My hero: Albert Camus by David Constantine
Camus helps you become 'the one who you are', and the revolt he incites brings you into a recognition of common human suffering
Friday 5 July 2013 16.00 BST
've been rereading Camus, chiefly the stories collected in Exile and the Kingdom and the long essay "The Rebel". They belong together. Anyone looking around must see the need for the revolt that Camus advocated, and any writer should ask what writing can do for it.
I suppose most writers believe, with Camus, that "saying things badly increases the unhappiness of the world", and that they are duty-bound, therefore, to say things accurately; that is, to tell the truth. In bad times – the Nazi occupation, the atrocious Algerian war – Camus engaged himself heroically, telling the truth and fighting for it, against all manner of lying propaganda.
The premise of his revolt is atheism. From that comes his rejection of any ideology that defers human happiness into the beyond; or, in the secular-religious version, defers it into an earthly but future ideal state whose attainment will entail the harming or extermination of people – millions of people – who don't fit the leader's aims. Given atheism, he says, "there is then only one hell and it is of this world"; and that, he adds, is what we must struggle against.
Fiction and poetry will help in this struggle by dis-illusioning; but also – and this really lifts up my heart towards him – by embodying a love of the earth and the enjoyment of its gifts and by making works which are fit to be seen in it; which is to say, by making and asserting beauty in the teeth of "a world that insults it". Jouissance in the "living virtue" of beauty is at the heart of his revolt.
Camus helps you become "the one you are". And the revolt he incites, an assertion of individual freedom, brings you into a recognition of common human suffering and of the common need to lessen it and to enliven the lives of all. We are all, individually, makers of community. "I revolt, therefore we are."
• David Constantine's Tea at the Midland and Other Stories (Comma Press) this week won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story award.