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The literary pillar: Albert Camus

In the original bid of Marseilles 2013, Albert Camus and the Arab philosophers were named to be the literary pillars of the cultural programme to be implemented once the year has come to be European Capital of Culture for one year. Controversies and resignations have dampened that hope Marseilles 2013 would be different from other ECoC stories and base not only culture on a sound philosophical and literary tradition, but further as well the dialogue between Europe and the Arab world. Now this aspiration has become something else in the reality of many factors influencing what does then take shape as official programme.

Of interest is how Ulrich Fuchs refers to this part of the cultural programme. He names difficulties to advance a debate in France when certain topics such as Algiers are touched upon, as it seems to reflect an unresolved legacy.(1)

There is naturally the dispute between Sartre as Existentialist philosopher and Camus as writer of the absurd. The two ended up in a broken friendship. As described by Ronald Aronson from Wayne State University, Detroit in his book "Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended it!", this loss has affected left wing policy making as it seems impossible to link a radical critique of the system disposed towards use of violence with the humanist tradition for which Albert Camus stands for.

The interesting question is whether Marseilles 2013 succeeds despite all the set-backs to refocus on Camus and this in the context of what has been happening in the Arab world since the Arab spring has created new hopes for democratic practice and an emancipation from the post colonial system.


(1) Interview with Ulrich Fuchs

Welt: One subject strand of Marseille Provence 2013 is called "Mediterrannée" or "Le Partage du Midi", that is the common history of the Mediterranean region. What happens there exactly?

Ulrich Fuchs: The historical relation between France as the former colonial power and the north African continent is an important subject matter. It shall be present throughout all debates, exhibitions, theatrical and musical performances taking place the entire year. One emblematic figure, which stands in Southern France and in Algeria for this period of time, is Albert Camus. He has in the year 2013 his 100th birthday. The topic Camus was already during the preparations of the cultural capital a controversial one. A large exhibition, which we plan together with Cité du Livre in Aix-en-Provence, has lead to tremendous debates, with participants like Catherine Camus, who defends almost like a temple guard the works of her father and who lives after all as well here in Southern France.

Welt: Camus is considered to be a holy figure in French literature. How is it possible to have a dispute over such a person?

Ulrich Fuchs: There exist enough people who have criticized Camus and still do so today. There is the after effect of the historical debate between Sarte and Camus about the nature of totalitarianism. In our organisation there was a debate between two curators for this exhibition and which was brought into play, so to speak, at competitive level this difference and made quite clear that behind it exist deep wounds. It is also a dispute between fans of Camus and fans of Sartre. For the Pieds-Noirs, Camus is a problematic figure due to the position he took vis a vis the colonial power. Camus illuminated upon French policy in a very critical manner and made violence and terror of the French occupational army into his theme. There exists a kind of refuge mentality amongst those on the Right and the Pieds-Noirs with sympathies for the National Front. It reminds me very much of the debates we had in the sixties and seventies due to the refugee unions in Germany who assumed a very reactionary position. It is in France a much more controversial and hot topic, much more than what one thinks.

Source: „Fight for Marseille: Colonial heritage, Right wing radicalism, Nazi past, but equally new museums in the Mediterranean space – Is Marseille a "European Cultural Capital City" against its own will?” by Werner Bloch. Die Welt. 6.1.2013 Translation by Hatto Fischer







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