In this book he looks to the interior, to the heart of a problem skirted in his earlier books. The Arabs, who, in The Plague, were invisible or, in The Outsider, killed unthinkingly, crowd in on The First Man. The mere fact of their visibility is enough to claim the place as their own; by "their sheer numbers" they offer an "invisible menace," an outcome that is premonitory but not yet inevitable. "We’ll kill each other for a little longer and cut off each other’s balls," says one character. "And then we’ll go back to living as men together." A forlorn hope, it turned out, but, as a novelist seeking to delineate his historical predicament, Camus is less concerned with the question of who can lay claim to the land than the more profound one: what claim does the land make on the people born there? Early in the book a farmer complains that Parisians understand nothing of the situation of the French Algerians. "You know who’re the only ones who can understand?" he asks. "The Arabs," says Jacques.
Camus has a blood-understanding of this psychological bond. It is dramatically embodied—to take just one example—in the scene describing the way a crowd would gather if a fight broke out between a Frenchman and an Arab:
The Frenchman who was fighting would in backing up find himself confronting both his antagonist and a crowd of somber impenetrable faces, which would have deprived him of what courage he possessed had he not been raised in this country and therefore knew that only with courage could you live here; and so he would face up to the threatening crowd that nonetheless was making no threat except by its presence.
What a book it would have been, what a book it already is! I have itemized some of its themes but the remarkable thing is how, even at so early a stage, these disparate concerns are so intimately entwined. Thirty-five years after their author’s death, these draft pages answer the two needs that, as Camus wrote in his "Return to Tipasa," "cannot be long neglected if all our being is not to dry up: I mean loving and admiring."