I am not a philosopher … and I only know how to speak of what I have lived. I have lived nihilism, contradiction, violence and the vertigo of destruction.
—Albert Camus, Lettres sur la révolte
Camus, after Kafka, a fellow sufferer from tuberculosis, was haunted by judgment, by those who judge, and by the question of their right to do so. “Before the bar of history, Caligula, the bar of history!” cries Camus’s odious yet fascinating Roman emperor. Caligula’s very last words in the play, uttered with a gasping laugh as he is being struck down, are—astonishingly—“I am still alive!” Like so much of Camus’s writing, with its deceptive surface of classical clarity, these words resonate with mystery as well as savage irony.
Caligula is still conscious of life, still full of...