The characters referenced in Woody Allen’s movie “Midnight in Paris” (Part 30, Albert Camus)

Recently I read a review of “Midnight in Paris” the latest Woody Allen movie that noted, “Many a writer or artist has longed to travel back in time to the sizzling Paris of the 1920’s to sip absinthe with Hemingway at Les Deux Magots ,” and that got me thinking. What other famous people were patrons of this famous restaurant through the years? Albert Camus is one of those gentlemen and he is the one I am looking at today. 

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I am really reaching at this point. Up until this point I have really been trying to only talk about the characters that Woody Allen referenced in his latest movie “Midnight in Paris.” However, now I am stepping over the line and talking about famous philosophers who ate regularly at Les Deux Magots which is featured in the movie. So be it.

Les Deux Magots (French pronunciation: [le dø maɡo]) is a famous[1] café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris, France. It once had a reputation as the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city. It is now a popular tourist destination. Its historical reputation is derived from the patronage of Surrealist artists, intellectuals such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and young writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. Other patrons included Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso.

The Deux Magots literary prize has been awarded to a French novel every year since 1933.

File:Statues, Les Deux Magots, Paris.JPG

The name originally belonged to a fabric and novelty shop at nearby 23 Rue de Buci. The shop sold silk lingerie and took its name from a popular play of the moment (1800s) entitled Les Deux Magots de la Chine (Two Figurines from China.)[2] In 1873 the business transferred to its current location in the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés. In 1884 the business changed to a café and liquoriste, keeping the name.

Auguste Boulay bought the business in 1914, when it was on the brink of bankruptcy, for 400,000 francs (anciens). The present manager, Catherine Mathivat, is his great-great-granddaughter.

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Albert Camus, (1913-60)


  • Life in AlgeriaAlthough born in extreme poverty, Camus attended the lycee and university in Algiers, where he developed an abiding interest in sports and the theater. His university career was cut short by a severe attack of tuberculosis, an illness from which he suffered periodically throughout his life. The themes of poverty, sport, and the horror of human mortality all figure prominently in his volumes of so-called Algerian essays: L’Envers et l’endroit (The Wrong Side and the Right Side, 1937), Noces (Nuptials, 1938), and L’Ete (Summer, 1954). In 1938 he became a journalist with Alger-Republicain, an anticolonialist newspaper. While working for this daily he wrote detailed reports on the condition of poor Arabs in the Kabyles region. These reports were later published in abridged form in Actuelles III (1958).
  • The War YearsSuch journalistic experience proved invaluable when Camus went to France during World War II. There he worked for the Combat resistance network and undertook the editorship of the Parisian daily Combat, which first appeared clandestinely in 1943. His editorials, both before and after the liberation, showed a deep desire to combine political action with strict adherence to moral principles.During the war Camus published the main works associated with his doctrine of the absurd–his view that human life is rendered ultimately meaningless by the fact of death and that the individual cannot make rational sense of his experience. These works include the novel The Stranger (1942; Eng. trans., 1946), perhaps his finest work of fiction, which memorably embodies the 20th-century theme of the alienated stranger or outsider; a long essay on the absurd, The Myth of Sysiphysus (1942; Eng. trans., 1955); and two plays published in 1944, Cross Purpose (Eng. trans., 1948) and Caligula (Eng. trans., 1948). In these works Camus explored contemporary nihilism with considerable sympathy, but his own attitude toward the “absurd” remained ambivalent. In theory, philosophical absurdism logically entails total moral indifference. Camus found, however, that neither his own temperament nor his experiences in occupied France allowed him to be satisfied with such total moral neutrality. The growth of his ideas on moral responsibility is partly sketched in the four Letters to a German Friend (1945) included, with a number of other political essays, in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1960).
  • RebellionundefinedFrom this point on, Camus was concerned mainly with exploring avenues of rebellion against the absurd as he strove to create something like a humane stoicism. The Plague (1947; Eng. trans., 1948) is a symbolic novel in which the important achievement of those who fight bubonic plague in Oran lies not in the little success they have but in their assertion of human dignity and endurance. In the controversial essay The Rebel (1951; Eng. trans., 1954), he criticized what he regarded as the deceptive doctrines of “absolutist” philosophies–the vertical (eternal) transcendence of Christianity and the horizontal (historical) transcendence of Marxism. He argued in favor of Mediterranean humanism, advocating nature and moderation rather than historicism and violence. He subsequently became involved in a bitter controversy with Jean Paul Sartre over the issues raised in this essay.Camus wrote two overtly political plays, the satirical State of Siege (1948; Eng. trans., 1958) and The Just Assassins (1950; Eng. trans., 1958). It can be argued, however, that Camus scored his major theatrical success with stage adaptations of such novels as William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun (1956) and Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (1959). He also published a third novel, The Fall (1956; Eng. trans., 1957), which some critics read as a flirtation with Christian ideas, and a collection of short stories noteworthy for their technical virtuosity,Exile and the Kingdom (1957; Eng. trans., 1958). Posthumous publications include two sets of Notebooks covering the period 1935-51, an early novel, A Happy Death (1971; Eng. trans., 1972), and a collection of essays, Youthful Writings (1973; Eng. trans., 1976 and 1977)John Cruickshank

How Should We Then Live  Pt 7

T h e AGE OF NON-REASON

I. Optimism Of Older Humanist Philosophers:

The unity and true knowledge of reality defined as starting from Man alone.

II. Shift in Modern Philosophy

A. Eighteenth century as the vital watershed.

B. Rousseau: ideas and influence.

1. Rousseau and autonomous freedom.

2. Personal freedom and social necessity clash in Rousseau.

3. Rousseau’s influence.

a) Robespierre and the ideology of the Terror.

b) Gauguin, natural freedom, and disillusionment.

C. DeSade: If nature is the absolute, cruelty equals non-cruelty.

D. Impossible tension between autonomous freedom and autonomous reasons conclusion that the universe and people are a part of the total cosmic machine.

E. Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard and their followers sought for a unity but they did not solve the problem.

1. After these men and their followers, there came an absolute break between the area of meaning and values, and the area of reason.

2. Now humanistic philosophy sees reason as always leading to pessimism; any hope of optimism lies in non-reason.

 

III. Existentialism and Non-Reason

A. French existentialism.

1. Total separation of reason and will: Sartre.

2. Not possible to live consistently with this position.

B. German existentialism.

1. Jaspers and the “final experience.”

2. Heidegger and angst.

 

C. Influence of existentialism. 

 

1. As a formal philosophy it is declining.

2. As a generalized attitude it dominates modern thought.

IV. Forms of Popularization of Nonrational Experience

A. Drug experience.

1. Aldous Huxley and “truth inside one’s head.”

2. Influence of rock groups in spreading the drug culture; psychedelic rock.

B. Eastern religious experience: from the drug trip to the Eastern religious trip.

C. The occult as a basis for “hope” in the area of non-reason.

V. Theological Liberalism and Existentialism

A. Preparation for theological existentialism.

1. Renaissance’s attempt to “synthesize” Greek philosophers and Christianity; religious liberals’ attempt to “synthesize” Enlightenment and Christianity.

2. Religious liberals denied supernatural but accepted reason.

3. Schweitzer’s demolition of liberal aim to separate the natural from the supernatural in the New Testament.

 

B. Theological existentialism.

1. Intellectual failure of rationalist theology opened door to theological existentialism.

2. Barth brought the existential methodology into theology.

a) Barth’s teaching led to theologians who said that the Bible is not true in the areas of science and history, but they nevertheless look for a religious experience from it.

b) For many adherents of this theology, the Bible does not give absolutes in regard to what is right or wrong in human behavior.

3. Theological existentialism as a cul-de-sac.

a) If Bible is divorced from its teaching concerning the cosmos and history, its values can’t be applied to a historic situation in either morals or law; theological pronouncements

about morals or law are arbitrary.

b) No way to explain evil or distinguish good from evil. Therefore, these theologians are in same position as Hindu philosophers (as illustrated by Kali).

c) Tillich, prayer as reflection, and the deadness of “god.”

d) Religious words used for manipulation of society.

 

VI. Conclusion

With what Christ and the Bible teach, Man can have life instead of death—in having knowledge that is more than finite Man can have from himself.

Questions

1. What is the difference between theologians and philosophers of the rationalist tradition and those of the existentialist tradition?

2. “If the early church had embraced an existentialist theology, it would have been absorbed into the Roman pantheon.” It didn’t. Why not?

3. “It is true that existentialist theology is foreign to biblical religion. But biblical religion was the product of a particular culture and, though useful for societies in the same cultural stream, it is no longer suitable for an age in which an entire range of world cultures requires a common religious denominator. Religious existentialism provides that, without losing the universal instinct for the holy.” Study this statement carefully. What assumptions are betrayed by it?

4. Can you isolate attitudes and tendencies in yourself, your church, and your community which reflect the “existentialist methodology” described by Dr. Schaeffer?

Key Events and Persons

Rousseau: 1712-1778

Kant: 1724-1804

Marquis de Sade: 1740-1814

The Social Contract: 1762

Hegel: 1770-1831

Kierkegaard: 1813-1855

Paul Gauguin: 1848-1903

Whence, What Whither?: 1897-1898

Albert Schweitzer: 1875-1965

Quest for the Historical Jesus: 1906

Karl Jaspers: 1883-1969

Paul Tillich: 1886-1965

Karl Barth: 1886-1968

Martin Heidegger: 1889-1976

Aldous Huxley: 1894-1963

J.P. Sartre: 1905-1980

Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper: 1967 

 

Further Study

Unless already familiar with them, take time to listen to the Beatles’ records, as well as to discs put out by other groups at the time.

Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942).

Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception (1954).

Rousseau, The Social Contract (1762).

J.P. Sartre, Nausea (1938).

Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (1952).

Following Rousseau, the exaggeration of the delights and the pathos of nature and experience which marks Romanticism may be sampled in, for example, Wordsworth’s poems, Casper David Friedrich’s paintings, and Schubert’s songs.

J.G. Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation (1968).

J.W. von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther (1962).

Erich Heller, The Disinherited Mind (1952).

 

Camus, The Fall, and the Question of Faith

By Jimmy Maher

The Fall is a work absolutely drenched in Christian, particularly Catholic, symbolism. The title is an obvious reference to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve; the novel’s setting of Amsterdam is a stand-in for Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell; and the work is structured as an extended confession of the narrator’s sins, with the reader playing the role of the priest. Yet the novel was written by Albert Camus, a man generally considered a leading light of the atheistic French existentialist movement of the mid-twentieth century. By taking a closer look at Camus’ life and thought, we may discover that there really is no contradiction here. The literary establishment has a constant tendency to lump thinkers together into easily digestable categories. I believe that Camus was, at least partially, a victim of this lust for simplicity.

Camus never expressed the same contempt toward religion as Jean-Paul Sartre and other prominent existentialists. This marked lack, so unfashionable in the French literary circle in which Camus traveled, was perhaps partially due to the fact that Camus never had a religious upbringing to rebel against. Although the young Albert went through certain polite motions of Catholicism, such as first communion, the religion was not taken particularly seriously by anyone within his extended family. Biographer Oliver Todd notes that Albert’s grandmother’s typical response upon learning of someone’s death was, “Well, he’s farted his last” (12). With no family coercion to react emotionally against, Camus exhibited an intellectual, if not spiritual, interest in Christianity from a young age. Indeed, his first work to attract attention in the world of letters was entitled “Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism: Plotinus and Saint Augustine.”

Lack of hostility toward Christianity does not of course imply acceptance. Camus throughout his life was very much a secular philosopher. One is thus left wondering what to make of The Fall, steeped as it is in Christian imagery and thought, and positively crying out for the sort of spiritual redemption that Catholics would say can only be found in the confessional. Perhaps as he reached middle age Camus was questioning the relentlessly amoral, self-centered worldview of the existentialists, along with their notion of an essentially meaningless universe devoid of absolutes. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the existentialists had killed God, yet they offered nothing to replace Him, thus leaving a guilt-ridden man like Jean-Baptiste Clamence with nowhere to turn. Clamence desperately wants to confess his sins to a higher power, but the intelligentsia, with their pseudo-sophisticated chattering about relativity and modernity, have taken that option away from him. And so he turns to his only alternative, his fellow man. The Fall documents the sick results of Clamence’s compulsion. He talks and talks to us, confessing sin after sin over the course of several long evenings, yet never achieves the redemption he craves. He is left exhausted but not redeemed, able to take satisfaction only in the notion that he may have dragged the reader down to his own level of empty spiritual misery. Clamence seeks redemption, yet redemption is not something that mortal man can provide.

The issue that Clamence, and by extension Camus, is wrestling with here is hardly unknown to those who have rejected metaphysics. The problem is implicit in our language itself. When it comes to the really important matters, to life and death and love, the secular man finds that words fail him. The old words, much as he would love to dismiss them as outmoded, superstitious nonsense, are the only ones that fit. Faced with a death, the atheist has no alternative that resonates in the same way as the “God rest his soul” of the man of faith. Similarly, a guilt-wracked secularist like Clamence can find no solace in confession, because he does not believe anyone is qualified to hear him and wash him clean. And so the stain remains, and devours him. Religion remains such a potent force in society, against all the evidence of science and rational thought, because it offers something those things cannot. If one would discredit religion, one should perhaps be required to offer something other than empty rationalizations to replace it. I do not know what that something might be, of course, and, for all of his intellectual brilliance, neither did Camus. His novel provides no answers, only painful, almost desperate questions.

The Fall has the feeling of a deeply personal book. One senses somehow that the questions that torment Clamence are the questions that also torment the author. Certainly many commentators at the time of the book’s publication took it as direct description of Camus’ state of mind, circa 1956. Its note of questioning dissatisfaction led many to conclude that Camus was himself on the verge of embracing Christianity, not just intellectually but also spiritually. Speculation on this point is now rather pointless, of course. Camus may just as likely have been casting about for some new value system that could fill the void of traditional religion. Most likely, he had little idea of his own future. We certainly cannot know where Camus’ thoughts would eventually have taken him had he not died so soon after The Fall’s publication, but we do know that he was growing increasingly critical of the existential philosophies of Sartre and others. He wrote shortly after completing the novel that “far from leading to a decent solution of the problem of freedom versus authority, [existentialism can only lead] to servitude” (Oliver 346).

Up to this point, I have been equating Camus very closely with his novel’s protagonist, Clamence. One might question the wisdom of doing so. It is after all a truism in literary criticism that a novel is not a work of autobiography. In the case of The Fall, however, I believe that drawing a close parallel between the author and his protagonist is justified. Certainly there is much circumstantial evidence supporting my case. Clamence is forty years old; Camus was forty-three at the time of the novel’s publication. Both men were socially adept, both were notably polite and patient, and both were quite generous with their money. Both seduced women seemingly effortlessly, but shied away from serious involvement with their conquests. Todd notes in his biography that “when he slept with a woman, and she insisted on further involvement, Camus would explain that his real attachments were elsewhere. …brief sexual adventures posed no problem for him” (345). The similarities are rather striking.

That is not to say that Camus is Clamence, or vice versa. While Camus seems to have drawn from his own psyche in constructing the character, there is no reason to believe that he ever reached the state of bitter despair that marked Clamence. One proof of this might be the fact that the novel exists at all. If one accepts the premise that the creation of art, even deeply tragic art, is fundamentally life-affirming, one has to conclude that by the very act of writing The Fall Camus has transcended Clamence’s existential nihilism. Certainly Camus denied, repeatedly and vehemently, that he and Clamence were one. Some of this may have been self-serving, for no one would want to be too closely associated in the public mind with such an unpleasant character as Clamence, but nevertheless those who remember Camus generally describe him as a fundamentally gentle person, a far cry from the reprobate Clamence has become by the end of the novel. We are on much firmer ground in saying that Clamence, while an individual distinctly separate from his creator, represents the consequence of certain aspects of Camus’ psyche taken to their extremes.

The Fall feels like a transitional work to this reader. Unfortunately, we never got to see where that transition would eventually lead Camus, for his life was cut short in the middle of his stream of thought. Having rejected Christianity, at least as a workable belief system for himself personally, very early in his career, and now having rejected Sartre’s brand of existential atheism, he seems to be searching for some third, better path. If he found it, he never had the chance to share it with us. This gives The Fall an unsettled feeling of incompletion. We are left in limbo, waiting for some sort of answer to the dilemmas it poses, an answer that will of course never arrive. There are no happy endings, and certainly no redemption. We have only some of the most difficult questions one can ask, accompanied by a protagonist who is the very definition of existential angst. Clamence is a martyr for the modern, smugly sophisticated, secular man embodied by thinkers like Sartre, and, yes, his sometimes friend and sometimes enemy Albert Camus himself.

 

Works Cited and Consulted

Brée, Germaine, ed. Camus. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962.

Bronner, Stephen Eric. Camus: Portrait of a Moralist. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999.

Camus, Albert. The Fall. Trans. Justin O’Brien. Vintage: New York, 1991.

Rhein, Phillip H. Albert Camus. New York: Twayne, 1989.

Todd, Oliver. Albert Camus: A Life. Trans. Benjamin Ivry. New York: Knopf, 1997.

 
Home > 2000 > October 23 Christianity Today, October 23, 2000
A pastor describes how the great existentialist atheist asked him late in life, Do you perform baptisms?
James W. Sire | posted 10/23/2000 12:00AM
Albert Camus and the Ministerby Howard Mumma
Paraclete, 217 pages, $15.95When Albert Camus’s The Fall was published in 1956, “numerous pious souls” thought the famous atheist, existentialist novelist, and philosopher was nearing conversion—so says French critic Alain Costes. Methodist pastor Howard Mumma was one of those pious souls and for good reason.Mumma is no wishful thinker, no pious Christian admirer who imagines reasons to list Camus among the saints. Over several summers, as he served as guest minister at the American Church in Paris, Mumma was sought out by Camus. Sworn to secrecy at the time, Mumma now reconstructs the “irregular and occasional” dialogues that took place before Camus’s tragic death in a car accident on January 4, 1960. These dialogues climaxed with Camus’s request to be baptized privately.To me and, I imagine, to many not quite so pious readers of Camus, the conversations this book describes come as a stunning revelation—but not one lacking credibility. Still, some readers will surely find this revelation a serious challenge to Camus’s intellectual stature and will refuse to believe it.There is, of course, little way for readers now to verify whether these dialogues took place, or to verify the accuracy of Mumma’s memory then or now, 40 years later, when he is in his 90s. Still, the details of the setting for the dialogues and the reconstructed interchanges have the ring of truth.The problem of painCamus had long dealt with religious issues: the meaning of life, the problem of evil, the feelings of guilt, the foundation for morality, the longing for eternal life.Though, as Camus tells Mumma, “The silence of the universe has led me to conclude that the world is without meaning,” he had already confessed in an essay written in 1950 that he had made his whole life an attempt to “transcend nihilism.” His three major novels—The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956)—deal with profound moral and spiritual issues. Still, none of them—nor any of his short stories, dramas or essays—gives any indication that he was seriously considering conversion to Christianity.

Camus rejected both Marxism, his constant enemy, and Christianity, his frequent sparring partner. His main sticking point was the problem of suffering and evil. Camus refused to believe in the existence of a God who is both omnipotent and good. The world taken on its own is meaningless. If there were a God, then there might be a meaning to the world. But the profound suffering of the innocent is universal. God—if there is a God—does nothing to prevent it or alleviate it. Therefore he either does not exist or he is not omnipotent and not worth believing in. Worse, he may be evil himself.

Camus’s response to this meaningless world is to rebel, to launch an attack on suffering. In the image of his novel, it is to fight the plague.

What attracts all morally sensitive readers to Camus’s philosophy is its honesty, its openness to the reality of suffering, his refusal to accept any cheap answers, but at the same time his passion to act positively, not only to have compassion on the suffering but, as an intellectual with stellar gifts as a writer, to encourage others to do so as well. Without believing in anything “transcendent,” he calls us to “transcend” nihilism by our actions, to make meaning where there is no meaning.

What Mumma shows us, however, is a Camus who had doubts about his own solution and premonitions that genuine meaning did in fact exist in God as understood by traditional Christianity. “I am searching for something I do not have, something I’m not sure I can define,” he tells Mumma in their first encounter. The world is not rational, it does not fit human needs and desire. “In a word, our very existence is absurd.” Suicide seems the only logical response.

Mumma does not hasten to counter Camus’s charge; rather, he sympathizes with Camus’s frustration and confesses his own inability to make sense of the world. This at first seems like strange behavior for a pastor. In fact, however, it mirrors the behavior of Job’s friends—the one thing they got right. They sat with Job for seven days and seven nights without speaking. Camus returns for a second visit and the dialogue resumes.

As the conversations continue, Camus begins to read the Bible, something he confesses not to have done before. In fact he does not even own one; so Mumma gets one for him, and Camus starts with Genesis. This raises the issue of the whether the Bible is to be taken literally, especially the story of Adam and Eve. When Mumma interprets it as a parable of the origin of the conscience, in short, a tale putting the origin of human evil in the attempt of human beings to make themselves gods, Camus finds the story to ring true.

While Mumma’s answers are broadly speaking neo-orthodox, not quite those an evangelical would likely give, the theology is traditional at heart, and it is in line with Camus’s own understanding of human nature.

Sartre the blusterer.

Mumma then mentions the well-known relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus. Mumma has already had two significant encounters with Sartre; these become a springboard for further dialogue with Camus. In his conversation with Mumma, Sartre held that there is no god of any kind. Human beings alone have a nonmaterial dimension; from that, they are able to break free of their material constraints and create their own nature, their own character.

When Mumma asks where this nonmaterial nature comes from, Sartre has no explanation. He merely blusters, “I have no answers to this question, but I emphatically deny any natural or biological origin for the spiritual freedom with which man is cursed or blessed. … Let us drop the subject.” Still, a bit dejected, he asks Mumma to explain the Christian view of the question. When Mumma replies, Sartre says, “I have not heard this reasoning before and will have to think on it further.”

The conversation with Sartre then moves to morality. According to Sartre, free individuals create by their choices both their own character and the moral principles by which they live. They are obligated only to themselves. But if they are obligated to no one else, how can ethics be anything but relative? In short, how can there be a morality—an ought in a world of contrary notions of what is good, none of which has a claim on any other? Mumma has only two encounters with Sartre, neither of which stirs Sartre from his commitment to atheism.

Private baptism?

Mumma is no novelist; he does not try to picture the movement of Camus’s mind. What he does is to shock us as he himself is shocked by what Camus suddenly asks: “Howard, do you perform baptisms?” What does “You must be born again” mean? After being told that “baptism is a symbolic commitment to God” and being born again means “to enter anew or afresh into the process of spiritual growth … to receive forgiveness because you have asked God to forgive you of all your sins,” Camus says, “Howard, I am ready. I want this.”

Then came the dilemma for Mumma. Camus had already been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. According to Methodist belief and that of many other denominations, once is enough. Moreover, baptism is a public affair. It means becoming a part of the visible community of faith. It is the latter that now becomes the sticking point. Camus is a very public figure.

But Mumma would not agree to a private baptism. Instead, he counseled Camus to continue his study of the faith and to postpone baptism till the two of them could reach the same persuasion. Camus accompanied Mumma to the airport as he prepared to return to the States, expecting to see Camus again the next year. “My friend, mon ché;ri, thank you. … I am going to keep striving for the Faith!” Suddenly Mumma has second thoughts. Should he have baptized and confirmed him?

But it is too late. A few months later, Mumma hears of Camus’s sudden death. Although he wonders if he had made a mistake, Mumma writes:

I had implied that baptism was an event that usually only happens once, and I certainly wasn’t worried for his soul. God had set aside a special place for him, I was sure.

Apologetic questions

For any Christian interested in apologetics, this book raises a host of questions.

What if Mumma had answered Camus’s questions in a more evangelical way, arguing for the historicity of Adam and Eve and a less exclusively theological reading of the Bible? Camus could see the power of the theological understanding of evil, one with which most evangelicals would be in basic agreement. Would he have been so ready to proceed if Mumma insisted that he accept a more literal understanding of the Old Testament?

What if Mumma had directed Camus to the Gospels first? Would that have raised a different set of questions in Camus’s mind? Camus has shown some sympathy with Jesus in his writing. Would his fresh and direct encounter with him in the New Testament have given a different focus to his struggle with the problem of evil?

When a seeker asks for baptism, how much must be believed? Given Camus’s status as a celebrity, how important is the public aspect of baptism? We know, for example, the strain on public figures who are converted. Already in the limelight, they are prone to overconfidence and too often fade from overexposure. Worse, the Christian community often parades them before the public as arguments for the faith.

This book is an important addition to apologetic literature—not because of the details of the argument, for there is nothing new here—but because of who Sartre and Camus were and continue to be in the intellectual world. If Sartre could only bluster when a key weakness of his philosophy is pointed out by an ordinary pastor, how solid is the intellectual foundation of atheism? If Camus, more honest and open than Sartre to the flaws of his own system, could finally see the truth of Christianity, how optimistic could we be about the conversion of honest atheists?

James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door, has recently published Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (InterVarsity Press).

Related Elsewhere

For hundreds of Camus links, click here.

Read a brief Camus biography.

In October’s The New Republic James Wood’s ” The Sickness Unto Life” examines why Camus, and thinkers who question God most rigorously, often arrive at highly orthodox conclusions.

You can purchase Howard E. Mumma’s Albert Camus and the Minister online.

James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog is available from Worthy books. Habits of the Mind, his latest work, is available from IVP.

Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.

 

Decoding Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’

Roger Arpajou/Versitil Cinema & Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Owen Wilson, left, is Gil, who travels back in time to 1920s Paris, and Marion Cotillard is Adriana, a fictional mistress of Picasso’s who catches Gil’s eye. More Photos »

By
Published: May 27, 2011

Many a writer or artist has longed to travel back in time to the sizzling Paris of the 1920s, to sip absinthe with Hemingway at Les Deux Magots or dine on choucroute garnie with Picasso at La Rotonde. Imagine the conversation! What has beguiled audiences about the new Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” is that the protagonist, Gil, a disenchanted Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, gets to live exactly that fantasy.

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Multimedia
Associated Press

F. Scott Fitzgerald, center, with his daughter Scottie, left and his wife Zelda in Paris in 1925.                            More Photos »

Roger Arpajou/Versatil Cinema & Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston as Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris.”                            More Photos »

Associated Press

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in 1934.                            More Photos »

The New York Times

Ernest Hemingway, around 1937.                            More Photos »

Associated Press

Salvador Dalí in 1971.                            More Photos »

Associated Press

Cole Porter, around 1910.                            More Photos »

He runs into Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at an elegant soiree, where he hears Cole Porter crooning “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love).” He gets writing advice from a laconic Hemingway, persuades Gertrude Stein to read the manuscript of his novel, and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress. He meets Salvador Dalí, T. S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes, Josephine Baker, Luis Buñuel, Man Ray and others in the enormously talented cast of expatriates and bohemians that peopled Jazz Age Paris. Reeling from the folly of World War I and so offering fodder for novels and paintings dripping with disillusionment, Paris was the center of the artistic universe then, and those legends really did converge on Paris around the same time.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” Hemingway wrote in “A Moveable Feast,” his memoir that was posthumously published in 1964.

The movie sometimes assumes viewers know the details of these luminous lives, so it may be helpful to understand some of the complicated relationships that made Paris in that era both a dream and often something less.

In 1922 Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, took a two-room flat near the Sorbonne that had no hot water and no indoor toilet. He also rented a room around the corner to write, something like the “attic with a skylight” Gil craves. It had a view of the smokestacks and rooftops that Mr. Allen captures in worshipful shots of the city.

Hemingway also discovered Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore near the Jardin du Luxembourg owned by Sylvia Beach that became a crossroads for Americans in Paris. It’s where he borrowed books by Turgenev and Tolstoy, and it makes a cameo in the film.

Gil meets Hemingway in a run-down cafe not unlike the legendary Dingo, where Hemingway’s less than beautiful friendship with Fitzgerald began with the latter’s drunken near-blackout. Hemingway, who is parodied in the film with dialogue like “no subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest,” was envious of the seemingly effortless lyricism of Fitzgerald’s writing in works like “The Great Gatsby.” In “Midnight in Paris,” Hemingway tells Fitzgerald that Zelda, a writer herself, sees her husband as a competitor. But “A Moveable Feast” offers a more full-throated account. Hemingway grew to despise Zelda, partly because she had betrayed Fitzgerald with a French aviator and partly because he blamed her decadent tempestuousness for ruining her husband’s productivity.

Picasso and Matisse, who appear in the film, also had a rivalry, barely acknowledged in the film, with the two artists echoing — some critics say swiping — each other’s themes. Both gained the attention of the art collector Leo Stein and his sister, Gertrude. In the film Gil hears that Gertrude Stein has bought a Matisse for 500 francs and, in the hope of making a time-bending killing, asks her if he could pick up “six or seven” Matisses as well. The twice-married Picasso was famous for mistresses, and in the film Marion Cotillard plays Adriana, a capricious, if melancholy stand-in for all of Picasso’s lovers, models and muses. She claims to have been the lover of Modigliani and Braque as well. In actuality, Picasso’s mistresses were relatively constant. Marie-Thérèse Walter, who was 17 when she met Picasso, was with him for eight years, bearing him a daughter, Maya. Dora Maar, whom he met around 1935, was his lover for at least eight years as well.

The Indiana-born Cole Porter maintained an elegant apartment, where he gave hedonistic parties that were daring for their mingling of gay and straight friends. Porter met and married Linda Lee Thomas, a divorcée from Louisville who was eight years older and aware that Porter was gay. They set up an even more lavish apartment — walls covered in zebra hide — near Les Invalides, a home that seems like the setting for the on-screen party where Porter entertains his guests at the piano.

The film recounts how many Porter songs were hommages to Paris —“I Love Paris” and “C’est Magnifique,” among them — and indeed Porter wrote a musical, “Paris,” for the chanteuse Irene Bordoni. One of the show’s songs was “Let’s Do It,” with teasingly suggestive lines including: “In shallow shoals English soles do it./Goldfish in the privacy of bowls do it.”

When Gil sits down in a cafe with Dalí and Man Ray, he confides to those artists his shock at being catapulted back in time. Man Ray is delighted with the idea, but Gil tells him that’s because “you’re a Surrealist and I’m a normal guy.”

Dalí, played here by Adrien Brody, first visited Paris in 1926, grew the mustache that would become his trademark, and met his idol and fellow Spaniard, Picasso. Experimenting with many forms, Dalí fell in with a circle of Surrealists in Montparnasse whose members were probing the Freudian depths of their psyches for what they regarded as a new expressive frontier. He met his future wife, Gala, who was inconveniently married to a Surrealist poet.

Dalí collaborated with Buñuel on the short avant-garde film “Un Chien Andalou.” In “Midnight in Paris,” Gil suggests to Buñuel that he make a film about a dinner party gone haywire. Buñuel, of course, took up the suggestion. The film was “The Exterminating Angel,” released in 1962.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 31, 2011

An earlier version of this article omitted the final paragraph.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 1, 2011

An article on Saturday about figures from the Paris arts scene in the 1920s who appear in the new Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” including the filmmaker Luis Buñuel, misidentified a film by Buñuel that the Allen movie’s protagonist urges him to make some day. It is “The Exterminating Angel,”

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