Our framing claim here will be that Camus saw the vocation of the artist, both in its receptivity to beauty and in its necessary, leisured preconditions, as a modern avatar of the vita contemplativa. In this way, his work pushes against Arendt’s diagnosis of the complete loss of any sense of this possibility of life among the moderns. Indeed, Camus defended the vocation of the artist in just these terms. He admired the act of artistic creation as a kind of ethically exemplary one, both for the personal discipline it calls forth from the artist and in its task of bearing witness to all of the different dimensions of human experience, not excluding the most intimate experiences of grief, loss, friendship, wonder, and love. This vocation of the artist Camus accordingly saw as a profoundly necessary counter to all post-Hegelian philosophies in later modernity that ask us to assent to the view that all aspects of human Geist are wholly “historical” or political.
Camus ought therefore to be numbered, this essay will argue, as one of the few thinkers of the last century who, while not advocating for a wholesale contemplative withdrawal he deemed impossible in the twentieth century, sought to preserve a sense of the merits and necessity of otium. Ultimately, he would advocate for what he calls a “right to solitude” in a fully human society, and in any full human life.12 Camus made his case for a revindication of the necessity of leisure most directly in his ongoing philosophical reflections on art, once more a comparatively understudied aspect of his oeuvre, but one that is at the heart of L’Homme révolté in particular.13 What emerges above all in Camus’s post-1945 writings on art, we will argue, is an advocacy, in the light of the pervasive demands of sociopolitical realities on moderns’ lives, for a restoration of what in the ancient world was called the vita mixta (mixed life of activity and contemplation).
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor