The myth of sisyphus essay

The Myth Of Sisyphus And The Stranger

Camus held that we should not be fooled to think that because there are only two possible outcomes life or suicide, that there are only two possible answers to this question. Most human beings continue living largely because they have not reached a definitive answer to this question. Those who commit suicide might be assured life has meaning, and many who feel that life is not worth living still continue to live. Facing the meaningless of existence, what keeps us from suicide?

By hoping for another life, or hoping to find some meaning in this life, we put off facing the consequences of the absurd, of the meaninglessness of life. In this essay, Camus wants us to face the consequences of the absurd. Camus argues that life is meaningless and absurd. Still, we can revolt against the absurdity, and find some happiness in its midst. Can we live without the hope that life is meaningful, but without the despair that leads to suicide?

If the contrast is posed this starkly it seems an alternative appears — we can proceed defiantly forward. We can live without faith, without hope, and without appeal. We should imagine Sisyphus happy. Thanks for reading! Become a member. Sign in. Get started. It is not that discovering the absurd leads necessarily to happiness, but rather that acknowledging the absurd means also accepting human frailty, an awareness of our limitations, and the fact that we cannot help wishing to go beyond what is possible.

These are all tokens of being fully alive. First of all, like Pyrrho, Camus has solved his pressing existential issue, namely, avoiding despair, by a kind of resolution entailed in accepting our mortality and ultimate ignorance.

The Myth of Sisyphus | essay by Camus |

But there are two critical differences with Pyrrho: for Camus we never can abandon the desire to know, and realizing this leads to a quickening of our life-impulses. This last point was already contained in Nuptials , but here is expanded to link consciousness with happiness. But how is it possible that, by the end of The Myth of Sisyphus , Camus has moved from skepticism about finding the truth and nihilism about whether life has meaning to advocating an approach to life that is clearly judged to be better than others?

Essay on myth of sisyphus

How does he justify embracing a normative stance, affirming specific values? This contradiction reveals a certain sleight of hand, as the philosopher gives way to the artist. It is as an artist that Camus now makes his case for acceptance of tragedy, the consciousness of absurdity, and a life of sensuous vitality.

He advocates this with the image of Sisyphus straining, fully alive, and happy. And it is often forgotten that this absurdist novelist and philosopher was also a political activist—he had been a member of the Algerian branch of the French Communist Party in the mids and was organizer of an Algiers theater company that performed avant-garde and political plays—as well as a crusading journalist.

In June he wrote a series of reports on famine and poverty in the mountainous coastal region of Kabylie, among the first detailed articles ever written by a European Algerian describing the wretched living conditions of the native population. The spectacle of Camus and his mentor Pascal Pia running their left-wing daily into the ground because they rejected the urgency of fighting Nazism is one of the most striking but least commented-on periods of his life. Misunderstanding Nazism at the beginning of the war, he advocated negotiations with Hitler that would in part reverse the humiliations of the Treaty of Versailles.

His pacifism was in keeping with a time-honored French tradition, and Camus reported for military service out of solidarity with those young men, like his brother, who had become soldiers. Intending to serve loyally and to advocate a negotiated peace in the barracks, he was angered that his tuberculosis disqualified him Lottman, —31; Aronson , 25— However, after the Liberation the question of violence continued to occupy him both politically and philosophically.

His allegory of the war years, The Plague , depicts a nonviolent resistance to an unexplained pestilence, and in his was one of the few voices raised in protest against the American use of nuclear weapons to defeat Japan Aronson , After the Liberation he opposed the death penalty for collaborators, turned against Marxism and Communism for embracing revolution, rejected the looming cold war and its threatening violence, and then in The Rebel began to spell out his deeper understanding of violence.


Writing as a philosopher again, he returns to the terrain of argument by explaining what absurdist reasoning entails. Since to conclude otherwise would negate its very premise, namely the existence of the questioner, absurdism must logically accept life as the one necessary good. As in his criticism of the existentialists, Camus advocates a single standpoint from which to argue for objective validity, that of consistency.

One might think that a period which, in a space of fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand. Do such questions represent an entirely new philosophy or are they continuous with The Myth of Sisyphus?. The issue is not resolved by the explanations that Camus gives for his shift in the first pages of The Rebel —by referring to the mass murders of the middle third of the twentieth century. In so doing Camus applies the philosophy of the absurd in new, social directions, and seeks to answer new, historical questions.

But as we see him setting this up at the beginning of The Rebel the continuity with a philosophical reading of The Stranger is also strikingly clear. At the beginning of The Rebel Camus explains:.

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Having ruled out suicide, what is there to say about murder? Starting from the absence of God, the key theme of Nuptials , and the inevitability of absurdity, the key theme of The Myth of Sisyphus , Camus incorporates both of these into The Rebel , but alongside them he now stresses revolt. The act of rebellion assumes the status of a primary datum of human experience, like the Cartesian cogito taken by Sartre as his point of departure. Camus first expressed this directly under the inspiration of his encounter with Being and Nothingness.

But how can an I lead to a we? Acting against oppression entails having recourse to social values, and at the same time joining with others in struggle. On both levels solidarity is our common condition. In The Rebel Camus takes the further step, which occupies most of the book, of developing his notion of metaphysical and historical rebellion in opposition to the concept of revolution.

And now, in The Rebel , he describes this as a major trend of modern history, using similar terms to those he had used in The Myth of Sisyphus to describe the religious and philosophical evasions. What sort of work is this? In a book so charged with political meaning, Camus makes no explicitly political arguments or revelations, and presents little in the way of actual social analysis or concrete historical study.

The Rebel is, rather, a historically framed philosophical essay about underlying ideas and attitudes of civilization.

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  • David Sprintzen suggests these taken-for-granted attitudes operate implicitly and in the background of human projects and very rarely become conscious Sprintzen , Camus felt that it was urgent to critically examine these attitudes in a world in which calculated murder had become common. The book provides a unique perspective—presenting a coherent and original structure of premise, mood, description, philosophy, history, and even prejudice.

    These certainly reached back to his expulsion from the Communist Party in the mids for refusing to adhere to its Popular Front strategy of playing down French colonialism in Algeria in order to win support from the white working class. Then, making no mention of Marxism, The Myth of Sisyphus is eloquently silent on its claims to present a coherent understanding of human history and a meaningful path to the future. Validating revolt as a necessary starting point, Camus criticizes politics aimed at building a utopian future, affirming once more that life should be lived in the present and in the sensuous world.

    He explores the history of post-religious and nihilistic intellectual and literary movements; he attacks political violence with his views on limits and solidarity; and he ends by articulating the metaphysical role of art as well as a self-limiting radical politics.

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    In place of argument, he paints a concluding vision of Mediterranean harmony that he hopes will be stirring and lyrical, binding the reader to his insights. As a political tract The Rebel asserts that Communism leads inexorably to murder, and then explains how revolutions arise from certain ideas and states of spirit.

    Furthermore, Camus insists that these attitudes are built into Marxism. Marxists think this, Camus asserted, because they believe that history has a necessary logic leading to human happiness, and thus they accept violence to bring it about. As does the rebel who becomes a revolutionary who kills and then justifies murder as legitimate.

    Albert Camus - The Myth of Sisyphus (part 1) - Existentialist Philosophy & Literature

    According to Camus, the execution of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution was the decisive step demonstrating the pursuit of justice without regard to limits. It contradicted the original life-affirming, self-affirming, and unifying purpose of revolt. Camus focuses on a variety of major figures, movements, and literary works: the Marquis de Sade, romanticism, dandyism, The Brothers Karamazov , Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, surrealism, the Nazis, and above all the Bolsheviks.

    Camus describes revolt as increasing its force over time and turning into an ever more desperate nihilism, overthrowing God and putting man in his place, wielding power more and more brutally. Historical revolt, rooted in metaphysical revolt, leads to revolutions seeking to eliminate absurdity by using murder as their central tool to take total control over the world.

    Communism is the contemporary expression of this Western sickness.

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    • We might justly expect an analysis of the arguments he speaks of, but The Rebel changes focus. His shift is revealed by his question: How can murder be committed with premeditation and be justified by philosophy? He does not address the Holocaust, and although his had been a voice of protest against Hiroshima in , he does not now ask how it happened. As a journalist he had been one of the few to indict French colonialism, but he does not mention it, except in a footnote.

      How was it possible for Camus to focus solely on the violence of Communism, given the history he had lived, in the very midst of the French colonial war in Vietnam, and when he knew that a bitter struggle over Algeria lay ahead? It seems he became blinded by ideology, separating Communism from the other evils of the century and directing his animus there.

      But something else had happened: his agenda had changed. Absurdity and revolt, his original themes, had been harnessed as an alternative to Communism, which had become the archenemy. The philosophy of revolt became Cold-War ideology. Because The Rebel claimed to describe the attitude that lay behind the evil features of contemporary revolutionary politics, it became a major political event.

      Readers could hardly miss his description of how the impulse for emancipation turned into organized, rational murder as the rebel-become-revolutionary attempted to order an absurd universe. In presenting this message, Camus sought not so much to critique Stalinism as its apologists. His specific targets were intellectuals attracted to Communism—as he himself had been in the s. But it also reflects his capacity for interpreting a specific disagreement in the broadest possible terms—as a fundamental conflict of philosophies.

      They are studded with carefully composed topic sentences for major ideas—which one expects to be followed by paragraphs, pages, and chapters of development but, instead, merely follow one another and wait until the next equally well-wrought topic sentence.

      The Myth of Sisyphus: Lessons in Absurdity

      The going gets even muddier as we near the end and the text verges on incoherence. However the strain stems from the fact that he is doing so much more. Rebellion, Camus has insisted, will entail murder. He has said that death is the most fundamental of absurdities, and that at root rebellion is a protest against absurdity.

      Thus to kill any other human being, even an oppressor, is to disrupt our solidarity, in a sense to contradict our very being. It is impossible, then, to embrace rebellion while rejecting violence. There are those, however, who ignore the dilemma: these are the believers in history, heirs of Hegel and Marx who imagine a time when inequality and oppression will cease and humans will finally be happy. For Camus this resembles the paradise beyond this life promised by religions, and he speaks of living for, and sacrificing humans for, a supposedly better future as, very simply, another religion.

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