Bradford Graves

The Stones of Camus

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The Stones of Camus

The Minotaur

"Innocence needs sand and stones. And man has

forgotten how to live with them.." 20

In Albert Camus' essay The Minotaur, the stone is king. Set under the strong

baking action of the North African sun where nature refuses to grow, it is about

man's fight to survive, to exist, and the battle is waged against stones. In North

Africa, the world must indeed seem to be "a large ball of rock", unchanging,

and an unnatural home for man.

Oran is a city poised on the edge of land, in one direction the sea, and on the

other, stones of the desert. Both are capable of smothering man. "It is

impossible to know what stone is without coming to Oran. In that dustiest of

cities, the pebble is king." 21 The pebbles are everywhere, brought in with the

dust of the desert. Whatever is living is soon petrified by a layer of dust, and objects are seen through

a film of dust creating a dense and impassable universe.

The dust and stones destroy the past and the present is never seen. The minotaur of the title enters

the city as boredom. "The capital ( Oran) of boredom is surrounded by an army, in which every stone

is a soldier. In the city, and at certain hours, however, what a temptation to go over to the enemy! What

a temptation to identify oneself with those stones, to melt into that burning and impassive universe

that defies history and its ferments. This is doubtless futile. But there is in every man a profound

instinct which is neither that of destruction nor that of creation. It is merely a matter of resembling


Boredom has entered as the stone, as unfeeling mute stones that will not undergo any changes. Man

loses sems of his own existence, and inactivity sets in.

This inactivity of nothingness must be understood and after that, awareness can come into being. For

the sun will some day crack the stone and perhaps then a seed blown by the wind will be caught and

life begin again. The activity of life will cause changes, for Camus it is an

answer of accepting both states as one - sleep and wakefulness. "If stone can

do no more for us than the human heart, it can do just as much." 23

For the people of Oran, this activity takes on the form of a frontal attack on the

stone. It is the creation of a stone jetty pushing its way out into the sea. Man

attacks the mountains with dynamite and the loosened rubble is then

transported to the sea and dumped. All the while this work is going on the wind

is dumping its own pile of stone and pebbles on the city.

"Destroying stone is not possible. It is merely moved from one place to

another." 24  While man moves stone from one location to another, nature

moves stone into the void left by man. "The whole city has solidified in a stone matrix." 25

It is an action that man will never triumph at and which will soon cease to have any meaning, for when

tomorrow comes they will start all over again as nature wears down the work through the action of the


Even in this hopeless round of activity, man must make that choice. For Camus, the importance is in

man who finds meaning in the desire to last even for only a second.

Camus writes harshly on the stones that man's activity is defined by, but he can also write on the

beauty found in nature. It can be on the stones of a beach near Oran, or it can be on the stones found in

the solitude of deserts far from Oran. That is the innocence quoted at the

beginning. It is man interpreting stone within the context of struggle - stones

would do very well without us, but could we survive without stone? If not, would

we have to invent them to define our own activities?

We have a choice - to be lost in the harsh beauty of this world, or to work with it

and then know the time to let loose.

"It is noon: the very day is being weighed in the balance. His rite accomplished,

the traveler received the reward of his liberation - the little stone, dry and

smooth as an asphodel, that he picks up on the cliff. For the initiate the world is

no heavier to bear than this stone. Atlas' task is easy: it is sufficient to choose

one's hour. Then one realizes that for an hour, a month, a year, he can indulge in freedom." 26

The Myth of Sisyphus

"A face that toils so close to stone is already stone itself." 27

Sisyphus is close to me through a great deal of identification. Working each day with stone, I wonder where all this labor is taking me. I finish one

piece, turn, and begin the next, hoping that this time I will state all that I have to say about sculpture. Camus is interested in that pause between

sculptures as Sisyphus turns and pauses on the descent of the hill to return again to his labors. There is the moment of awareness - of tragedy

and joy - of happiness and the absurd. To understand one of these concepts you have to have the opposite, and out of that struggle you obtain


"When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy rises in

man's heart; this is the rock's victory, that is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. But crushing truths perish from being

acknowledged." 28

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20. Camus, Albert. THE MYTH OF SYSYPHUS and other essays. Vintage Books, New York, 1959. p. 131

22. Ibid. p. 121


A Legacy Carved in Stone



Taking the Side of Things

Omphalos and Lapis Manalis



The Stones of Camus

Twentieth Century Stone Sculpture

Richardson 's Original Monster Rock


Robert Smithson

The Moon Gets its Rocks off on Earth

In Praise of Limestone

Essay by Laura Welikson








Brad's Writings 

Selected Essays


Albert Camus