This blog and conversation are amazing and have given me a glimpse of a glimmer of hope that Literature might survive the onslaught of online thieves and snippers/quippers. One and all, the voices are authentic, intelligent and discerning. So rare online. What a find.
- Bogus Camus Quotation (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- Camus’ ‘Chronicles’: A History Of The Past, A Guide For The Future (npr.org)
- “I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me.” (biblioklept.org)
- Camus, please say what you have to say…. (musiqdragonfly.wordpress.com)
“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” Those lines are perhaps the most-quoted of Albert Camus’ online. They’ve most likely reached more people than his books have. The problem, aside from the diabolical triteness of the sentiment, is that Camus doesn’t seem to have written these words. They appear in none of his major works nor in any interview that I can find. To anyone who has read Camus’ work, this comes as little surprise. It just doesn’t seem his style to write something so simpering, a message with all the profundity of an episode of The Littlest Hobo, a kind of self-help post-Oprah drivel, the proliferation of which has made Facebook a place which the sound of mind should avoid as they would a leper colony.
Camus did have a talent for writing one-liners and epigrams though rarely as light-weight as the aforementioned one (which seems more akin to Footprints in the Sand god-bothering doggerel than any literary text). There was more than just his looks linking him to Philip Marlowe-era Bogart. His economy of setting and language, the continual question of complicity, the omnipresent threat of violence, the deadly inexorable clockwork of his plots, the unreliable narrator of The Fall and the narrative tension in The Stranger, The Plague and ‘The Guest’ (from Exile and the Kingdom) mark him out almost as much a noir writer as an Existentialist, the latter a title he always denied. Camus was manifestly hard-boiled; hair slicked, collar up against the wind, cigarette hanging from his mouth. Perhaps he did write those words but they were mistranslated. Perhaps his instructions not to walk ahead or behind was not some happy-clappy sentiment but an untrusting and untrustworthy narrator, afraid his follower might suddenly brandish a revolver or afraid he might do the same. Walk alongside me so I can look you in the eye and get the measure of you, friend. Robbed of Camus’ characteristic style or perhaps the context of a private letter (in which case it would have a touching personal resonance), the quote is just another platitude masquerading as wisdom (hence the vaguely religious connotations). Why it attached itself to Camus or who actually wrote it is unclear.