Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, on this day in 1913. Because of his ambivalence about Algerian independence, Camus is still a controversial topic in his homeland, and it will be interesting to see if he receives any recognition in his upcoming centenary year. Few of the Algerian memorials erected to Camus have survived the lingering anticolonial anger, though one still faintly stands. It is in Tipasa, the coastal town that Camus loved and often wrote about. Standing amid the Roman ruins at Tipasa, in the shadow of the Chenoua Mountains, are these words etched on a Phoenician tombstone:
Here I understand that
which is called glory –
the right to love
The inscription is from Camus’s “Nuptials at Tipasa,” a 1938 essay. In “Return to Tipasa,” written fifteen years later, Camus describes trying to rekindle his inspiration and sense of purpose through a visit to the Roman ruins — though “it is sheer madness, almost always punished, to return to the sites of one’s youth and try to relive at forty what one loved or keenly enjoyed at twenty.” After days of rain and a struggle through barbed wire, and before his necessary return to “Europe and its struggles,” the Sisyphean moment:
I wanted to see again the Chenoua, that solid, heavy mountain cut out of a single block of stone, which borders the bay of Tipasa to the west before dropping down into the sea itself. It is seen from a distance, long before arriving, a light, blue haze still confused with the sky. But gradually it is condensed, as you advance towards it, until it takes on the color of the sea…. Still nearer, almost at the gates of Tipasa, here is its frowning bulk, brown and green, here is the old mossy god that nothing will ever shake, a refuge and harbor for its sons, of whom I am one.
“A man’s work,” wrote Camus in his Preface to the essay collection The Wrong Side and the Right Side,“but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.