Albert Camus’ 1942 classic, “The Stranger,” raises tough questions about culture clash and how we find meaning in our lives – and the narratives we create to absolve ourselves. The final event in the three-year “Another Look” series will take place on June 1.
BY CYNTHIA HAVEN
I was poised midway between poverty and sunshine,” wrote Albert Camus, describing his impoverished childhood in French Algeria. “Poverty prevented me from judging that all waswell in the world and in history, the sun taught me that history is not everything.”
Albert Camus’ The Stranger is drenched in the North African sun, but heat and light take an ominous turn. The Nobel Prize-winning author’s tale of a senseless murder on the hot Mediterranean beach has been a staple of high-school classes for decades, ever since it was published by the up-and-coming writer in 1942. But does it carry a new meaning for our time?
Acclaimed novelist Tobias Wolff has chosen The Stranger for the Another Look book club event at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 1 at the Stanford Humanities Center. With Tobias Wolff’s retirement at the end of this academic year, the spring event on Camus’ The Stranger will be the last in the popular three-year series.
Wolff, professor of English and the founding director of Another Look, will moderate the final event. He will be joined by cultural and intellectual historian Caroline Winterer, director of the Stanford Humanities Center; and Stanford lecturer Marie-Pierre Ulloa, a scholar of French intellectual life in 20th-century Algeria who has received France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, one of the nation’s highest cultural honors. The event is free and open to the public.
According to Wolff, “The Stranger is not an overlooked book. But I believe that among adult readers it is more honored than read. We usually encounter it in our student days, and I doubt that many of us read it again later on.
“Yet it’s very much worth our renewed attention in this moment for the questions it raises about our attempts to find meaning in our lives, about the often violent encounters of different cultures, about the way we create consoling, even heroic, narratives to explain and absolve ourselves while remaining willfully blind to the personal and social forces that actually drive us, about the question of free will – do we have it? – and about the problematic nature of institutional justice and punishment, indeed of all human judgment.“
Stanford alumnus Matthew Ward translated the edition of Camus’ “The Stranger” chosen for Another Look.
The event will spotlight the translation of Matthew Ward, who learned French at Stanford (a profile of him here). He died of AIDS in 1990, two years after his translation was published, and a year after it received a PEN award. In a New York Times article, Ward said he used an “American method” to translate Camus.
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