Monday, March 27, 2006

Wind at Djemila

Over at Ambassador Fayrouz's, I was directed to a blog by an Algerian named Nouri Lumendifi now living in New Haven and while reading through his old blog entries I came across one in which Nouri discussed Albert Camus:
Camus wrote what he knew which was French Algeria, form the eyes of a pied noir. Said faulted Camus for this, as did many of Camus's contemporaries who viewed himas being appologetic or weak on the Algerian question. However, I do not. I find it difficult to criticize a man for writing what he knew; I would not fault an Israeli author for writing through his experience or an Iraqi Sunni for writing what he knew. All of these would reflect some sort of bias, a particular domineering experience that would be entirely different from those who were socially or economically underneath them, be they Palestinians or Shias or Kurds. Each, though, would be totally valid and fine with me if they had literary or philosophical value. I view Albert Camus as an Algerian writer. In fact, I view him as more of an Algerian than Franz Fanon, for his works did no long lasting harm to the Algerian condition, and I would argue actually can help to ameliorate it through allowing the Algerians today see an alternate point of view that would allow them to know that Algeria has had many faces and still does. He viewed himself as a patriot to Algeria and to France, and became confused in the battle between his loyalties and ideals. Camus has worth outside fo the absurd and outside of existentialism. Camus, while certainly no Algerian nationalist, was definitly a man whose works say a lot about Algeria, as well as the rest of humanity. He stands out form other pied noir writers in that he was not hostile to the native population, and there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that he was against the brutality that was carried out in Algeria. So take from him what you will, and appreciate it.
Years ago, as most undergradautes did then, I read Camus's "The Stranger." I then went on to locate and read his other novel and his collections of essays and his diaries. There was one essay, however, "The Wind at Djemila," that really struck me. Here's the opening:
There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial may be born. When I went to Djemila, there was wind and sun, but that is another story. What must be said first of all is that a heavy, unbroken silence reigned there— something like a perfectly balanced pair of scales. The cry of birds, the soft sound of a three-hole flute, goats trampling, murmurs from the sky were just so many sounds added to the silence and desolation. Now and then a sharp clap, a piercing cry marked the upward flight of a bird huddled among the rocks. Any trail one followed— the pathways through the ruined houses, along wide, paved roads under shining colonnades, across the vast forum between the triumphal arch and the temple set upon a hill— would end at the ravines that surround Djemila on every side, like a pack of cards opening beneath a limitless sky. And one would stand there, absorbed, confronted with stones and silence, as the day moved on and the mountains grew purple surging upward. But the wind blows across the plateau of Djemila. In the great confusion of wind and sun that mixes light into the ruins, in the silence and solitude of this dead city, something is forged that gives man the measure of his identity.
As Nouri suggests, Camus necessarily wrote from his personal point of view about Algeria. At the same time, Camus, sitting in his personal ring, looked out through the other rings -- family, local, regional, and national -- all the way to the universal. In "The Wind at Djemila" Camus, like the best artists, shows us how the personal and the universal are in fact not that far apart.

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I really like the Site Meter Map of the World showing recent visitors. It's always surprising to see people stopping by from almost every continent. And I'm sitting here at my computer in New York, the sky a piercing blue today above the Manhattan skyline outside my window.

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