NEAR THE END of the second volume of his Notebooks Camus remarks, "Delacroix is right; all these days that are not noted down are like days that didn't exist." Surely this sounds the secret aim of the diarist - to provide immortality not only for a life, but for its every moment.
Nonetheless, Camus's Notebooks, as he edited them in 1954, reveal surprisingly little of the personal life of the author. When we think of diaries and notebooks, we tend to recall the gossipy, indiscreet revelations of Pepys or the Goncourt brothers. But Camus's carnets attach themselves to a different tradition - that of the philosophic journal, the record of the fragments and passing thoughts of the intellectual life. Thinkers like Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, aphorists like Chamfort, the religious writer Simone Weil, form part of this tradition - and all of them appear as touch-stones in Camus's pages. What matters for Camus is to generate useable material for his work, not to memorialize his daily existence in Algiers and Paris. "Nietzsche, with the most monotonous external life possible, proves that thought alone, carried on in solitude, is a frightening adventure."
As a result of the excision of the merely personal, the Notebooks stand forth as brilliant silvers of Camus's philosophical and poetic imagination. (Indeed, the two are one: "People can think only in images. If you want to be a philosopher, write novels.") Included are sections from the early noval A Happy Death, passages tracting the emergence of that existential classic of relentless heat and honesty. The Stranger (completed at the age of 27!), and many entries revealing the difficult composition of The Plague in the midst of war and treatment for tuberculosis.
What most strikes the reader of these meditations is the intellectual enthusiasm and self-confidence of the young Camus. This cocky, relatively unknown Algerian dares to work simultaneously at a play (Caligulo ), a novel (The Stranger ), and a essay on suicide (The Myth of Sisyphus ). Each becomes a masterpiece. The same Camus carefully projects each stage of his creative life - the first phase devoted to the "absurd" (the three works just mentioned), the second to "revolt" (The Misunderstanding, The Plague, and The Rebel ), and the last to "nemesis". Regrettably, the Notebooks currently stop in 1951 - the entries for Camus's last years 1951-1960 remain to be published - just as this third period was about to begin. But one can imagine that "nemesis" includes the stories of Exile and the Kingdom and The Fall, a haunting novel of guilt and responsibility, both finished shortly before an automobile accident ended Camus's life at age 47.
Above all, the Notebooks are a sampler (especially now as paperbacks) of Camus's range - beautiful evocations of Algeria, the sea, and the open air ("No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life"), disturbing reflections on suicide and commitment, incisive comments on writers from Plotinus to Graham Greene and Kafka ("The whole art of Kafka consists in forcing the reader to reread").
These pages so intrinsically tantalizing, should send readers hurrying back to favorite works of Camus or onto discovering the ever-fresh pleasures of his exemplary modern writer.