Tag Archives: Albert Camus

Myth of Sisyphus

Recently bought a new book of Albert Camus to add to the shelves. A man I respect ever declared that this was his favourite book, which got me curious. I read a few chapters of it online when I was in my ‘absurd theatre’ phase, and really quite liked it.

The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus is what Camus calls “the absurd.” Camus claims that there is a fundamental conflict between what we want from the universe (whether it be meaning, order, or reasons) and what we find in the universe (formless chaos). We will never find in life itself the meaning that we want to find. Either we will discover that meaning through a leap of faith, by placing our hopes in a God beyond this world, or we will conclude that life is meaningless. Camus opens the essay by asking if this latter conclusion that life is meaningless necessarily leads one to commit suicide. If life has no meaning, does that mean life is not worth living? If that were the case, we would have no option but to make a leap of faith or to commit suicide, says Camus. Camus is interested in pursuing a third possibility: that we can accept and live in a world devoid of meaning or purpose.

The absurd is a contradiction that cannot be reconciled, and any attempt to reconcile this contradiction is simply an attempt to escape from it: facing the absurd is struggling against it. Camus claims that existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Chestov, and Jaspers, and phenomenologists such as Husserl, all confront the contradiction of the absurd but then try to escape from it. Existentialists find no meaning or order in existence and then attempt to find some sort of transcendence or meaning in this very meaninglessness.

Living with the absurd, Camus suggests, is a matter of facing this fundamental contradiction and maintaining constant awareness of it. Facing the absurd does not entail suicide, but, on the contrary, allows us to live life to its fullest.

Camus identifies three characteristics of the absurd life: revolt (we must not accept any answer or reconciliation in our struggle), freedom (we are absolutely free to think and behave as we choose), and passion (we must pursue a life of rich and diverse experiences).

Camus gives four examples of the absurd life: the seducer, who pursues the passions of the moment; the actor, who compresses the passions of hundreds of lives into a stage career; the conqueror, or rebel, whose political struggle focuses his energies; and the artist, who creates entire worlds. Absurd art does not try to explain experience, but simply describes it. It presents a certain worldview that deals with particular matters rather than aiming for universal themes.

The book ends with a discussion of the myth of Sisyphus, who, according to the Greek myth, was punished for all eternity to roll a rock up a mountain only to have it roll back down to the bottom when he reaches the top. Camus claims that Sisyphus is the ideal absurd hero and that his punishment is representative of the human condition: Sisyphus must struggle perpetually and without hope of success. So long as he accepts that there is nothing more to life than this absurd struggle, then he can find happiness in it, says Camus.

Camus appends his essay with a discussion of the works of Franz Kafka. He ultimately concludes that Kafka is an existentialist, who, like Kierkegaard, chooses to make a leap of faith rather than accept his absurd condition. However, Camus admires Kafka for expressing humanity’s absurd predicament so perfectly.

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Albert Camus’ Quotes

In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. In this respect, he is foreign to the society in which he lives; he wanders, on the fringe, in the suburbs of private, solitary, sensual life. And this is why some readers have been tempted to look upon him as a piece of social wreckage. A much more accurate idea of the character, or, at least, one much closer to the author’s intentions, will emerge if one asks just how Meursault doesn’t play the game. The reply is a simple one: he refuses to lie…He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings, and immediately society feels threatened…One would therefore not be much mistaken to read The Stranger as the story of a man who, without any heroics, agrees to die for the truth….” -0-

“Europe has lived on its contradictions, flourished on its differences, and, constantly transcending itself thereby, has created a civilization on which the whole world depends even when rejecting it. This is why I do not believe in a Europe unified under the weight of an ideology or of a technocracy that overlooked these differences.”

– Albert Camus

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Albert Camus on the book ‘The Trial’ by Kafka:

 

We are taken to the limits of human thought. Indeed, everything in this work is, in the true sense, essential. It states the problem of the absurd in its entirety.


Great first lines of books

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. “- One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“May I, Monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?”- The Fall, Albert Camus
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.- “A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”- The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley
“The best thing would be to write down everything that happens from day to day. “- Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
“Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.” – The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
“If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” – Herzog, Saul Bellow
“I am a sick man… I am an angry man.”- Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I was the shadow of the waxwing slain//By the false azure in the windowpane” – Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

“The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”– A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul

“Every account of the origins of the state starts from the premise that “we” – not we the readers but some generic we so wide as to exclude no one – participate in its coming into being.”– Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee

“A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”- The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984, George Orwell
“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”- Murphy, Samuel Beckett
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”– Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”– The Trial, Franz Kafka

“This is a true story, but I can’t believe it’s really happening.”– London Fields, Martin Amis

 


Note

Thanks all for the list of delicious suggestions, and I’ll start with the one that W recommends – Nausea from Jean Paul Sartre! I’ve always wanted to try it since we read passages from it, together with The Age of Reason.

I feel like something dark and existentialist. Maybe Albert Camus.

Ok, enough for a lovely rainy weekend!~