The Union of Diversity: Albert Camus

In his notebooks from 1951-1959, Albert Camus wrote, “Already the Italians on the train, and soon those of the hotel as well, have warmed my heart.” Camus often found solace in Italy. Venice, Florence, Rome, were all locations that spawned his imagination.

To talk about Camus’ journeys through Italy as well some of his most universal long-lasting ideas, fiction writer and journalist Alessandro Bresolin joined Agnès Spiquel, President of the Camus Studies Society, on Wednesday March 21st at Librebook in Brussels. The occasion was a deep dive into the French translation of Bresolin’s book, The Union of Diversity: The Human and Political Legacy of Albert Camus, published in 2017. The original text appeared in Italian in 2013.

I wrote this book because I think Camus’ writing can help us understand our recent past, and consequently we are able to make sense of the present, in all of its complexities,” said Bresolin.

Raised in Veneto, Bresolin saw the rise of right-wing, nationalist movements in Italy in the late 80’s and early 90’s, such as the Northern League. The disintegration of former Yugoslavia, he points out, was in large part also triggered by a surge in nationalism. “I wanted to understand these phenomena,” he said. “I wanted to really see what lay behind these emotions, these attitudes that seemed to make people reject with violence everything that looked different. And that’s why I went in search of Camus.

A historian with a specialization in contemporary history, he wrote his college thesis on the birth of nationalism in Algeria. An avid researcher, he sifted through the correspondence Camus held with the Italian novelist, short story writer and thinker, Ignazio Silone, who is remembered for the powerful prose in his anti-Fascist novels. “Camus forged very close friendships while in Italy,” said Bresolin. “There was also Nicola Chiaromonte, an activist who had to leave Mussolini‘s Italy.

Divided in six main sections, the book is meant to be a biography of Camus but more thematic than chronologic. Chapter One covers the Algerian society where Camus grew up: the colonial context, which kind of Islam he encountered. Chapter Two explores the multifaceted identity of Camus: half-Spanish (mother), half-French(father), but born and raised in Algerian. His everlasting mediterranean identity. Chapter Three delves into his many voyages through Italy. Chapter Four goes into his political vision. What became of Camus after he left the communist party? A dissection of the book The Rebel (l’homme révolté) where the author explains Camus’ libertarian, socialist view. Chapter Five talks about Camus seminal idea of European Federalism. During and after WWII, the resistance movement asked itself one question, What was the cause of the wars? And the root cause they found was: nationalism. Chapter Six dissects one of Camus’ most important postulates during the Algerian crisis: The refusal to obey violence. This is a chapter that tries to explain Camus’ vision on the Algerian war.

Camus stood always for the rights of the Algerians, he was not a colonialist,” said Bresolin. “At the same time, he was was completely against the FLN. Because he was Algerian he knew the reality of ordinary people, and he proposed a vision to resolve the problem: federalism.

The French version of the book includes a special appendix: An interview with Camus’ daughter, Catherine, which gave Bresolin exceptional access into the 1957 Nobel laureate’s mind. “I see Camus now as a precursor of Multiculturalism. At the time, they didn’t understand his position. He was marginalized. But in another context, many year later in South Africa, for instance, Nelson Mandela was able to create the Rainbow Nation where wounds could be healed.

When asked about the relevance of this book today, he said, “We live in an era where I feel at home in Italy, in France, in Brussels alike. But some countries are feeling skeptical about the European Union. We have to figure out how to get civil society more involved in the European project, not only the political elite. And understanding Camus can help us with that and much more.