Albert Camus once defined the novel as the place where the human being is abandoned to other human beings. The plague novel is the place where all human beings abandon all other human beings. Unlike other species of apocalyptic fiction, where the enemy can be chemicals or volcanoes or earthquakes or alien invaders, the enemy here is other humans: the touch of other humans, the breath of other humans, and, very often – in the competition for diminishing resources – the mere existence of other humans.

(It is a passage from Jill Lepore's article "What Our Contagion Fables Are Really About" in The New Yorker, which is also published in the print edition of the March 30, 2020, issue, with the headline “Don’t Come Any Closer.”)

How to understand Camus's "defining the novel as the the place where the human being is abandoned to other human being"? Is there anything that Camus directly said or wrote, and where? Or other original text that I can resort to?


1 Answer 1


Albert Camus' essay L'Homme révolté (1951, The Rebel) contains a chapter entitled "Roman et révolte", in which the author says (emphasis mine),

Qu’est-ce que le roman, en effet, sinon cet univers où l’action trouve sa forme, où les mots de la fin sont prononcés, les êtres livrés aux êtres, où toute vie prend le visage du destin ? Le monde romanesque n’est que la correction de ce monde-ci, suivant le désir profond de l’homme. Car il s’agit bien du même monde. La souffrance est la même, le mensonge et l’amour. Les héros ont notre langage, nos faiblesses, nos forces. Leur univers n’est ni plus beau ni plus édifiant que le nôtre. Mais eux, du moins, courent jusqu’au bout de leur destin, et il n’est même jamais de si bouleversants héros que ceux qui vont jusqu’à l’extrémité de leur passion.

Here's a fairly literal translation:

What is the novel actually, if it is not that universe in which action takes shape, in which the words of the end are spoken, beings handed over / surrendered to other beings, in which each life takes the face of destiny. The novelistic worlds is only a correction of this world according to man's profound desire. For it is really about the same world. The suffering is the same, [and so are] lying and love. The heroes/characters have our language, our weaknesses, our strengths. Their universe is neither more beautiful nor more edifying than ours. But they at least run to the end of their destiny, and no heroes are more deeply moving than those who go to extremes / extremity of their passion.

Some of the words Camus uses are ambiguous and it can be difficult to decide whether a specific meaning should be chosen or whether the ambiguity should be retained. For example, "Livrer" can mean, among other things, "deliver" or "hand over"; "se livrer" can mean "to give oneself up" or "to confide in (someone)". The French word "héros" does not always correspond with the English word "hero"; it can also mean "main character". "Extrémité" can both mean "extreme(s)" and "far end". ("Romanesque" is an adjective derived from "roman", the French word for "novel".)

Lepore's "the place where the human being is abandoned to other human beings" is based on, or is an interpretation of, "cet univers où (...) les êtres [sont] livrés aux êtres".

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