June 4: the first man

I have just finished reading Camus’ unfinished text Le Premier Homme. The manuscript was found in his bag at the scene of the car crash that killed him on January 4 1960. It is a series of autobiographical texts that talk about Camus’ father and Camus’ own childhood in the suburbs of Algers. The term first man is enigmatic. It is only mentioned once and seems to refer to himself and also his father, both being people who constructed themselves without the cultural or economic assets that come from a family that is settled and well-off. At one stage in the text the child is contrasted with a another child at the lycee from a privileged background, whereas he comes from a single-parent family managed by an illiterate mother and grandmother. In this sense he is a premier homme. This makes the text a somewhat boastful and nostalgic one but it has some nice moments. I do not know that we can make this distinction easily between a self-made man and another. Self-made man is an imperfect translation but perhaps the only approximate equivalent, though the term tends just to refer to their making as an economic one. Self-made men tend to be a bit boastful. They take as their guide their own experience, which is neccesarily just anecdotal. I suppose in analysing people we need a bit of the anecdotal and a bit of the abstract. Some people do win the jackpot in the lottery but the statistics tell us it will probably not be worth playing the lottery all your life.


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