Albert Camus, Notebooks (Favorite Passages)

Pythagoras: The Life & Times (new episode) Human Voices Wake Us

Tonight, I'm thrilled to read a poem that I began working on three years ago on the life, teachings, and mysticism of the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras (c. 570- c.495 BCE). I am also thrilled that the poem is being simultaneously published at The Basilisk Tree. Many thanks to its editor, Bryan Helton, for coordinating all of this with me. For anyone who wants to look closer at the earliest Classical accounts of Pythagoras, his life, and his teachings, check out: The History of Greek Philosophy Volume 1: The Earlier Presocractics and the Pythagoreans, by W. K. C. Guthrie, and The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. Don’t forget to support Human Voices Wake Us on Substack, where you can also get our newsletter and other extras. You can also support the podcast by ordering any of my books: Notes from the Grid, To the House of the Sun, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old, and Bone Antler Stone. Any comments, or suggestions for readings I should make in later episodes, can be emailed to — Send in a voice message: Support this podcast:
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CamusAlbert Camus: Notebooks, 1935 – 1951

Volume 1: 1935-1942

What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty. A certain number of years lived without money are enough to create a whole sensibility. 3

It is in this life of poverty, among these vain or humble people, that I have most certainly touched what I feel is the true meaning of life. Works of art will never provide this and art is not everything for me. Let it at least be a means. 4

Grenier: We always have too low an opinion of ourselves. But in poverty, illness, or loneliness we become aware of our eternity. “We need to be forced to our very last bastions.” 5

When I was young, I expected people to give me more than they could—continuous friendship, permanent emotion.
Now I have learned to expect less of them than they can give—a silent companionship. And their emotions, their friendship, and noble gestures keep their full miraculous value in my eyes; wholly the fruit of grace. 7

One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within this sadness I feel a great leap of joy and a great desire to love simply at the sight of a hill against the evening sky. 25

Attention: for Kierkegaard, the origin of our suffering lies in comparisons. 26

Things and people are waiting for me, and doubtless I am waiting for them and desiring them with all my strength and sadness. But, here, I earn the right to be alive by silence and by secrecy.
The miracle of not having to talk about oneself. 52-3

If someone here told me to write a book on morality, it would have a hundred pages and ninety-nine would be blank. On the last page I should write: “I recognize only one duty, and that is to love.” And, as far as everything else is concerned, I say no. I say no with all my strength. 54

We do not need to reveal ourselves to others, but only to those we love. For then we are no longer revealing ourselves in order to seem but in order to give. There is much more strength in a man who reveals himself only when it is necessary. 58

To give up all feeling that the world owes you a living and devote yourself to achieving two kinds of freedom: freedom from money, and freedom from your own vanity and cowardice. To have rules and stick to them. Two years is not too long a time to spend thinking about one single point. You must wipe out all earlier stages, and concentrate all your strength first of all on forgetting nothing and then on waiting patiently. 85

The temptation shared by all forms of intelligence: cynicism. 93

The misery and greatness of this world: it offers no truths, but only objects for love.
Absurdity is king, but love saves us from it. 93

In the same way as a writer’s death makes us exaggerate the importance of his work, a person’s death makes us exaggerate the importance of his place among us. Thus the past is wholly made up of death, which peoples it with illusions. 119-20

In the streetcar. The man who is half drunk and attaches himself to me. “If you’re a man, give me five francs. Look, I’ve just come out of the hospital. Where am I going to sleep tonight? But if you’re a man, I’ll go and have a drink and I’ll forget. I’m unhappy, I am. I haven’t got anyone.”
I give him five francs. He takes my hand, looks at me, throws himself into my arms, and bursts out sobbing. “Ah, you’re a good guy. You understand me. I’ve got no one, you understand, no one.” When I left him, the streetcar starts up again and he stays inside, lost and still in tears. 132-3

If it is true that the absurd has been fulfilled (or, rather, revealed), then it follows that no experience has any value in itself, and that all our actions are equally instructive. The will is nothing. Acceptance is everything. On one condition: that, faced with the humblest or the most heart-rending experience, man should always be “present”; and that he should endure this experience without flinching, with complete lucidity. 143

There is nothing less excusable than war, and the appeal to national hatreds. But once war has come, it is both cowardly and useless to try to stand on one side under the pretext that one is not responsible. Ivory towers are down. Indulgence is forbidden—for oneself as well as for other people. 143

One individual’s reaction has no intrinsic importance. It can be of some use, but it can justify nothing. The dilettante’s dream of being free to hover above his time is the most ridiculous form of liberty. This is why I must try to serve. And, if they don’t want me, I must also accept the position of the “despised civilian.” In both cases, I am absolutely free to judge things and to feel as disgusted with them as I like. In both cases, I am in the midst of the war, and have the right to judge it. To judge it, and to act. 143-4

After so many others have said the same thing, Paulhan writes in the NRF to say how amazed he is that the war of 1939 should not have begun in the same atmosphere as that of 1914. The simpletons who thought that horror always had the same face, who cannot escape from the physical images on which they have lived. 146-7

Understand this: we can despair of the meaning of life in general, but not of the particular forms that it takes; we can despair of existence, for we have no power over it, but not of history, where the individual can do everything. It is individuals who are killing us today. Why should not individuals manage to give the world peace? We must simply begin without thinking of such grandiose aims. You must realize that men make war as much with the enthusiasm of those who want it as with the despair of those who reject it with all their soul. 151-2

Only great thoughts are capable of such contradictory fruitfulness. 153

Hence the fact that being able to live alone in one room in Paris for a year teaches a man more than a hundred literary salons and forty years’ experience of “Parisian life.” It is a hard, terrible, and sometimes agonizing experience, and always on the verge of madness. But, by being close to such a fate, a man’s quality must either become hardened and tempered—or perish. And if it perishes, then it is because it was not strong enough to live. 174

An artist who goes to Port-Cros in order to paint. And everything is so beautiful that he buys a house, puts his paintings away, and never touches them again. 179

What makes us grow fond and interested in what has nothing to offer us? What attracts us about this emptiness, this ugliness, and this boredom under a magnificent and implacable sky? My reply is: human beings. There is a certain race of men for whom human beings, wherever they are beautiful, offer a country with a thousand capitals. Oran is a country like this. 187

Give up the tyranny of female charm. 191

Rosanov: “Michelangelo and Leonardo built something. The revolution will tear out their tongue and slaughter them at the age of twelve or thirteen as soon as they show their own personality, their own soul.” 191

To add to the Absurd—quotation from Tolstoy as a model of illogical logic:
“If all the worldly goods for which we live, if all the delights which life, wealth, glory, honors, and power give to use are taken away by death, then these goods have no meaning. If life is not infinite, it is quite simply absurd, it is not worth living, and we must rid ourselves of it as soon as possible by committing suicide.” (Confession.)
But, later on, Tolstoy modifies his remarks: “The existence of death compels us either to give up life of our own free will, or to change our life in such a way as to give it a meaning that cannot be taken from it by death.203

Volume 2: 1942-1951
Flaubert: “A man judging another is a slight thing that would make me burst with laughter if it did not fill me with pity.” … “Folly consists in trying to draw conclusions.” 14

If I had been loved at seventeen, what an artist I should be now! 14

Modern intelligence is in utter confusion. Knowledge has become so diffuse that the world and the mind have lost all point of reference. It is a fact that we are suffering from nihilism. But the most amazing things are the admonitions to “turn backward.” Return to the Middle Ages, to primitive mentality, to the soil, to religion, to the arsenal of worn-out solutions. To grant a shadow of efficacy to those panaceas, we should have to act as if our acquired knowledge had ceased to exist, as if we had learned nothing, and pretend in short to erase with is inerasable. We should have to cancel the contribution of several centuries and the controvertible acquisitions of a mind that has finally (in its last step forward) re-created chaos on its own. That is impossible. In order to be cured, we must make our peace with this lucidity, this clairvoyance. We must take into account the glimpses we have suddenly had of our exile. Intelligence is in confusion not because knowledge has changed everything. It is so because it cannot accept that change. It hasn’t “got accustomed to that idea.” When this does happen, the confusion will disappear. Nothing will remain bu the change and the clear knowledge that the mind has of it. There’s a whole civilization to be reconstructed. 15-16

Sexual life was given to man to distract him perhaps from his true path. It’s his opium. With it everything falls asleep. Outside it, things resume life. At the same time chastity kills the species, which is perhaps the truth. 35

A writer must never speak of his doubts regarding his creation. It would be too easy to answer him: “Who is forcing you to create? If it is such a constant anguish, why do you endure it?” Doubts are the most intimate thing about us. Never speak of one’s doubts, whatever they may be. 35

Sex leads to nothing. It is not immoral but it is unproductive. One can indulge in it so long as one does not want to produce. But only chastity is linked to a personal progress.
There is a time when sex is a victory—when it is separated from moral imperatives. But soon after it becomes a defeat—and the only victory is then won over it: chastity. 36-7

I know what Sunday is for a poor working man. I know especially what a Sunday evening is, and if it could give a meaning and a shape to what I know, I could make of a poor Sunday a work of humanity. 39

Excessive use of Eurydice in the literature of the forties. Because never have so many lovers bee separated. 40

Illness is a convent which has its rule, its austerity, its silences, and its inspirations. 41

We belong to the world that does not last. And all that does not last—and nothing but what does not last—is ours. Thus it is a matter of rescuing love from eternity or at least from those who dress it up in the image of eternity. I readily see the objection: obviously you have never loved. Let’s drop it. 56

Nietzsche, with the most monstrous external life possible, proves that thought alone, carried on in solitude, is a frightening adventure. 65

It is easy to imagine a European converted to Buddhism—because it assures him of survival—which Buddha considers an incurable misfortune, but which the European desires with all his strength. 69

I don’t refuse a path leading to the Supreme Being, so long as it doesn’t avoid other beings. 73

The wonderful feat of the classic theater, in which successive couples of actors come on to tell events without ever living them—and yet the anguish and action never cease growing. 84

The extraordinary confusion that results in poetry being presented to us as a spiritual exercise and the novel as a personal purgation. 89

I took ten years to win what seems to be priceless: a heart without bitterness. And as often happens, once I had gone beyond the bitterness, I incorporated it in one or two books. Thus I shall be forever judged on that bitterness which has ceased to mean anything to me. But that is just. It’s the price one must pay. 95

The dreadful and consuming selfishness of artists. 95

Reputation. It is given you by second-rate people and you share it with second-rate people or rascals. 98

The only contemporary problem: Can on transform the world without believing in the absolute power of reason? 109

Man is nothing by himself. He is but an infinite chance. But he is infinitely responsible for that chance. By himself, man is inclined to water himself down. But the moment his will, his conscience, his spirit of adventure dominates, chance begins to increase. No one can say that he has reached the limit of man. The give years have just lived through taught me that. From the animal to the martyr, from the spirit of evil to hopeless sacrifice, every testimony was staggering. Each of us has the responsibility of exploiting in himself man’s greatest chance, his definitive virtue. 118

God did not create himself. He is the son of human pride. 118

My deepest, surest inclination lies in silence and the daily routine. To escape relaxation, the fascination of the mechanical, it took years of perseverance. 120

Consequence: Have I the right, as an artist still attached to liberty, to accept the advantages in money and consideration linked to that attitude? The reply for me would be simple. It is in poverty that I have found and shall always find the conditions essential to keep my culpability, if it exists, from being shameful at least and to keep it proud. But must I reduce my children to poverty, refuse even the very modest comfort I am preparing for them? And in these conditions, was I wrong to accept the simplest human tasks and duties, such as having children? In the end, has one the right to have children, to assume the human condition [Camus’ note: Moreover, did I really assume when I felt such hesitation and still have trouble doing so? Does not this inconstant heart deserve such a contradiction?] when one doesn’t believe in God (add the intermediary arguments)? 121

By what right would a Communist or a Christian (to take only the respectable forms of modern thought) blame me for being a pessimist? I didn’t invent human misery or the terrible formulas of divine malediction. I didn’t say that man was incapable of saving himself alone and that from the depths in which he wallows he had no definitive hope save in the grace of God. As for the famous Marxist optimism, allow me to laugh. Few men have carried further distrust of their fellow men. Marxists do not believe in persuasion or in dialogue. A workman cannot be made out of a bourgeois, and economic conditions are in their world more terrible fatalities than divine whims. 123-4

Why does one drink? Because in drink everything assumes importance, everything takes its place on the highest plane. Conclusion: one drinks through impotence and through condemnation. 147

I have read over all these notebooks—beginning with the first. This was obvious to me: landscapes gradually disappear. The modern cancer is gnawing me too. 162

The great Imam Ali: “The world is a decaying carcass. Whoever desires a piece of this world will live with dogs.” 218

Guilloux. The artist’s misfortune is that he is neither altogether a monk nor altogether a layman—and that he has both sorts of temptations. 221

If there is a soul, it is a mistake to believe that it is given us fully created. It is created there, throughout a whole life. And living is nothing else but that long and painful bringing forth. When the soul is ready, created by us and suffering, death comes along. 224

Kleist who burns his manuscripts twice … Piero della Francesca, blind at the end of his life … Ibsen at the end suffering from amnesia and relearning the alphabet … Courage! Courage! 224

I have never seen very clearly into myself in the final analysis. But I have always instinctively followed an invisible star…
There is in me an anarchy, a frightful disorder. Creating costs me a thousand deaths, for it involves an order and my whole being rebels against order. But without tit I should die scattered. 238

Not morality but fulfillment. And there is no other fulfillment than that of love, in other words of yielding to oneself and dying to the world. Go all the way. Disappear. Dissolve in love. Then the force of love will create without me. Be swallowed up. Break up. Vanish in fulfillment and the passion of truth. 243

Like those elderly people who, in a big house that once was full of life and voices, withdraw to a single floor, then to a single room, and then to the smallest room of all, where they bring together every aspect of life—cloistered and ready for the narrow hole in the ground, even more restricted. 252

Any fulfillment is a bondage. It obliges one to a higher fulfillment. 270