From Upstate by James Wood:

Logically, Nagel was impeccable: if nothing matters, then indeed nothing matters at all, including one’s despair about the fact that nothing matters. But all the same! – how could one, having worked so expertly through the premises of Camus’s eloquent argument in The Myth of Sisyphus, a book she adored, just turn round and calmly ignore those premises? For if nothing matters, then philosophy doesn’t matter, either. The tenured professor from New York University told the uninsured, passionate Frenchman (a heroic figure but not, as Sartre sniffed, much of a philosopher), a man who had lived through the Second World War and the Algerian War, that getting too worked up about the Absurd was a little . . . absurd. Better to be ironic, self-aware, coolly analytical than passionate or despairing.

What is the meaning of "uninsured" in this paragraph?

  • Many people in the US have health insurance through their employment. Those 65 or older have it from the federal government (Medicare). Some low-income people have it also from the government (Medicaid). But there are a substantial number of people in the US who don't have any health insurance coverage at all. Some people haven't figured out they would be eligible for Medicaid. Some people work in a tiny company, where health insurance isn't required. Some people earn a little bit too much to qualify for Medicaid. It's complicated. At any rate, the French guy has no health insurance.
    – aparente001
    Jun 16, 2022 at 0:10
  • @aparente001, the point of the passage doesn't have anything to do with the peculiarities of the healthcare system in the present-day United States, or with any other kind of insurance (in the usual sense of the word), which is why the OP is rightly puzzled by it; looking up uninsured in a dictionary wouldn't have removed the puzzlement. The question is rightly closed, but the reason is that it is unanswerable (rather than answerable too easily); the only thing one can do is try to guess what may have been intended.
    – jsw29
    Jun 16, 2022 at 14:14
  • @jsw29 - Not everyone in the world knows what uninsured means, and a dictionary definition would not help much -- this concept of "uninsured" is pretty meaningless in most of the first world. / I didn't see that OP was asking what the point of the passage was. And I wouldn't be able to answer that well without reading more context.
    – aparente001
    Jun 17, 2022 at 3:03
  • The OP probably understood the point of the passage reasonably well; it's just that the point, which is about mid-twentieth century French philosophy, is far removed from any concerns about insurance, which makes the appearance of the word uninsured puzzling.
    – jsw29
    Jun 17, 2022 at 14:57
  • Could uninsured just be a typo for untenured?
    – user14111
    Jun 19, 2022 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


An anecdote from Camus' life is that he was unable to get life insurance because of the poor state of his lungs (being a habitual smoker).

The biography Albert Camus: A Life by Olivier Todd says that this was a frequent joke between the author and his family, an example of dark humour as he concealed the true extent of his health problems from them. Also, The Boxer and the Goalkeeper by Andy Martin, covering the Sartre-Camus relationship, even says that this was raised on the morning of Camus' fatal car accident:

Camus and Michel amiably discussed life insurance. It was impossible for either of them to get any, on account of their bad lungs (it was one of the things they had in common). (p. 283)

"Michel" is Michel Gallimard, the publisher, who died in the same crash.

  • 1
    Hi and welcome to Literature Stack Exchange. The implication of your answer seems to be that "uninsured" has its usual dictionary meaning. Since the question is about the meaning of "uninsured", it is advisable to add something about the meaning to your answer.
    – Tsundoku
    Jul 4, 2022 at 23:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.