He was born in Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, in the Auvergne region of France. He spent some time studying in England and traveling in the United States, particularly New York and California (he taught for a semester in a college in Arkansas). He quickly began to circulate among writers (Louis Aragon, Roland Barthes, Marguerite Duras, etc.) and visual artists (the Warhol circle, the New York School, Gilbert and George, etc.). He also circulated in gay communities and is an outspoken defender of gay rights, although, as with social issues in general, he keeps his distance from doctrinaire positions. One of his first published works (and the only one (partially) translated in English), with a preface by Barthes, is Tricks (1979; enlarged and revised in 1982 and 1988), a “chronicle” consisting of over-detailed descriptions of homosexual encounters in France and elsewhere. Fragments of other works were published in the 75th issue of Yale French Studies (1988).
Camus is an exceptionally prolific writer. His work could be divided into four categories: straightforward prose (travel writing, traditional-form novels, polemic, and lengthy yearly journals (diary) published from 1989 to the present; “creative” prose: “experimental” novels and a large and ever-growing, largely unpublished web text, Burnt Boats (Vaisseaux brûlés); writings on painting and culture; and personal essays.
He has also formed a political party, "Le Parti de l’Innocence", continually evolving its platform, a curious blend of traditional leftist/socialist political values and conservative social values. It plays no role in French politics, but Camus seems to take it very seriously, adding position statements to the party’s website on a nearly daily basis.
Although he has a growing base of faithful and fervent readers, he is not read widely. This is partly because of the difficulty of some of his work and partly because of his alienation from the literary establishment, in which he is well known, largely because of his journals. This alienation derives from his no-holds-barred approach in his journals and his adamant insistence on expressing his convictions – political, moral, personal – in his writing (some shun him because they fear being described and/or quoted). In his Diary of 1994 (published in 2000 under the title La campagne de France), Renaud Camus commented on the fact that the membership of a regular panel of literary critics supposed to cover a broad range of literary genres in a programme series ("Panorama") run by the French national radio (France Culture) comprised a majority of persons of Jewish descent who tended to exclusively focus discussions on Jewish authors and community-centered issues. This comment, often misquoted in the French media at that time, caused widespread controversy and drew much criticism from observers like the noted French journalist Jean Daniel, who described Camus' remarks as anti-Semitic. Ironically, Renaud Camus was warmly supported by several prominent Jewish intellectuals, including French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during the entire controversy, the latter underscoring Renaud Camus’ unflinching support for Israel.
Subsequently, and on several occasions, Renaud Camus was given the opportunity to clarify this comment of 2000, including in the studios of that very radio station : He never objected to any community-oriented programmes to be broadcast by that radio network, let alone any programme giving prime of place to the literary production of any Jewish community or being exclusively dedicated to Jewish culture ; his comment was meant to draw the attention of his readers to a literary programme run by a Governmental radio network which had narrowed its original scope to one almost exclusively dedicated to the literary production of one community, under the biased influence of some members of the panel in question. During the past few years, Renaud Camus has been often invited as guest by this radio station in similar programmes to discuss literary and art topics.
Tricks: 25 Encounters (High Risk Books) by Renaud Camus
Paperback: 252 pages
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (January 1, 1995)
Amazon: Tricks: 25 Encounters (High Risk Books)
This is a collection of 25 tales of sexual encounters, celebrating a type of sexual energy and freedom that has been lost to gay men since the AIDS epidemic began.
Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol by Nicholas de Villiers
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (April 16, 2012)
Amazon: Opacity and the Closet: Queer Tactics in Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol
Opacity and the Closet interrogates the viability of the metaphor of “the closet” when applied to three important queer figures in postwar American and French culture: the philosopher Michel Foucault, the literary critic Roland Barthes, and the pop artist Andy Warhol. Nicholas de Villiers proposes a new approach to these cultural icons that accounts for the queerness of their works and public personas.
Rather than reading their self-presentations as “closeted,” de Villiers suggests that they invent and deploy productive strategies of “opacity” that resist the closet and the confessional discourse associated with it. Deconstructing binaries linked with the closet that have continued to influence both gay and straight receptions of these intellectual and pop celebrities, de Villiers illuminates the philosophical implications of this displacement for queer theory and introduces new ways to think about the space they make for queerness.
Using the works of Foucault, Barthes, and Warhol to engage each other while exploring their shared historical context, de Villiers also shows their queer appropriations of the interview, the autobiography, the diary, and the documentary—forms typically linked to truth telling and authenticity.