The Stranger and The Myth

Posted by M ws On Thursday, August 16, 2012 1 comments
Friends and former students who have known me for long are aware of my deep love for the works and philosophy of Albert Camus. CLICK HERE to listen to how his name is pronounced.

According to Wikipedia:

Albert Camus (7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French pied-noir author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay "The Rebel" that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. Although often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy with which Camus was associated during his own lifetime, he rejected this particular label. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: "No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked..." 
In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons within the Revolutionary Union Movement, which was opposed to some tendencies of the Surrealist movement of Andr√© Breton. 
Camus was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature "for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times". He was the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, after Rudyard Kipling, and the first African-born writer to receive the award. He is the shortest-lived of any Nobel literature laureate to date, having died in an automobile accident just over two years after receiving the award. CLICK HERE for more.
Of all the books he has return, my favourite will always be The Stranger. Even though Camus never considered himself an existentialist; the theme and outlook of the book are often cited as exemplars of existentialism. Some even argue that Camus explores various philosophical schools of thought, including (most prominently and specifically) absurdism, as well as determinism, nihilism, naturalism, and stoicism.

Published in1942, The Stranger is about a man who feels no pain when his mother dies and eventually kills an Arab. It is the rudimentary part of the existentialist and absurd fiction, hailed by contemporaries as a lyrical masterpiece. I have had the privilege of teaching  International Baccalaureate students who had to study this book for World Literature. Each time I teach a different student, I never cease to be amazed at how I find new insight in the book. Till today, many academicians are still analyzing Meursault's psychology and philosophy. Despite its simplicity and brevity, there is certainly no other novel like it. It is a paradoxical tale because in its brevity, it says so much. Words are few are yet the volumes of emotion and possibilities to understand those emotions are endless It is almost one enters a different world when reading Camus - where one may despair at Mersault's imperfections and yet wanting to expose his vulnerable side.

If you hate reading and only want to read one short book, please read The Stranger. You will not regret it. I have read it five times and even now, I still get so piqued, fascinated and intrigued as to how Camus could have woven such a masterpiece in its simplicity!!! If you have time, check out one of my favourite posts which I wrote back in April 2011: The Stranger and TBH Inquest.

Number two in the To-Read-List of Albert Camus' books would definitely be The Myth of Sisyphus which some regard as the “bible” of absurdity. Quite unbelievably, the book comprises only 120 pages. Originally published in 1942 in French as Le Mythe de Sisyphe, it was only in 1955 that the English translation by Justin was released.

Most skilfully and philosophically, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd whereby he shows how futile it is for man to see meaning, unity, and clarity especially when the unintelligible world seems quite devoid of God and eternal truths or values.

In The Myth of Sisyphus, the question of whether one may commit suicide upon the realization of the absurd. However, Camus declares that revolt is required and he goes on to discuss approaches to the absurd life.and how we can handle the absurdity of life.

Hence, Camus compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus. The protagonist is a figure of Greek mythology condemned to the same repetitive meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.

Quite sarcastically, Camus' finishing line for the book is "The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

My perspective to life has changed quite a bit after studying Camus' work. He preaches that the doctrine of the absurd can be discovered in his book despite its thin pages. To Camus, the only true thing in life is that  life is absurd and that man's life is full of absurdities. Read it HERE. If you have read it before and don't really understand it, check out Spark Notes on the book HERE.

Here's the summary from Spark Notes:

The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus

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. Source: HERE

Originally, I wanted to write on ten of Camus' books. Then I cut it down to five. And now, it is 11.37pm. Definitely past my bedtime (11.30pm) and my brain has shut down already. I wish I could write more but the alphabets seem to be doing their own strange jig on the laptop screen so I have to bid you Good night.

To be continued....

1 comments to The Stranger and The Myth

  1. says:

    modernlifeisrubbish Dear MWS,

    A good write-up of Camus two most prominent work.

    i just want to put my two-cent on his "Myth of Sisyphus", specifically the three characteristics of an absurd life and the four examples. This has given me a new understanding of its meaning and its contrast with existentialism.

    Life is essentially a struggle for freedom. Being free, living our lives with passion, absorbing all our life experiences. No faith in a higher power or miracles, though an existentialist faith in God is different from a religious faith.

    While thinking of this, something comes to mind. Could it be that only the poor and those living under oppression would understand the philosophy of Camus? Revolt? Who would want that when one is living comfortably? Freedom? Again, if people prefer security, this is just another lofty words. And passion is for a life chasing after hedonistic pursuits.

    We sometimes see this in its most simple form, hidden in plain sight as some would say. The every day life the poor and downtrodden struggle to find some personal meaning in the utter coldness of despair in our short and fleeting moments of life in this world. Perhaps, happiness is to be found in that struggle for where else would they find it then. Most place their hope on their children for they see their children as their future, a better future that they could ever have. There is nothing more meaningful than seeing their children lived a better life than them. Meaning then is to be found in the struggle and revolt against their conditions.

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