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Recherche du Temps Perdu

It was early summer of 1958 and I was on my way to France for a Junior Year Abroad. Eight Hundred students from colleges throughout the country were tucked into the Dutch ocean liner, the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, which had clearly seen better days, but whose wonderful interior wood work and carvings testified to its once proud heritage.Half-way across the Atlantic, one of the propellers gave out and we limped to Le Havre in fourteen days. But we were all college students, there was ample food, and not a few romances were decorously hatched in those relatively innocent fifties. Dog-eared paper backs were abundant, and probably half those sunning themselves on deck, dreamed of being in Algeria, as they made their anxious way through Camus' The Stranger.These recollections came back as I read Sven Birkerts' review in today's Boston Globe of Elizabeth Hawes' new book, Camus, a Romance. Here is Birkerts' conclusion:

Camus, A Romance does much to bring this troubled and complex writer back into the light. We experience the tragic velocity of a committed life cut short, and at the same time we get the intensity of the postwar era, the sense of high stakes and intellectual urgency. We are also reminded, lest we forget, that while ideas and attitudes go in and out of fashion, moral vigilance stays. Camus lived full throttle with both eyes open. We may not be lofted quite to romance by Hawes account, but its hard not to be stirred.

A tragic postscript: shortly after our voyage the ship underwent a major reconstruction. In 1963 it was sold to the Greek line and re-named the Lakonia. During a Christmas cruise that year it caught fire and sank, with the loss of 128 lives. There is a web page dedicated to the ship and its long and tragic history.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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Father Imbelli, When I first came to Seton Hall, I decided to read a bit more Camus, I think because his play, Les Juste, was mentioned by Balthasar a number of times and also because a friend had pointed out a book by David Walsh that features him prominently. So, I picked up The Rebel, and I must say it is a profoundly moral book; if I were better read, I would confidently proclaim it one of the best books of the twentieth century. Instead, I will less confidently proclaim it so. Anyway, it changed the direction of my work, and made me realize what was at stake in some of the work on Balthasar I was doing at the time. It is also fun to point out to my students that he was born into a largely illiterate family (his father died I believe the same year that Peguy died in the first world war), and went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature. What draws me to Camus time and again is (1) his clear-eyed rejection of Promethean culture whether of the left or right (so rare in such difficult times!) and (2) his desire to use any categories that would be helpful to understanding and shedding light on his cultural moment, even if those categories were "too religious" for some.

"Tyrants conduct monologuea above a million solitudes." Just that line of Camus can be a wealth of information and expressed so well as Camus was wont to do. From Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Sadaam and the like we should recognize the contempt of speakers who are willing to bore us to death and put to death those who do not applaud such boredom.

Thanks, Bob. I can smell the ocean air as I read your post! That sounds so much more glamorous than taking a charter flight from JFK!

This is neither here nor there, but Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, after whom the ill-fated ship was named, was an associate (if memory serves) of Hugo Grotius, helped achieve Dutch independence from Spain, and later was himself executed, a victim of struggles within the body of Dutch Calvinism (Arminianism and anti-Arminianism).

Professor Clifford,I find your "here and there" always instructive. Thanks.Cathleen,"mais, o sont les neiges d'antan?"

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