Tag Archives: albert camus

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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Caligula by Camus – Absurdity’s Illogical End

I recently read Caligula and Three Other Plays by Albert Camus. I limit myself to the play Caligula in this post. TheCaligula plot is unique, though simple. Caligula is a young prince who becomes the all powerful emperor of Rome. Death of his cousin, who he was in love with, pushes him to the realisation that men die; and they are not happy. He says, “I suddenly felt a desire for the impossible…Things as they are, in my opinion, are far from satisfactory…this world of ours, this scheme of things as they call it, is quite intolerable…I want the moon, or happiness, or eternal life – something, in fact, that may sound crazy, but which is not of this world…All that’s needed is to be logical right through, at all costs.” Bottomline, he wants to be free, even from the gicen, from the scheme of things. If you note, he equates ‘happiness’ with ‘wanting the moon’, in effect implying that happiness is impossible in the ‘scheme of things’ or in the ‘world as it is’. This is one of the fundamental errors in his premises. Also note that this is not Camus’s view of life. In his The Stranger, Merasault when awaiting his death sentence realises that he was happy, that he had always been happy. Men are not not happy, they just fail to realise. An act of consciousness is required.

Camus introduces his concept of ‘the absurd’ in his The Myth of Sisyphus. However, he does not say human life is absurd as such (a common misunderstanding). This is not true. Absurdity contains in itself man’s rationality. The world, events, fate etc. are illogical and random, but it’s not absurd by itself. It’s the interaction, inevitable and imminent for any life, between this random world and human logic and it’s need for order that produces a result that is absurd – that result is the ecosystem (not in the environmental sense) we live in, which includes in itself us and the world.

Camus says that the solution lies in doing two things simultaneously – first, being conscious of the absurd as of day and night. Second, to maintain the absurd. This means, on an individual’s level one keeps the rationality, love for order, and need to be happy intact without letting the random events bother him, because he knows it’s nature. This kills almost all misplaced expectations one tends to have in life. Gradually, it may lead to the ability to scorn fate.

Caligula’s fault lies in his inability to accept the absurd, the given. He wanted to defeat it by his logic taken to its rational end. He confirmed to the absurd in the process, instead of maintaining it. He wanted the impossible, to change the ‘scheme of things’ in order to prove to himself that he was free. He did everything to feel that freedom, even momentary, including unpunished murder. In the end he fails. He gats trapped, knowing he would (it was mostly a fearless life experiment where he knew he should fail) but did it for that ounce of expextation that he might just be right. He might just get the moon. He is defeated in the end, not by the unknown but by the scheme of things itself. Camus himself said that Caligula’s mistake was that he negated what bound him to other humans – one could not destroy all without destroying oneself. Camus says one cannot be free at the expense of others. He rightly calls it ‘a tragedy of the intelligence’.

In the meantime…

Unfortunately, due to the inevitable exams (and I am sure many would empathise), my aim of a post each day will not be possible for the next few weeks. After that, it would be books as usual. Till then, happy reading to one and all!

Also, a link to an interesting discussion I entered on another blog:

Albert Camus, KSR, and the Myth of Sisyphus

Faith, Forgiveness & love by Kierkegaard