Government amp Politics

Absurdism - New World Encyclopedia

Date of publication: 2017-09-05 00:52

Dostoevsky himself was a Christian, to be sure, and for that matter also a rabid anti-Semite, anti-Catholic, and anti-Western Russian nationalist. We have no right whatsoever to attribute to him the opinions of all of his most interesting characters.
— Existentialism Kaufmann, p. 69

Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus: Meaning and Interpretation

Camus states in The Myth of Sisyphus : "Thus I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide." [66]

Albert Camus, 1913-1960 - The History Guide

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 eternity. 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 rock 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."

From Beckett to Stoppard: Existentialism, Death, and Absurdity

For Camus, the beauty that people encounter in life makes it worth living. People may create meaning in their own lives, which may not be the objective meaning of life but still provides something for which to strive. However, he insisted that one must always maintain an ironic distance between this invented meaning and the knowledge of the absurd lest the fictitious meaning take the place of the absurd.

What do you have in common with Meursault, the murderous, semi-sociopathic, unlikeable, unloving, chain-smoking, detached, sun-averse protagonist of The Stranger ?

The second choice is the religious solution of positing a transcendent world of solace and meaning beyond the Absurd. Camus calls this solution “philosophical suicide” and rejects it as transparently evasive and fraudulent. To adopt a supernatural solution to the problem of the Absurd (for example, through some type of mysticism or leap of faith) is to annihilate reason, which in Camus’s view is as fatal and self-destructive as physical suicide. In effect, instead of removing himself from the absurd confrontation of self and world like the physical suicide, the religious believer simply removes the offending world and replaces it, via a kind of metaphysical abracadabra, with a more agreeable alternative.

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Shortly after the outbreak of WWI, when Camus was less than a year old, his father was recalled to military service and, on October 66, 6969, died of shrapnel wounds suffered at the first battle of the Marne. As a child, about the only thing Camus ever learned about his father was that he had once become violently ill after witnessing a public execution. This anecdote, which surfaces in fictional form in the author’s novel The Stranger and is also recounted in his philosophical essay “Reflections on the Guillotine,” strongly affected Camus and influenced his lifelong opposition to the death penalty.

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Perhaps Camus himself best defined his own particular status as a philosophical writer when he wrote (with authors like Melville, Stendhal, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka especially in mind): “The great novelists are philosophical novelists” that is, writers who eschew systematic explanation and create their discourse using “images instead of arguments” ( The Myth of Sisyphus 79).

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.

'Bad faith' is an important concept in Sartrean existentialism. To act in bad faith is to turn away from the authentic choosing of oneself and to act in conformity with a stereotype or role. Sartre's most famous example is that of a waiter:

This idea that the universe has a rational structure that the mind can apprehend characterizes an older trend in European philosophy called "rationalism." Rationalism traces its roots to Rene Descartes and to the birth of modern philosophy. Most of twentieth century European philosophy has been a direct reaction to this older tradition, a reactionary attempt to explore the possibility that the universe has no rational structure for the mind to apprehend.

Another point of divergence is that Camus seems to have regarded existentialism as a complete and systematic world-view, that is, a fully articulated doctrine. In his view, to be a true existentialist one had to commit to the entire doctrine (and not merely to bits and pieces of it), and this was apparently something he was unwilling to do.

On the other hand, besides his personal rejection of the label, there appear to be solid reasons for challenging the claim that Camus is an existentialist. For one thing, it is noteworthy that he never showed much interest in (indeed he largely avoided) metaphysical and ontological questions (the philosophical raison d’etre of Heidegger and Sartre). Of course there is no rule that says an existentialist must be a metaphysician. However, Camus’s seeming aversion to technical philosophical discussion does suggest one way in which he distanced himself from contemporary existentialist thought.

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