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Camus in New York: A stranger in the city


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Albert Camus visited New York in March 1946, and though he reportedly seemed overwhelmed and not particularly in love with the city, a group of Camus fans are launching a series of events in New York to honor the 70th anniversary of the philosopher’s visit to the big Apple. Even Lord of the Rings actor Viggo Mortensen will participate in celebrations, reading Camus’ famous speech “The Human Crises.” Here’s Jennifer Schuessler on Camus in New York. The full version via the New York Times, and program information here.

When a boat carrying Albert Camus sailed into New York Harbor in March 1946, he was hailed as a moral emissary from war-ravaged Europe and the glamorous embodiment of a newfangled philosophy known as Existentialism.

The American publication of his novel “The Stranger” was celebrated on the roof of the Hotel Astor, and Vogue published a portrait by Cecil Beaton, showing Camus smiling slyly from noirish shadows.

But a year later, Camus recalled his three months amid the city’s “swarming lights” and frantic streets with a mixture of awe and bafflement.

“I have my ideas about other cities but about New York only these powerful and fleeting emotions,” he wrote in 1947. “I still know nothing about New York, whether one moves among madmen here or among the most reasonable people in the world.”

Camus, who never returned to the United States, may not have really understood New York. But over the next month, New Yorkers will have a chance to better understand him, thanks to “Camus: A Stranger in the City,” a monthlong festival of performances, readings, film screenings and other events celebrating the 70th anniversary of his visit.

The festival will include plenty of straight-faced homage mixed with modern-day star power. On Monday, the actor Viggo Mortensen will read Camus’s landmark speech “The Human Crisis” at the Miller Theater at Columbia University, 70 years to the day after Camus delivered it in the same theater. And on April 19, the singer-songwriter Patti Smith will discuss Camus’s influence on her at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Stephen Petrus, a historian and curator who organized the festival in conjunction with the Camus estate, described the mission of the festival as “stimulating conversation by looking at his ideas about freedom, responsibility and civic engagement.”

*Image of Camus via Vancouver Sun