Camus and the Challenge of Political Thought: Between Despair and Hope.

Author:Averill, Sebastian
Position:Book review

Patrick Hayden, Camus and the Challenge of Political Thought: Between Despair and Hope

London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016; 146pp; ISBN 9781137525833

In Camus and the Challenge of Political Thought: Between Despair and Hope, Patrick Hayden praises 'Camus's understanding of the human as a being who revolts against the strange indifference of the world, yet who refuses to find solace by turning a blind eye to the absurdity of the human condition; as opposed to an understanding of the human as a being who is defined fundamentally by the capacity to discern a rational truth hidden behind a reality that is only apparently absurd' (p 43). Unfortunately, Hayden does not account for the ontology of the Event of such a decision. Hayden argues that 'Camus offers a mode of thinking that remains well adapted to a world where the constant tensions between hope and despair, justice and injustice, exile and belonging, and solitude and solidarity continue to define the human condition' (p 132).

Yet Camus (who died when Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison were still touring as Johnny and the Moondogs) could not possibly have anticipated two trends since his death which make the delineation of the ontology of the Event a necessary exercise for any academic textbook following up and reporting on Camus in 2016. Firstly, the hystericality of modern liberal-permissive capitalism can not only incorporate a fragile osmosis between existential absurdity and bleak, material facticity, but it positively thrives on it. The more the capitalist structure encourages homo economicus to walk the existential tightrope, the more it will extract from them in surplus-value. For theoretical justification here, the concept of 'the carnival' in Mikhail Bakhtin, or that of 'the spectacle' in Guy Debord, are of some use, but the ultimate referee would be someone like Gilles Deleuze. In the essay 'The War Machine', Deleuze and Guattari explained how capitalism, in its most rudimentary form, thrives on the development of a tangential line in ontology which is by its very nature strange. The second development Camus could not have predicted, at least to the extent it ultimately reached, was an elision of the boundaries between mainstream culture and what Foucault calls 'radical subjectivities'. In its absorption of the major innovations in packaging, design and manufacture from about the 1920s onwards, capitalism was able...

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