Last Friday, the day after Albert Camus’ 100th birthday, the Scandinavian video art duo ‘Orchid Bite’ performed a piece entitled Library Late at the Atlas Theater on H Street.
And it was amazing.
The centerpiece was long stretches of an audio recording of Camus reading from his first published novel, L’etranger. While there were short passages that were written on the screen in English, as is subtitling the narration, that was infrequent and, what’s more, my limited French was enough to tell me that often the English passages were not those Camus was reading aloud at that moment.
It didn’t so much matter that I could not truly understand what Camus was saying, because the magic was the fact of this voice coming from across time, his voice speaking to us from the grave. Especially since, hundredth birthday aside, Camus has been having a bit of a ‘moment’ these last few years. For me, it started when I read the late Tony Judt’s The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century. But even then, I was catching on to something already fecund in the zeitgeist. Camus was back, baby.
Orchid Bite mixed… not so much music, as sounds and fragments. A piece of a song vaguely familiar, but mostly just evocative tones, mixed with images that directed the mind to Camus’ origins and the setting of the novel: Algeria.
Not an Algeria of camels and orientalist exoticism, but beaches and roads and houses and trains. A place where people lived.
And, again, behind it all, the firm, ghostly, and insistent voice of Camus calling us to… ?
I don’t know.