Introducing Camus by David Zane Mairowitz and Alain Korkos

Author In Depth: Albert Camus

Review: Introducing Camus by David Zane Mairowitz and Alain Korkos (illustrator)
Icon Books UK/Totem Books USA (1998)

My Quick Take: Am I ever glad I read this before diving into the works of Albert Camus. I gained a good overview of the man and his life in the context of the world events he was steeped in.


In my 20s I went through a brief phase of reading several “...For Beginners” books. I particularly remember owning “Baudrillard for Beginners,” and though it was less complex than actually trying to read Baudrillard, even the illustrated summary of his philosophy was at times over my head.

I’ve been looking at the For Beginners series, and they seem to have transformed from “For Beginners,” to “Introducing…” and now even sometimes, “....A Graphic Guide.” All are published by Icon Books/Totem Books, each as a new edition. To confuse matters, there seems to be a publisher called For Beginners that now maybe owns that phrase but the authors are different, and not the series I remember from years ago.

All that to say that I happily took up the “For Beginners” series again, with this edition called “Introducing Camus.” With my Camus Author In Depth project, I realized I’d have a much more meaningful experience if it was informed by an understanding of Camus’ life and philosophy. His thought was so rooted in his historical context as a French Algerian-born man in the mid-20th century. His views on colonialism and Algerian independence were complex and perhaps a tad controversial.

His most famous contribution to philosophical thought is Absurdism. He’s often thought of as an existentialist, but he disputed this. From the book:
“We are simply thrown into this world and the outcome is death, pure and simple. There is only life before and nothing beyond. And yet, this absence of explanation is not, in itself, the idea of the Absurd. ‘What is absurd is the confrontation between the sense of the irrational and the overwhelming desire for clarity which resounds in the depths of man.

The Absurd is thus a pointless quest for meaning in a universe devoid of purpose. It is a totally human foible and, once again, only defines the beginning of the questioning of existence. Coming to terms with the Absurd is what essentially concerns Camus, because this accounts for the terrible ‘weight and strangeness’ of the world as experienced by every human being.” [bold and italics the author’s]
The Absurd is explored in his earlier works: The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and Calugula.

There is a later stage in his work that led to a second concept that Camus is known for: La Révolt (Revolt), after WWII, and explores the role of revolution. It also asks the question: “Can man, alone and without divine help, create his own sense of values?” He explores this in his works The Rebel, The Plague, and a play called Les Justes. And it was in this section of the book that, once again, the cartoon version of Camus’ life got almost a little too complicated for me. I’ll have to come back and reread as I read these works.

Finally there are his later works, often referencing the issues of Algerian independence, or indirectly commenting on his longing for that lost place. His novels The Guest and The Fall may fall into this category.

Camus was not only a novelist, essayist and playwright. He was also at times primarily a journalist, and played a role in the French resistance during WWII, a member of the French resistance group known as Combat.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, and was working on a planned play, book of essays and a new novel when he decided to return to Paris on January 4, 1960. He’d bought a train ticket, but then decided to drive back as a passenger with his friend and family. The car veered off the road, smashed into a tree, and Camus was killed.

As I go through Introducing Camus, I have the sense that I may buy a copy of the book to keep as reference for my journey through this philosopher’s body of writing; it seems an excellent basic primer to consult from time to time.

Informed by this introduction, my plan is to begin with exploring the Absurd via The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and Caligula, then onward from there.