Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Albert Camus' speech at the Nobel Prize in Literature Banquet, 1957

I found this in the magazine for the French Film Festival here in Richmond.  I like what he wrote.  It feels true to me.  I am working these days to try to figure out how to express myself in such a way that affects people and makes them more aware of the state of our world (i.e. my piece about the vaginal probe, my pieces about women's body image).  Camus wrote about the oppression of the world during WWII.  He refers to that here:

For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth. And often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche's great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.

By the same token, the writer's role is not free from difficult duties. By definition he cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it. Otherwise, he will be alone and deprived of his art. Not all the armies of tyranny with their millions of men will free him from his isolation, even and particularly if he falls into step with them. But the silence of an unknown prisoner, abandoned to humiliations at the other end of the world, is enough to draw the writer out of his exile, at least whenever, in the midst of the privileges of freedom, he manages not to forget that silence, and to transmit it in order to make it resound by means of his art.

None of us is great enough for such a task. But in all circumstances of life, in obscurity or temporary fame, cast in the irons of tyranny or for a time free to express himself, the writer can win the heart of a living community that will justify him, on the one condition that he will accept to the limit of his abilities the two tasks that constitute the greatness of his craft: the service of truth and the service of liberty. Because his task is to unite the greatest possible number of people, his art must not compromise with lies and servitude which, wherever they rule, breed solitude. Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.


  1. Made me sigh. So true. It is hard for me to imagine and I do mean actively use my imagination to allow the craft I engage in to have meaning beyond me and those I teach. I am just starting to believe, deeply, that the works themselves have a power to instill/transcend pain and fear. I have always believed the study, making and teaching do that..but now the work itself stands strong in my mind, heart and soul.
    Love tom

    1. Oh my gosh, Tom! I just think about VanGogh's work and how it shifts my entire vision just to stand in front of his work. Or a Rembrandt etching. I know you know that. It's amazing to me to think you don't consider that about your own work - of course it helps people transcend pain and fear and see beauty where none existed in their minds. Why else would you paint? (Well, I guess there's a clear answer to that - to transcend our own pain and fear - but if it does that for the artist, of course it would do that for the viewer too!)