“For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth. And often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche’s great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.
By the same token, the writer’s role is not free from difficult duties. By definition he cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it. Otherwise, he will be alone and deprived of his art. Not all the armies of tyranny with their millions of men will free him from his isolation, even and particularly if he falls into step with them. But the silence of an unknown prisoner, abandoned to humiliations at the other end of the world, is enough to draw the writer out of his exile, at least whenever, in the midst of the privileges of freedom, he manages not to forget that silence, and to transmit it in order to make it resound by means of his art.
None of us is great enough for such a task. But in all circumstances of life, in obscurity or temporary fame, cast in the irons of tyranny or for a time free to express himself, the writer can win the heart of a living community that will justify him, on the one condition that he will accept to the limit of his abilities the two tasks that constitute the greatness of his craft: the service of truth and the service of liberty.
Truth is mysterious, elusive, always to be conquered. Liberty is dangerous, as hard to live with as it is elating. We must march toward these two goals, painfully but resolutely, certain in advance of our failings on so long a road. What writer would from now on in good conscience dare set himself up as a preacher of virtue? For myself, I must state once more that I am not of this kind. I have never been able to renounce the light, the pleasure of being, and the freedom in which I grew up. But although this nostalgia explains many of my errors and my faults, it has doubtless helped me toward a better understanding of my craft. It is helping me still to support unquestioningly all those silent men who sustain the life made for them in the world only through memory of the return of brief and free happiness.”
-Albert Camus (1913-1960)
Stockholm City Hall, December 10, 1957
Acceptance of The Nobel Prize in Literature 1957 for The Plague
As always, with fall, comes the “voracious reader” in me (eschewing poetry, which I believe somehow dilutes my own internal reactions to the changing scenery). Albert Camus has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, as he was a massive influence on my East Coast writing portfolio, and lately he has reentered my life. When I was last at John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit this summer, I found an early edition Nobel Prize Library hardcover of both Winston Churchill’s The Island Race and Albert Camus’ The Plague. Winning awards will never be my primary goal, as it isn’t entirely synonymous with my ambitions of simply changing someone’s life with my writing. However, being a Nobel Prize laureate has been a lifelong dream of mine since first reading Rudyard Kipling in grade school. Though my reasons are magnanimous and, ultimately, private, I have no reluctance in sharing my enthusiasm for such a profound institution. I suppose that is why I wanted to cite part of Camus’ acceptance speech above. As much as I cherished The Plague, and appreciated both its relevance and importance in a post-WWII era, his address to the Nobel Banquet of 1957 stirred something in me that I was not soon able to quiet. Thus I am confident it, too, will stir something substantial in you, my readers…and, hopefully, those effects will be just as vast as they are inspiring to others.
One thought on “Je Ne Puis Vivre Sans Mon Art”
Thanks for sharing this. Such an inspiring quote!