by Anna Ferraro
Eric Berg, a professor of psychology at MacMurray College, is soon to become an honored name in academic writing circles – not just in the U.S., but also around the world. Upon the release of his book, “Mapping “The Plague”,” later this summer, Berg will most likely be recognized as a leading expert on the life and works of the French author, Albert Camus. Such a position came through workflow intentionality and a vast array of skills, not limited to organization, efficiency and dedication.
While Berg has always been an avid admirer of Camus, he hasn’t always been an author. Berg began his work in Jacksonville right after completing his graduate degree at the University of Kansas. While landing a position at a college immediately after graduation is unusual in the humanities field, Berg had the personality and the skills that MacMurray College was looking for. Thus began 11 rewarding years of work for him in MacMurray’s philosophy department.
From his days as a student at Minnesota State University, where Berg completed his undergraduate degree, Berg explained, “I had a few faculty members invest in me. Going into my undergraduate career, I was generally interested in learning, but pretty solely focused on baseball.” One of Berg’s professors was from Sierra Lione. Taking Berg under his care, he monitored Berg’s schedule, made suggested adjustments to his academic plan, and in Berg’s words, “he really listened to what I thought of the materials … as a 20-year-old, that encouraged me to think independently, and read more. It broadened my horizons.”
Through his years in academia, and in becoming a professor of philosophy, Berg discovered that he had a propensity towards the works of Albert Camus, the famed 20th century French philosopher. Outside of his classroom, he often found himself drawn to the works of Camus.
In 2012, Berg published an article on Camus’ novel, “The Stranger.” Berg commented, “It really took off. It was used in textbooks, classrooms, and been republished multiple times.” That article was the beginning of an epic journey for Berg. In 2013, he was invited to join the executive board of the Albert Camus Society, soon becoming the book editor for the society. Having an adequate grasp of French, and with a master’s degree in theology to back up his knowledge of not just Camus’ novels, but his sermons as well, Berg was up for the task.
In 2014, the society decided that they wanted to write a series of books as reader’s guides to Camus’ works. The original plan involved multiple authors – who all missed their deadlines. All, that is, except Berg. When the project fell apart and was canceled, the Society noted Berg’s completed chapter and outline. They liked his work, and his work ethic. The deal was on.
Thus, in spring 2016, MacMurray College granted Berg a sabbatical to research and write. And the journey began. He didn’t just read the works of Albert Camus. He carefully sifted through his journals and correspondences, reading many of them in their original forms, saying, “Camus’ journals are very worthwhile to spend time with … he often spent time in cafes writing. Into his writing, he wrote down anecdotes and conversations he overheard, creating vignettes insides his stories.”
Berg provided some background, saying that ““The Plague”” was written in the early 1940s, and published in 1947. He shared that the events of this era added interesting depth to the novel, saying, “When [Camus] started to write ““The Plague”,” the Germans were invading France. Camus moved to South France, [and continued writing while] editing a French resistance newspaper … I’m amazed at his ability to write under those circumstances.” Berg shares a fun anecdote that he discovered at a period of time when Camus literally ran out of paper on which to write. According to some correspondence that Berg found, “Camus was sent reams of paper from a butcher [friend] in Algeria.”
Berg shares that he was intentional in his research process, because Camus was as well, saying, “Camus is an extremely intentional writer – every character – every name means something … I had to do very thorough search of each name, connecting [its] meaning to the character’s lives … there’s like 21 characters that have a decent amount of development in “The Plague” – I have to put all them down and figure out what [Camus] is doing with each one.”
Multiple waves of scholars around the world have reacted to Camus’ writings. Berg read these reactions too, and quipped that it was especially interesting to read the Germans reactions to “The Plague”, seeing the circumstances that it was written under. Berg explained his thoroughness by saying, “I don’t like to write things off – [Camus is] more sophisticated than that.” Two of the contentions of Camus’ writing that Berg was forced to address were 1) the fact that although “The Plague” is set in Algeria, very few Arabs are mentioned in the text, and 2) the women in the text are all minor characters. Berg comments, “Camus’ treatment of women in the text shows his rocky relationship with women in life. He makes notes, intentionally wanting to examine the men when they’re separated from women. There’s an awful lot going on in the text – and out of the text – [interestingly], Arabs and women are not in the text.” Berg found it fascinating to examine these elements, saying that he is perpetually intrigued by “ what kind of ideas Camus brought to the world in all that.”
Through all the incredible details of his academic writing journey through the works of Camus, Berg shared, “It’s an extremely focused process … but it’s not terribly burdensome; there are lots of parameters. If you’re disciplined enough to not pursue every lead that you find, you can meet the deadlines.”
In reference to MacMurray’s partnership on the project, Berg stated, “MacMurray’s been a powerful ally … [specifically], the head librarian [there] was a ‘gold mine’ for me. The inter-library loan service had books coming from all over the world to fuel my research.”
When he reported on his sabbatical at MacMurray, Berg shared, “I’ve been fascinated by the editing process – how much editing goes into what you write. The shift between writing an article for a journal, to writing an article that someone will make money off of is an entirely different deal.”
Right now, the working title for Berg’s book is “Mapping The Plague.” Berg shares that currently, the book is at an interesting point. “We’re in what they call ‘last call content editing.’ [The book’s] been stripped of all identifying features that would identify me as the author, and sent to three Camus experts internationally.”
From there, Berg stated that the “interesting” will shift into “boring.” After “last call content editing” comes the grammatical editing process. Between now and August, Berg will wrestle with his editors over commas and semicolons. But there is a light at the end of the punctuation tunnel – he hopes to see PDF copies of his book in late August before the final manuscript is sent to press.
While the book may release in Europe first, or at least an eBook version, Berg still has decisions to make – one of which is the cover. Berg stated with a chuckle that he at least knows what he does not want on his cover – “weird geometric patterns.”
Hence, the world has yet to see what the book will look like, but for now, Berg is working on his commas and semicolons, and between writing sessions, he’s maintaining his sanity through honing his baseball skills. There will be follow-up announcements to come when the book is released later in 2017. In closing, congratulations to Dr. Eric Berg, Jacksonville professor, for closing in on his dawn of becoming an internationally renowned author.
Eric Berg lives in Jacksonville, Illinois, where he is a professor of philosophy at MacMurray College. The students in his classes appreciate the clarity and passion in his lectures, a fact that comes through clearly in the post-course surveys. He attributes much of his success as a professor and author to the mentoring he had as a student – and daily strives to give that same kind of mentoring back to his students today. When he’s not writing or teaching, he can be found enjoying baseball in some form.