November 24, 2009

How do you get into the Pantheon? Practice, practice, practice, then die


In France, you can’t pay a dead writer a higher honor than by placing his body in the fabled Pantheon, alongside what’s left of Voltaire, Dumas, Hugo, Rousseau, Zola, and Madame Curie. Nonetheless, President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s recent announcement that he wants to have the remains of Albert Camus so honored has led to a furious denunciation of the plan by French intellectuals. According to a Guardian report by Lizzy Davies,”the idea of a rightwing leader often accused of authoritarian tendencies and anti-intellectualism celebrating the life of a man who made a career out of political resistance and literary endeavour has outraged many Camus experts.”

“Sarkozy is the friend of [George W] Bush, [Muammar] Gaddafi, [Vladimir] Putin, [Silvio] Berlusconi. His politics are the antithesis of the values and ideas which Camus defended,” academic Jeanyves Guérin tells the paper.

But some feel the situation shouldn’t be politicized. Camus biographer Alain Vircondelet, says “This should be something that transcends that. … The left is saying ‘hands off Camus’, but Camus doesn’t belong to them. He was a person who went beyond [party] politics.”

Meanwhile, while the Guardian report indicates that the people who would have to approve the move — Camus son and daughter — don’t want it to happen, a New York Times report by David Jolly says the daughter does, and the son doesn’t.

That report also cites what may be the most telling view of the situation, from Le Nouvel Observateur founder and Melville House author Jean Daniel — who knew Camus and, like him, is an Algerian-born Frenchman. Regardless of Sarkozy, says Daniel, “The crushing character of the consecration appears contrary to the ideas for which Camus is famous.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.