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Sisyphus Camus Essay

For mythology regarding the Greek character Sisyphus, see Sisyphus.

The Myth of Sisyphus (French: Le Mythe de Sisyphe) is a 1942 philosophical essay by Albert Camus. The English translation by Justin O'Brien was first published in 1955.

In the essay, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd, man's futile search for meaning, unity, and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Does the realization of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers, "No. It requires revolt." He then outlines several approaches to the absurd life. The final chapter compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, "The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".

The work can be seen in relation to other absurdist works by Camus: the novel The Stranger (1942), the plays The Misunderstanding (1942) and Caligula (1944), and especially the essay The Rebel (1951).

Summary[edit]

The essay is dedicated to Pascal Pia and is organized in four chapters and one appendix.

Chapter 1: An Absurd Reasoning[edit]

Camus undertakes the task of answering what he considers to be the only question of philosophy that matters: Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide?

He begins by describing the absurd condition: life is meaningless and nonsensical, but humans strive constantly for meaning and sense in it. Religious explanations have been disproved by science, but science in turn can only describe existence, it cannot explain why there is existence or what its meaning or purpose is, as Spinoza among others believed it would one day be able to. Once stripped of its common romanticism, the world is a foreign, strange and inhuman place. Yet humans need meaning, even though it appears there is no meaning to be found. Much of life is characterised by such absurd paradoxes: we build our lives on the hope of tomorrow, yet tomorrow brings us closer to death, the ultimate enemy; we live as if we don't know about the certainty of death. Science professes a sensible explanation of the world, but ends in fantastic stories of microscopic galaxies of atoms that cannot be seen. This is the absurd condition and "from the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all."

It is not the world that is absurd, nor human thought: the absurd arises when the human need to understand meets the unreasonableness of the world, when "my appetite for the absolute and for unity" meets "the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle."

He then characterizes a number of philosophies that describe and attempt to deal with this feeling of the absurd, by Heidegger, Jaspers, Shestov, Kierkegaard, and Husserl. All of these, he claims, commit "philosophical suicide" by reaching conclusions that contradict the original absurd position, either by abandoning reason and turning to God, as in the case of Kierkegaard and Shestov, or by elevating reason and ultimately arriving at ubiquitous Platonic forms and an abstract god, as in the case of Husserl.

For Camus, who set out to take the absurd seriously and follow it to its final conclusions, these "leaps" cannot convince. Taking the absurd seriously means acknowledging the contradiction between the desire of human reason and the unreasonable world. Suicide, then, also must be rejected: without man, the absurd cannot exist. The contradiction must be lived; reason and its limits must be acknowledged, without false hope. However, the absurd can never be accepted: it requires constant confrontation, constant revolt.

While the question of human freedom in the metaphysical sense loses interest to the absurd man, he gains freedom in a very concrete sense: no longer bound by hope for a better future or eternity, without a need to pursue life's purpose or to create meaning, "he enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules".

To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer. Without a meaning in life, there is no scale of values. "What counts is not the best living but the most living."

Thus, Camus arrives at three consequences from fully acknowledging the absurd: revolt, freedom, and passion.

Chapter 2: The Absurd Man[edit]

Camus then goes on to present examples of the absurd life. He begins with Don Juan, the serial seducer who lives the passionate life to the fullest. "There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional."

The next example is the actor, who depicts ephemeral lives for ephemeral fame. "He demonstrates to what degree appearing creates being." "In those three hours he travels the whole course of the dead-end path that the man in the audience takes a lifetime to cover."

Camus's third example of the absurd man is the conqueror, the warrior who forgoes all promises of eternity to affect and engage fully in human history. He chooses action over contemplation, aware of the fact that nothing can last and no victory is final.

Chapter 3: Absurd Creation[edit]

Here Camus explores the absurd creator or artist. Since explanation is impossible, absurd art is restricted to a description of the myriad experiences in the world. "If the world were clear, art would not exist." Absurd creation, of course, also must refrain from judging and from alluding to even the slightest shadow of hope.

He then analyzes the work of Dostoyevsky in this light, especially The Diary of a Writer, The Possessed and The Brothers Karamazov. All these works start from the absurd position, and the first two explore the theme of philosophical suicide. However, both The Diary and his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, ultimately find a path to hope and faith and thus fail as truly absurd creations.

Chapter 4: The Myth of Sisyphus[edit]

In the last chapter, Camus outlines the legend of Sisyphus who defied the gods and put Death in chains so that no human needed to die. When Death was eventually liberated and it came time for Sisyphus himself to die, he concocted a deceit which let him escape from the underworld. After finally capturing Sisyphus, the gods decided on his punishment for all eternity. He would have to push a rock up a mountain; upon reaching the top, the rock would roll down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. Camus sees Sisyphus as the absurd hero who lives life to the fullest, hates death, and is condemned to a meaningless task.

Camus is interested in Sisyphus' thoughts when marching down the mountain, to start anew. After the stone falls back down the mountain Camus states that "It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end." This is the truly tragic moment, when the hero becomes conscious of his wretched condition. He does not have hope, but "there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn." Acknowledging the truth will conquer it; Sisyphus, just like the absurd man, keeps pushing. Camus claims that when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. With a nod to the similarly cursed Greek hero Oedipus, Camus concludes that "all is well," indeed, that "one must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Appendix[edit]

The essay contains an appendix titled "Hope and the Absurd in the work of Franz Kafka". While Camus acknowledges that Kafka's work represents an exquisite description of the absurd condition, he maintains that Kafka fails as an absurd writer because his work retains a glimmer of hope.

See also[edit]

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus Essays

814 Words4 Pages

Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus

Albert Camus' essay, 'The Myth Of Sisyphus' is an insightful analysis of the classic work, 'The Myth Of Sisyphus'. In some regards Camus' view of Sisyphus can seem quite accurate and in tune with the original text, but based on Camus' interpretation of the justness of Sisyphus' punishment, it is clear that the writer has some different ideas as well. Camus concludes that this punishment does not have the effect the Gods had intended, and ultimately the tragic hero must be seen as being 'happy'. This is his greatest departure from the intent of the original myth wherein the reader is left with the feeling that Sisyphus' punishment can be seen as appropriate and just.

As his punishment for…show more content…

As the extent of Sisyphus? punishment is only described in the original story by a single sentence, Camus takes great pains in describing the psychological effects it has on Sisyphus, and the mental state he must be in to endure such an ordeal. In describing this, Camus focuses on the point at which Sisyphus makes his decent back to gather his great rock. It is at this point that Camus makes clear as to why he considers Sisyphus an ?absurd hero?. Assuming that this punishment can only be considered tragic if Sisyphus becomes conscious of it, Camus points out that it is during this descent that our main character becomes aware of his awful state, and in doing so becomes, ?superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.? Camus suggests that Sisyphus is at ease with this punishment because in this ?absurd? universe, man?s fate is the only thing that can be shaped by man, and in doing so, that fate belongs to man. Sisyphus? rock belongs to him.

If it is possible to see Sisyphus as conscious during his descent, then it is surely possible that he is aware of his predicament during his grueling ascent as well. Is Sisyphus not ?conscious? of the horrible punishment that he has been handed by the Gods as he makes his way up the hill with his rock? It is his ascent that allows the reader of the original story to remember what this act is supposed to represent, and it is the ascent that Camus, although he describes it

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