The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Bernard Malamud? Albert Camus? Harris Wofford? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Having a grand mission to achieve with your life helps to generate a powerful motivational force. Apparently, one scribe asserted that:

The purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.

This remark has been credited to the famous existential philosopher Albert Camus and to the prominent novelist and short story writer Bernard Malamud. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In December 1957 Albert Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and while delivering the Banquet speech he made a point that partially matched the quotation under examination. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

The above remark was not specifically about writers; instead, Camus referred to his entire generation. More information about his statement is available here. Camus delivered his speech in French.

In September 1958 Bernard Malamud was interviewed by the journalist Joseph Wershba of “The New York Post”, and he delivered a line that exactly matched the statement under investigation: 2

“The purpose of the writer,” says Malamud, “is to keep civilization from destroying itself. But without preachment. Artists, cannot be ministers. As soon as they attempt it, they destroy their artistry.”

Malamud may have heard the comment from Camus before he constructed a similar exhortation particularized to writers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Purpose of the Writer Is To Keep Civilization from Destroying Itself

Notes:

  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link
  2. 1991, Conversations with Bernard Malamud, Edited by Lawrence M. Lasher, Series: Literary Conversations, Not Horror but Sadness by Joseph Wershba (Article dated September, 14 1958; reprinted from “The New York Post”) Start Page 3, Quote Page 7, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

(The Task of My Generation) Consists in Preventing the World from Destroying Itself

Albert Camus? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Nuclear and biological warfare present ongoing existential risks for mankind. Environmental degradation presents another set of risks. The crucial task for this generation is to prevent the world from destroying itself. Apparently, the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus highlighted this task of self-preservation back in the 1950s. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Albert Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1957. During his speech he discussed the dangers facing mankind. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Chaque génération, sans doute, se croit vouée à refaire le monde. La mienne sait pourtant qu’elle ne le refera pas. Mais sa tâche est peut-être plus grande. Elle consiste à empêcher que le monde se défasse.

Here is one possible rendering into English of the passage above: 2

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading (The Task of My Generation) Consists in Preventing the World from Destroying Itself

Notes:

  1. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: Original French, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link
  2. Website: The Nobel Prize, Article title: Albert Camus – Banquet speech, Speech author: Albert Camus, Date of speech: December 10, 1957, Speech location: City Hall in Stockholm, Language: English translation, Website description: Information from The Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden. (Accessed nobelprize.org on November 6, 2019) link

Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Pablo Picasso? Jean Cocteau? Dorothy Allison? Henry A. Murray? Peter De Vries? Albert Camus? Julie Burchill? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Art works such as novels, paintings, and sculptures embody a stylized and distorted representation of the world. Yet, deep truths can best be expressed by deviating from the straitjacket of verisimilitude. Here are four versions of a paradoxical adage:

  1. Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.
  2. Art is a lie which allows us to approach truth
  3. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth
  4. Art is the lie that reveals truth.

Different versions of this maxim have been applied to fiction, poetry, and drama. The saying has been attributed to the Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, the French poet Jean Cocteau, and the French existentialist Albert Camus. Would you please explore this statement?

Quote Investigator: In 1923 the New York City periodical “The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art” interviewed Pablo Picasso. His responses in Spanish were translated into English. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. If he only shows in his work that he has searched, and re-searched, for the way to put over his lies, he would never accomplish any thing.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Art Is a Lie That Makes Us Realize Truth

Notes:

  1. 1923 May, The Arts: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Covering All Phases of Ancient and Modern Art, Volume 3, Number 5, Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist (Note accompanying text: Picasso gave his interview to “The Arts” in Spanish, and subsequently authenticated the Spanish text which we herewith translate), Start Page 315, Quote Page 315, The Arts Publishing Corporation, New York. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Just Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend

Albert Camus? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1957. His influential works have been called absurdist and existentialist although he personally rejected the label existentialist. The following lines have been widely attributed to him:

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.

I have tried unsuccessfully to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to locate this quotation in the writings of Albert Camus who died in 1960. Currently, the ascription to Camus has no substantive support.

The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the “Quincy Sun” newspaper of Quincy, Massachusetts in December 1971. A columnist named Dr. William F. Knox who was identified as a “Personal Counselor” wrote about being a good father to a child in grade school. Knox learned about the saying from a fellow counselor, and no attribution was specified. Ellipses were present in the original text. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Another counselor handed me recently a great little thought…

“Don’t walk in front of me…I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me…just be my friend.”

Maybe that’s what “being a father” is all about…just being a friend.

Less than a week later “The Evening Times” of Trenton, New Jersey published an article about a residential drug treatment facility. The saying was printed on a sign, and the words were attributed to Albert Camus: 2

There are many signs throughout the center. One from Camus reads: “Don’t walk in front of me — I may not follow; don’t walk behind — I may not lead; walk beside me and just be my friend.”

During the ensuing decades the phrasing has varied, and sometimes the first two clauses have been re-ordered. By the 1990s a French version of the passage was circulating, but QI conjectures that the text was derived from the English version and not vice versa.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Just Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend

Notes:

  1. 1971 December 2, Quincy Sun, Living Today by Dr. William F Knox (Personal Counselor), Quote Page 11, Column 1, Quincy, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive and Old Fulton)
  2. 1971 December 8, Trenton Evening Times, TODAY Is For Dropping Back In: A Resident Center For Addicts by James Labig, Subsection: The Discipline, Quote Page 49, Column 2, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)