I just stumbled across a paper called “The noble art of misquoting Camus — from its origins to the Internet era,” by philosopher and Société des Études Camusiennes member, Giovanni Gaetani.
Gaetani’s English is not quite broken, but perhaps we could say it’s “dented.” Nevertheless, he makes some good general points about misquotations in the age of the internet, including this:
The real importance of misquotes – and mistranslation as well – is undervalued. Whether they are big or small, hidden or manifest, made in bad or in good faith, they are always compromising because their inevitable destiny is to generate false commonplaces to be used either for or against the author. Indeed, while a specialist can probably detect at first glance the misquote or the mistranslation, the average reader – that is, the vast majority of an author’s audience – is condemned to believe to what he sees, no matter how disappointing it is.
Nonetheless, we underestimate [the] Internet’s impact on literature and philosophy: ever since everyone has the power to say his personal opinion about everything, even when he is a total incompetent about the subject; ever since everyone can quote a writer without feeling the need to report the source and ever since everyone seems to not care at all about sources, believing in everything he sees on Internet, every quote has completely lost reliability.
During my research I have contacted many bloggers, asking them where Camus should have written/said this or that; their answer was always the same: «check it on Google». Indeed, their reasoning was simple but tremendously naïve: if a quote is reported by so many people – millions of references in some cases – the author of this quote “must” be Albert Camus.
I paraphrase this attitude as “It must be true. I read it on the internet.”
Gaetani also tackles nine common misquotations or misattributed quotes, including one I’ve seen recently:
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
This is actually from a children’s song from a Jewish summer camp.
5 thoughts on “Fake Camus quotes”
We sang that at my Jewish summer camp!
Actually, it IS from Camus… it’s in the preface to “The Stranger”.
Hi, Jonathan. Can you tell me which edition (year, publisher) and page number you’ve seen this quote in the preface of? The only preface I’ve found so far is the 1955 preface to the American edition, which doesn’t contain that quote.
I saw this on a plaque as a kid growing up in the 80’s, with his name attributed as the author. Long before the internet.
Misattributed quotations have probably been around for as long as people have been quoting each other. The internet just helps us spread confusion and misinformation more quickly.