The work of Albert Camus, and U.S. torture policies

I knew very little about Camus’ background before reading Laila Lalami’s response to Bush’s summer reading choice the other day. I’ve been reading up since then. Today The Literary Saloon unearths Peter Brooks’ Slate article, published in January, which looks at Camus’ response to the Algerian War, and compares another of his narrators to the current U.S. president.

Camus wrote The Fall during the Algerian War, when France was beginning to face a crisis of conscience over torture similar to what the United States faces now. Indeed, clear parallels exist between the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Iraq: Like the war on terror, much of the French effort to pacify and retain Algeria was waged against a nearly invisible enemy that tended to melt into the landscape. Intelligence-gathering was crucial — and that led to torture.

Camus was himself famously unable to take a clear stance on the French colonial war in Algeria — he was, after all, French and Algerian. The Fall is, among other things, an expression of anguish about the difficulty of making any claim to innocence. The repulsive figure of Clamence wants to implicate the whole of humanity in his own guilt — just as President Bush seems to want to implicate the American people in the decision to torture. Camus offers no clear or satisfying message in response to Clamence’s insinuating vileness.


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