I discovered it was possible to contain at least two attitudes simultaneously: on the one hand, revulsion toward and criticism of her ideas, the policies of greed, selfishness, brutal colonialism and militarism, and, on the other hand, a grudging admiration of her ability to gate-crash her way to power as a female, continuously enduring personal attacksthe endless references to her hair, her handbag, her voice, even the angle of her head.
In late 1954, the FLN launched a guerrilla offensive, to which the French government responded by escalating its repression. In August 1955, the FLN massacred 123 French and Muslim civilians, and the French Army (along with paramilitary groups of pieds-noirs) went on a rampage, killing thousands of guerrillas and Arab civilians. The Algerian War had begun in earnest.Camus was distraught, not least because his family, including his elderly mother, and many close friends, French and Arab, were caught between two armed forces employing indiscriminate violence.[...]Moral imagination is not to be expected, perhaps, from politicians or military commanders. But even the intellectuals of Paris and Algiers failed to respond, preferring partisan commitment. Camus was profoundly discouraged, and moreover bore many scars from earlier Parisian polemics. Further ridicule was in store: At a press conference in Stockholm after the Nobel ceremony, Camus made a statement widely misreported as I believe in justice, but I will defend my mother before justice.... What he said was: People are now planting bombs in the tramways of Algiers. My mother might be on one of those tramways. If that is justice, then I prefer my mother. He was not sentimentally exalting his mother above justice; he was rejecting the equation of justice with revolutionary terrorism.
National Geographic didn't propagandize for a Western view of the world in the guise of something else; it argued openly for it, in issue after issue. The belief in the superiority of Western civilization covers over a tremendous amount of sufferingthe Belgian Congo genocide seems nowhere mentionedbut it is no crazier than beliefs we hold just as dear. The National Geographers might have been wrong in their self-regard, but they were hardly sneaky. Meanwhile, historical criticism, which is ostensibly about trying to understand things as they were seen then, too often spends its time hectoring the dead about not having seen things as we do now. The cultural-studies approach to the creators of the old National Geographic is like nothing so much as an article in the old National Geographic about an alien tribeno less condescending, certainly, if a good deal less generous.
About the Author
Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.