Albert Camus on the “Media Show”

Albert Camus’ articles in Combat, newspaper of the French Resistance against Nazism, between 1943 and 1949, were the starting point of the political thought of the author of The Rebel Man (1951). The recent Spanish edition of these texts, by Debate, entitled La noche de la verdad (2021), translated by María Teresa Gallego Urrutia and prefaced by Manuel Arias Maldonado, allows us to complete our vision of Camus’ moral politics.

There are many topics of interest in these pages: The Vichy government, the fall of fascism in Germany and Italy, the consolidation of Francoism in Spain, Charles de Gaulle, the National Liberation Movement, the Friends of the Algerian Manifesto, the Catholic Church, the Communist Party. And there are also some intellectual polemics such as those he had with François Mauriac and Gabriel Marcel, which anticipate his quarrel with Jean Paul Sartre and the group of Les Tempes Modernes.

One of Camus’ last collaborations in Combat, which after the liberation had ceased to be an underground newspaper, was related to the campaign in favor of Sol Gareth (aka Garry Davis), the American activist that called himself “citizen of the world.” Davis, born in Bar Harbor, Maine, renounced his U.S. citizenship and created a Registry of Citizens of the World to promote peace at the onset of the Cold War.

In the last months of 1948, Davis camped outside the Palais de Chaillot and led a peaceful protest against the United Nations (UN) sessions in Paris. During the months of his protest, several intellectuals, including André Breton, Jean Paulhan, Raymond Queneau and Camus himself, created a Solidarity Council to prevent Davis’ eviction and repression.

Finally, in November of that year, Davis managed to enter the Palais de Chaillot and tried to interrupt the UN sessions to propose the creation of a World Government. After his arrest, the controversy over the type of political action of the American activist reached the pages of Combat. Many leftist intellectuals, especially communists, questioned Davis’ methods because they considered them “spectacular,” “scandalous” or “anarchist” or because, through cosmopolitanism, they favored U.S. imperialism. Camus’s response to the objections about the “spectacularity” of Davis’s action contains important lessons:

“He (Davis) is not to blame for the fact that the simple evidence turns out to be spectacular. Differences aside, Socrates too was continually staging shows in the market place. And they only succeeded in proving him wrong by condemning him to death. That is precisely the form of reputation most in vogue in contemporary political society. But it is also the most common way for this society to recognize its degradation and its impotence.”

The tiresome official complaints about the media character of “artivism” in Cuba seem to ignore two evidences: that public art is nothing but spectacle and that Cuban politics has always been marked by theatricality, before and, above all, after the 1959 Revolution. They seem to ignore it, but they do not ignore it, because if there is something that these complaints convey, it is discomfort for the loss of control of the national spectacle.

Virgilio Piñera, reader of Camus, to whom he paid homage in Lunes de Revolución —the two best obituaries of the author of The Stranger in Havana in 1960 were that one and the one by Jorge Mañach in Bohemia— saw it with clarity in his “Piñera teatral” and in his play Jesus. Between Chibás and Fidel, Cuban politics reached its highest point of messianism and spectacularism. According to Piñera, art, under that magnetization of the agora, should be anti-prophetic.

In Cuba, after Fidel, politics loses its theatricality and displays its bureaucratic grayness. Nothing could be more logical than for art, then, to resume the prominence of those who take their clothes off in the street, the living dead, the Bigote Gato and the Caballeros de París. Those who complain so much about the “media show” of the young artivists are like those French intellectuals who, according to Camus, disdained Garry Davis for putting a pinch of salt on the dove of peace. Deep down they wished, in order to avoid ridicule, to shoot Davis and the dove point-blank.

Rafael Rojas (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1965). He is a historian and essayist. He has a degree in Philosophy from the University of Havana and a PhD in History from El Colegio de México. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Letras Libres and the newspaper El País, and is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Istor of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE). He has published the books: Un banquete canónico (2000), Revolución, disidencias y exilio intelectual cubano (2006), La vanguardia peregrina. El escritor cubano, la tradición y el exilio (2013), among others. Since July 2019, he occupies chair 11 of the Mexican Academy of History.


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