70 years ago this month, Albert Camus made his first and only trip to the United States, briefly visiting Philadelphia and Boston, but mostly staying in New York, the city that captivated him most. As Jennifer Schuessler writes in The New York Times, Camus didn’t quite know what to make of the city’s “swarming lights” and “frantic streets.” But he had to appreciate the warmth with which he was greeted. During his 1946 stay, Camus celebrated the English publication of The Stranger on the rooftop of the Hotel Astor. He sat down for an interview with The New Yorker and gave a memorable speech at Columbia University. He also became a fashion critic for a brief moment, offering this thought on American neckties: “You have to see it to believe it. So much bad taste hardly seems imaginable.”
All of this sets up a little joke delivered this weekend by Noam Chomsky, as recalled on Facebook by journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald writes:
Chomsky: You know, there’s this interesting essay by Albert Camus, written during his first visit to the United States, in which he described his surprise at what he regarded as the poor clothing taste of Americans, particularly men’s choices of ties.
Me (slightly confused): Are you sharing that anecdote because you dislike my tie?
That’s how you receive a fashion critique from the world’s greatest public intellectual.
Note: The 70th anniversary of Camus’s trip to New York is being commemorated in “Camus: A Stranger in the City,” a monthlong festival of performances, readings, film screenings and events. If you’re in NYC, check it out. The full program is here.