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“To be born to create, to love, to win at games is to be born to live in time of peace. But war teaches us to lose everything and become what we were not. it all becomes a question of style.”
Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935–1942

Can someone explain the above quote from Albert Camus? Especially the last part about everything becoming a question of style.

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    You could raise your chances of getting a good answer by indicating a source for your quote, as well as its context. – DBK May 14 '12 at 21:48
  • ok, @chrisjlee has added the book reference and I added where exactly I found the quote. But I am not sure if I understood how can I define a context for someone else's quote. – omeid May 15 '12 at 5:08
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Personally, I wouldn't think it means much. It isn't a thought that Camus saw fit to publish, and had he done so, I imagine he would have put it in a context that would have elaborated the nature of his thought.

Writers (including Camus) use their Notebooks for a variety of purposes-- among them, to jot down thoughts that might form the kernel of future works of fiction or non-fiction. As it is, we don't even know if the quote above represents Camus's own thoughts on the matter, or a thought that he was going to put in the mouth of one of his fictional characters, perhaps even to ridicule or argue against.

For an interesting analysis of this problematic, and (conicidentally,) "the question of style", see Jacques Derrida's work Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles where he spends the last 15 pages discussing a fragment found in Nietzsche's notebooks, reading "I have forgotten my umbrella."

In short, there's no way of knowing what this quote means in the context of its production, so we are left only with the context of its reception: what does it mean to you, as a reader?

  • If I had to be cheeky and put it in a single sentence I would have said, 'Though peace and war has strong impact on people's life, but at the end of the day it's all about what you want.', but I think there is more into it than I can grasp and thus asked the question. – omeid May 15 '12 at 16:24
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    Personally, my reading is very different-- I interpret it as saying that peacetime allows one to do what one is to born to do, but in times of war one must become what one is not, and therefore in wartime one can only choose the style in which one does what one has to do. But: I have no particular evidence supporting this reading. – Michael Dorfman May 16 '12 at 6:26
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We can try and break it down to two states of being, each defined by the state of equilibrium in which it exists and is nurtured. The two states of equilibrium are war and peace, and it seems Camus is saying that a creative person (or anyone who is destined to excel at a certain aspect of life) is able to manifest their true creative self only where there are no external detractors or negative stimuli (such as war) that corrupt their natural state of being. This corruption manifests itself as stylization.

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As Michael Dorfman has already suggested in his citation of Derrida- such shenanigans can be so much entrails and tea leaves- pick the interpretation that best matches your mark's probable fate.

I like to read it by regarding the nexus of 'style' as a word in the thrownness of Dasein at the behest of das Mann. It is not inconceivable that like many existentialists at the time, Camus may have been influenced by Heideggerian thought, and the language, tone and message of the quote sits well couched thus.

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This sentence may seem obscure because the word "style" can take many different meaning according to the context, both in french and english.

In this quote, the word "style" clashes with the context of peace and war: we do not think as peace or war coming down to "style"... this is, at first sight, disturbing...

And then, we start to think. Peace, War, style...

What if Camus wants to give us, his reader, people of Peace, an idea of what it is to live in War? an advice in order to survive? give us hope? or not... ?

"To be born to create, to love, to win at game is to be born to live at peace."

This is the original state. Basically, we are all born to live at peace, that's what we are when we are born, when we grow up as child, and as adults, when our environnement is at peace. Unless we are depressed, we all have a positive attitude to life when we are at peace.

And then:

"But war teaches us to lose everything and become what we were not."

War induces us to change. We learn to adapt to constraints induced by war, and in effet war changes us all.

How?

"It all becomes a question of style".

The meaning of "style" becomes all important here, Camus tells us that "style" is the key to understand what changes in us, fundamentally.

What meaning can "style" take?

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/style

At least 15 different meanings. 4 or 5 compatible with the quote context. I prefer the fourth one.

"4. A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one's actions and tastes:"

Style is a quality, a perception of our individuality, a perception of who we are. A perception of who we are by other, but it can also be a perception of who we are by ourself.

Going from Peace to War changes style, our style. it changes who we are so deeply that it alter the perception of our individuality by other, and by ourself.

This is my interpretation, but feel free to try other meanings.

Camus has managed to pack his impression, his feelings of what it is to go from Peace to War into a simple, but immensely rich and revealing, expression: "A question of style".

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