Albert Camus in New York City

Robert Zaretsky in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Camus1-243x366On March 25, 1946, the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, having left the rainforests of Brazil for the concrete canyons of New York City, confronted a social structure as complex and harsh as those he had found in the rainforests of Brazil. Moonlighting as the French Embassy’s cultural attaché, Lévi-Strauss received an unexpected visit from a group of French passengers who had just arrived on an American freighter, theOregon. Immigration officials had detained one of them because he refused to give the names of friends who belonged to the Communist Party. Lévi-Strauss dispatched a colleague to the docks, and the French visitor, frazzled and frustrated, was finally released.

With this faintly absurd event began Albert Camus’s only visit made to America.

Camus was no ordinary tourist. France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had sent him as an official representative of the recently liberated country. Who better to speak to American audiences about France’s experience of occupation and liberation? By 1944 and the liberation of Paris, the young French-Algerian writer was not just the author of The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus, both published to critical acclaim in occupied Paris. He was also the editor of Combat, the most influential underground paper of the French Resistance. With a suddenness that both touched and troubled him, Camus had become the one marketable export left to a bloodied and brutalized country: the French intellectual for whom ideas were a matter of life and death.

His friend, Jean-Paul Sartre, had preceded him to New York in 1945. Playing the role of existentialism’s John the Baptist, Sartre spoke at great length about Camus to a reporter from, of all places, the American edition of Vogue. Praising the new literature that had taken root in the liberated soil of France, Sartre declared, “its best representative is Albert Camus, who is thirty years old.”

More here.