21 December 2020

Giovanni Catelli: The Death of Camus (2020), trans. by Andrew Tanzi from Camus deve morire (2013)


So, a book titled The Death of Camus (originally Camus deve morire ('Camus Must Die')) with a Foreword by Paul Auster. Inviting certainly, although is there anything more to be said about Camus's death? Yes, definitely: Auster is right to call this book 'disturbing', and at the same time 'difficult not to agree with [Catelli]'.

Anyone familiar with the biography of Albert Camus (1913-1960) will be aware that he died with his friend Michel Gallimard in a Facel Vega near Villeblevin, the wrecked car hard against a plane tree. And that the passengers in the back seat, Gallimard's wife Janine and daughter Anne, escaped virtually unhurt.

Camus's monument stands very close to the Mairie in Villeblevin.  His coffin was carried out of the Mairie and taken to Lourmarin (Vaucluse), where he is buried and where many people still visit his grave.

The Death of Camus is a work of love, made by Giovanni Catelli who spent some time investigating Camus's death. A sentence from Jan Zábrana's notes, in which he says of the car Camus died in: 'They rigged the tyre with a tool that eventually pierced it when the car was travelling at hign speed'. On a straight road the car started to veer about and ended up hitting plane trees. Now why should that be?

Camus was a defender of justice, a person who didn't mince his words. A man who. having received the much feted Nobel Prize for Literature, also carried a huge power around with him in whatever he said or wrote. He was a strong opponent of Soviet 'Communism', and in particular the hanging of the Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy by the Soviets. And he loathed the Soviet foreign secretary, Dmitri Shevilov. Obviously he was due for assassination by the KGB and The Death of Camus suggests how this could have been done: sabotaging the Faca Vega when it was parked for the night in Thoissey, where the passengers stopped for the night on their way to Paris.

Catelli's argument is convincing, his investigations thorough, and it is difficult to argue with his findings and his suggestions: Camus was much more than a typical example of people who had been erased from history by the Russians.

This is excellent detective work, although I particularly object to just one sentence: 'Sartre's cynicism, baseness and lust for personal gain masked as cultural interest have long been dismissed as a grave disappointment.' Really? I wasn't aware that cynicism was an offense, 'baseness' is both highly subjective and groundless if (as here) unsupported by examples, and the accusation of 'lust for personal gain masked as cultural interest' is stupifying: Camus bought a nice little town house for his family in Lourmarin on the proceeds of his considerable Nobel award, whereas Sartre refused to accept his award on the grounds that he didn't want to be an institution. Clearly, Catelli has accepted wholesale Michel Onfray's insistent (and shameful) potshots at Sartre in his brilliant (although marred) L'Ordre Libertaire: la vie philosophique d'Albert Camus (2012).

But The Death of Camus is a must to read, and will if not revise people's conventional acceptance of his death, at least make them strongly think twice about it. Am I convinced by this book? I think so.

No comments: