Jean-Paul Sartre’s uncompromising opposition to the crimes of empire makes him a taboo figure in French culture. The French political mainstream is still in denial about the bloody history of colonialism.
Oliver Gloag is associate professor of French and Francophone studies at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. He is the author of Albert Camus: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2020).
Jean-Paul Sartre came to prominence just as France was trying to cling onto its empire in a series of bloody wars. He used his platform as a public intellectual to speak out bravely against colonial repression, risking his own life in the process.
The novelist Albert Camus is omnipresent in French cultural life, from TV shows to comic books, magazine covers and one-man shows. Camus-mania isn’t just a literary phenomenon: it draws on a deep well of political revisionism and colonial nostalgia.
French writer Albert Camus has become an iconic figure, celebrated by everyone from Emmanuel Macron to George W. Bush. But the idealized public image of Camus as a liberal humanist does not reckon honestly with the impact of French colonialism on his work.