The New York Times Opinionator page has an interesting commentary by Andy Martin on the experiences of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in New York City after the war, and more generally on their contrasting sentiments about America. I like this passage in particular
At Vassar [Camus] gave a lecture on “The Crisis of Mankind” and was dazzled by the spectacle of “an army of long-legged young starlets, lazing on the lawn.” But he was preoccupied by what he thought of as the “American tragedy.” The tragedy of the students was that they lacked a sense of the tragic. For Sartre the tragic was the mechanization and objectification of the human. For Camus, the tragic was something more elusive: whatever it was, it was missing in America.
I don’t know if it was Camus who first made the observation about Americans not having a sense of the tragic (Tocqueville maybe?), but I’ve been saying it for a while. I no doubt picked it up from some French thinker. Andy Martin, who teaches at Cambridge University, has a new book out, The Boxer and The Goal Keeper: Sartre Versus Camus. I’ll definitely have to get this one, maybe propose it to my reading group. Several years ago we read Jean-François Sirinelli’s very good history of the lifelong relationship—and decades-long political conflict—between Sartre and Raymond Aron, Deux intellectuels dans le siècle, Sartre et Aron. It’s almost a cliché nowadays—at least for those of my generation and older—to say that in my youth I would have sided with Sartre but now I’d be with Aron. But it’s true. On almost every issue of political disagreement between the two—with the possible exception of May ’68—Aron was right and Sartre was wrong. And with the possible exception of Algeria, it was likewise with Camus and Sartre.