Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sarte and Camus-Short Stories by Nobel Prize Winning French Existentialists

"The Wall" by Jean Paul Sartre (1952, 8 pages)
"The Guest"   by Albert Camus (1955, 9 pages)
"The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus (3 pages, 1954)

 Two Nobel Prize Winning French Existentialists
One Refuses the Prize, One Only French Technically

The Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded 107 times.    France, at 15, has had more winners than any other country, the UK and the USA are tied for second at 11 each.    Today, in observation of July in Paris , a reading and cultural event,  I will post on two short stories by French writers.   So far I have posted on two works for this event, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo and Ubo Roi by Alfred Jarry.    Today I want to take a quick look at short stories by two super influential Nobel Prize winner, Jean Paul Sarte and Albert Camus.    In a nothing is every as simple as it appears in Paris note, Jean Paul Sarte refused the award and Albert Camus was only technically French.   

Sartre and Camus are both post WWII cultural giants, capturing and helping create the sensibility of a world in which old values have been destroyed.    It is no coincidence that Kenzaburo Oe, whose main theme maybe " finding the courage to live in an ethical way a in world in which the old values are all gone", wrote his dissertation on the work of Sartre and made a visit to Sartre his top priority when he made his first trip to Paris.   Albert Camus's The Stranger and The Plague have long been among the most read post WWII non-Japanese literary works on Japanese college campuses.   

Both of these writers are classified as Existentialists (if you wish some background information there is a good article here.)     

I found it very interesting that both of the two short stories here are about a prisoner awaiting execution and his purely capricious escape.   Both of them are in the hands of jailers who basically have no real idea why the men should be executed but are just "following the rules".  

Jean Paul Sartre (1905 to 1980-France) was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964.     He refused the award because he said by accepting an award from a western institution he was siding with the west against Asian interests.   He also did not want to be  reified by the Award into a "Nobel Prize Winning Author".   It has been a very long time since I read anything by Sartre.   Decades ago I read his magnum opus Being and Nothingness and his perhaps most famous literary work, his play No Exit (Hell is other people).   "The Wall" really does do a good job of bringing to life a lot of his basic themes.   As the story opens we are at a small prison.   The jailers are tasked with interrogating the prisoners about a topic that does not interest them (if they even understand it) and the prisoners know it is already stated in their paperwork that they are to be shot.

"The four men asked each one his name and occupation. Most of the time they didn't go any further--or they would simply ask a question here and there: "Did you have anything to do with the sabotage of munitions?" Or "Where were you the morning of the 9th and what were you doing?" They didn't listen to the answers or at least didn't seem to. They were quiet for a moment and then looking straight in front of them began to write."

"The Wall" is simple and easy to follow.   No need to be put off or intimidated by the very heavy cultural import of Sartre.

You can read "The Wall" HERE.   It is worth your time even

Albert Camus (1913 to 1960-Algiers) is French as a result of colonial conquest.    Much of his work and life was fighting what he saw as the wretched rule of the French in Algeria.    He is considered a core Existential novelist but he totally repudiated this label.   (You can learn more about him here.)    His most famous works are his two novels, The Stranger and The Plague.   (I have not yet read either of these works but I was recently kindly given both of these works by a patron of my blog from New Delhi to whom I am very grateful and will, I hope, read them both this year.)

"The Guest" reminded me a lot of Frank O'Connor's very famous short story, "The Guest of the Nation".    Both are told from the point of view of soldiers fighting in a cause they only at best half believe in and barely understand the causes behind it.   Both jailers really believe in their hearts that their captives are simple men just like themselves, puppets.   In the world of the values which they understand it is very wrong to execute these men who are near brother to them.   "The Guest" is set, I am assuming, in Algeria.   The captive is described as an "Arab".  No name, no description, just as an "Arab".   The Arab committed a murder but one justified under the values his captor understands.   The jailer knows he is in danger form two quarters.  If he lets the man go, as he wants to, the authorities will give him a terrible punishment.  If he allows the captive to be executed, then the relatives of the man will target him for death.   He is trapped by the authorities on one hand and what he thinks are authentic values on the other side.  

"The Myth of Sisyphus" is a retelling of the classic myth as the fate of modern man.

"The Guest" is very well done and very much worth reading.   You can read it on line here.

Mel u


Curling up by the Fire said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It brought me back to a period when I devoured these authors as well as Voltaire, etc. I just went through my TBR pile and pulled up a few classics that I've been meaning to read and haven't had a chance. It's time to revisit some of these authors. I find their personal lives as fascinating as their writing. Thank you for sharing.

@parridhlantern said...

Read a lot Sartre & Camus In my late teens early 20s thoroughly enjoyed Sartre's Roads to reason trilogy(tetrology that wasn't) + Nausea & B+N, but was a bigger fan a Camus & his absurdists ideals loved the plague & the fall adored Rebel & a collected essays which I both still have & am waiting on the arrival of exile & the kingdom.
Enjoyed this post,

Unknown said...

I've been thinking about what to do for the Paris in July celebration. Short stories are a good idea. I wonder if the 14 Nobels for France should really be listed as 14 prizes for the French language.

I've also been wondering about Nobel prizes in general. I'm currently reading Herta Muller who recently won the Nobel prize. I'm not sure just how impressed I am by her book The Appointment yet. Of course, the prize goes for a body of work not a single book.

Deborah said...

I too read Sartre and Camus as a teenager, and not since. I wonder if teenagers do still (mine doesn't!) and how much a facet of the lingering influence of the Nobel that was.

Mel u said...

Stephanie-I share your opinions

Deborah-I am not sure how widely read Sartre and Camus are now read among late teens-my first guess is not much

parrish lantern-I will be, I hope, reading two of Camus't novels this year

C B James-sometimes it seems the Nobel Prize is getting increasing political and it seems an attempt is being made to spread the prizes widely among countries with a writer's merit only one of several criteria