Albert Camus – The Absurd Hero

I have found Camus’s philosophy to be the most easy to live with, without trying to escape anything. It also allows me ‘intellectual honesty’ in Dostoevskian terms. Anyone who allows himself the luxury to think about the basic questions of life, comes to a point where he asks himself – “What the hell am I doing in life? What is the meaning of all this and what is my purpose? I am a XYZ, is that what I should be? Maybe I am meant to be a writer? Or maybe a philosopher, professor, blah, blah…” I have, like many, faced a similar crisis at one point in my life and (probably) salvaged myself from it. It took some time and the understanding of existentialism to recover from that crisis. And Albert Camus happened to be one of the most important of all authors that I read. His The Myth of Sisyphus gave me the essential understanding to view this world as it is and let go all inhibitions, speculation, and illusions.

In the last one year, I have read too often that Camus was a good author but not much of a philosopher. I have also at times read the comparison where more people agree than differ that Sartre was a better philosopher than Camus. I do not intend to counter that as I think it is naive and irrelevant to compare thinkers like this. All a thinker deserves is a little contemplation from our side on ideas propounded by them. I write this post, therefore, to charter out as an introduction, my understanding of Camus’s thoughts which I have found to be a rare clan as it requires no leaps to understand.

Camus is known as the propounder of the theory of absurd. Absurdism is a often repeated theme in existentialism, however, Camus’s proposition is distinct from all of them. In the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus undertakes an inquiry into whether this life is worth the trouble if we accept our experiences as the limit of reality for our purposes. He says that man knows two things as certain – first, the fact that man desires order, logic, and happiness; second, the fact that this world is random, illogical, and indifferent. This constant tension or divorce between the actor (man) and his setting (the world) is the absurd. What is essential to know is that irrationality of the world is not the absurd. Absurdity contains man’s rationality in itself. It is precisely the constant co-existence of these two irrefutable realities that create the absurd.

Camus concludes that it is essential for man to maintain the absurd. To attain that man needs to keep intact his contribution to the absurd, i.e. his desire for rationality, order, and happiness. This is the only choice, as changing the given world, man’s setting, is quixotically impossible. Only in light of this can we understand the true import of Camus’s words the end of his famous novel, The Stranger

It was as if the great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.

The indifference of this world is indeed benign for that is what makes man free. For, what freedom lies in living out a fate that is pre-determined by some unknowable force? It is a mere consciousness of our reality, of the absurd, that gives man all the understanding needed to scorn fate.

Links to some interesting discussion on Camus I entered elsewhere:

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15 responses to “Albert Camus – The Absurd Hero

  1. It is true that Camus is a propounder of “the absurd”. But Kierkegaard was first to present it. And his approach was “a leap of faith” which Camus rejected the “leap of faith” as philosophical suicide. I think the important question is this: Did he successfully reject Kierkegaard’s leap of faith?

    There are many of us who have experienced a transcendence of the chaos and this transcendence is becoming more readily recognized by the scientific community. It isn’t empirically “certain” that the world is illogical, random, and indifferent. This is a valid perception, but not a reasonable assertion. It’s Camus’ “leap of faith”. Camus has dropped the Absolute God but kept the guilt that went along with that Absolute and thereby maintained the Absolute all along.

  2. First, I think Camus has logically rejected the leap of faith. But as I have said elsewhere, faith is a matter of personal choice and if one finds solace there, it should not be a problem. Problem arises when man starts relying on such faith for his ‘worldly living’. I have read portions of Kierkeegard’s Abraham story and I do not agree with him. His explanation and defense of his brand of faith rejecting the dogmatic ones turns around and kills itself. I believe that in the absence of a miracle, Abraham would have been a murderer,no matter the cause being faith. And I guess I can comfortably be content about the fact that our lives on this earth is devoid of suh miracles, therefore any ation based on faith on it is bound to be based on a fallacy.

    Experience of transedene and faith are matters of psychology. I may not have experienced it but I have some very close friends who have and I trust them. However, I do not think life can be live in the hope of experiening the transcedence. It sounds too big a risk to me.

    Third my experiences at all levels convince me that life is not mathematical and in that sense illogical. You can not live a calculated ‘correct’ life. I can confidently assert that no amount of logical planning or anything can predict what the next moment has in store for us. Camus is very clear about the fact that this was a conclusion bases entirely on his experiences and not any kind of faith. Leaps are meant for gaps – there was no gap in his understanding with respect to the random world to require a leap.

    “Camus has dropped the Absolute God but kept the guilt that went along with that Absolute and thereby maintained the Absolute all along.”
    This is the most incorrect interpretation of Camus. Camus started with facts, analyzed and contemplated upon them with consciously keeping his feet on the ground to avoid any kind of leap, of faith or otherwise.

  3. Pingback: Albert Camus « Imaging Thoughts

  4. True – we can only live based upon sensory perception. What transcendence allows us to do is have a broader view of what it is we perceive. It doesn’t reject or deny physical/material experience.

    Consider this: “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.” This is how Camus explains Sisyphus’ situation.

    Does this not show that Camus maintains the idea that our passions are at odds with reality? 2000 years of Christianity taught Western society that we were at odds with reality and that the only way to overcome it was through obedience to the church which required a belief in God. But is it a given that we are at odds with reality? Or is this simply our experience based upon how it is we’ve defined ourselves for hundreds of years?

    Camus assumes that it is a given and then tells us how to overcome it without God. He drops the God but maintains the guilt.

    I’ve written this several times and will say it again because I think it is such an extremely important point. Camus did not consider himself an Existentialist and many internationally renowned professors of Existentialism think he was absolutely right not to consider himself an Existentialist. His ideas are closely related to Existentialism and Existential elements abound in his writing. But there is a subtle, very important difference. Existentialism is post-Christian while Camus is attempting to be pre-Christian. Camus wants to drop the Absolute altogether.

    The Existentialists, atheistic Existentialists included, think we are too heavily defined by Absolute thinking to just drop it altogether. That we have defined ourselves by an idea does not mean the idea exists. Just because we defined ourselves for hundreds of years as children of God doesn’t mean there is a God or that we are children of God. But the idea has become so much a part of the way we understand ourselves that we maintain it without realizing the subtle ways in which this idea has influenced our understanding of ourselves. We can’t just drop it.

    As Sartre says, human beings are “condemned to freedom”. This freedom requires that we recognize when we are enslaved by an idea. Otherwise, we can’t overcome it. It’s what Sartre calls bad faith and Nietzsche calls slave morality. And I know we will probably never agree on this – but I think Camus is in bad faith. I think man has the potential be at home in the world because he is at home in the world. That we aren’t at home in the world is based on how it is we have defined ourselves. So why continue to define ourselves in that way? We have to take responsibility for our experience. To conclude that we can overcome our experience by ignoring it through scorn, rejecting it, revolting against it, etc. is not taking responsibility for it. Just the opposite. It maintains the idea and makes it impossible to overcome except through an eternity of upholding it.

  5. I noticed some of your comments at Dance of the mind and have read some of your thoughtful postings.

    Here are few of my ideas.

    The random nature of the world and universe as best we can describe it or measure it also gives it its perceived smoothness, like the strands of sand that fall in a random nature and appear smooth in our hands. The general theory of relativity brings sufficient relative stability to our existence to give us the perception of a universal smoothness, a perception were are able to deduce is nonexistent.

    I don’t think the suffering of the world is the world; just as we can say the joy of the world is not just the world. But we share continually in life’s joys and grieve in its sorrows relative to our existence, since we are trapped in such existence at this point of time, in this universe, unable to go outside it to view it independently.

    In this context all consciousness and knowledge is forever limited and relative to that state in which we currently preside.

    But it does not preclude us from embracing a reverence for all life in our thinking or in the perception we are able to transcend our desires or in living a life in a sense of wonderment.

    If you think that reality and information are the same thing, then it is to be conceded we will never have all the information to hand, hence we will never understand reality, but will experience only that from which we are able to perceive.

    Best wishes

  6. I agree with most of what Lindsay says, though maybe with subtle differences. By now, I and Arulba are comfortable with each others difference in opinion. I am sure both of us are only trying through this series of discussions to understand certain things better. In defending Camus, I am digesting his ideas, if I may say so. I might sound a little like that, but please do not mistake this for hero worship.
    I have a lot to say in response to Arulba and to clarify myself (as Lindsay’s comment shows that I have been a little misunderstood), I will write a post within the next 12 hours (midnight my time).

  7. Just got back from work and does nt look like my brains will allow the kind of post I want to write. A day’s delay. I really envy you Arulba both for your ability to blog sense at such amazing speed and at having a bookstore around you where you get amazing books at unbelievable prices. I hate you. 🙂

  8. Bookcrazy –

    I am so grateful to you for your patience with my obsession! I have felt that you have offered me a safe place to work through my thoughts despite our difference of opinion. ( I always think what you have to say is based on careful thought and respectful consideration.

    Tonight, I almost completely flipped on my understanding of Camus while trying to work through my understanding of Original Sin and may yet do so. I have a gut feeling that I can’t quite bring to the surface of my intellect. Sometimes (more often than I like to admit!) I get trapped in a specific idea and miss the beauty of what it is that is being said.

    I love it when an author puts me in this sort of predicament. It’s like Buddhist koan!!

  9. Pingback: The Myth of Absurdity - In Defence of Albert Camus « Book Crazy

  10. i took up philosophy as my pre-law. It has been a long 22 years since i last read a philosophical article. your posts hopefully will rekindle my passion for philosophy. laws are boring read at times.

  11. There could be nothing satisfying for me to know that I actually rekindled someone’s interest in philosophy or literature through my blog. And I completely understand what you mean by law being bore at times. I am a lawyer and I can agree with you.

  12. Pingback: Patently absurd « fear of death is intransitive

  13. Friedrich Nietzsche

    Nietzsches Picture in Camus Office!!!
    Albert as Atheist, Albert as Genius! The People in
    Absurd. I liked Camus, he was a Philosoph of Nietzsche!

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  15. Reblogged this on Rikki Tiki Tavi Mongoose is Gone and commented:
    Camus, the absurd hero

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