The French-Algerian writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913–1960) claimed in a 1945 interview that The Myth of Sisyphus was the only book of ideas that he published. That is a debatable claim; Camus was a distinctly philosophical writer. He has explored a number of different “ideas” throughout his writing, both in novels, plays, and other texts.
At the same time, there is no doubt that The myth of Sisyphus is the author’s most pure, philosophical writing. The book was first published in 1942 and in 1994 it came out in a new edition.
The Absurdity of Life
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”Albert Camus
The book is still far more than a discussion of suicide as a phenomenon. Camus primarily wants to direct the reader’s attention to the absurd in existence; how the recognition of the absurd has been described by other thinkers, how the absurdity of the world is experienced by contemporary people, and what relationship there is between the absurd and suicide.
The Escape from The Randomness of The World
What then does Camus mean by the concept of the absurd? First and foremost, it is about the fact that man can never fully understand reality and his own place in the world. There is no higher meaning or absolute truth that humans can uncover or take refuge in. We are at the mercy of ourselves and our limited minds. Not everyone copes with this realization. For some, suicide, therefore, represents an escape from the absurd, from the arbitrariness of the world.
Suicide can be physical and concrete, but it can also be an intellectual “suicide”, such as when people choose to seek refuge in a higher power, for example, a God or another supernatural entity, to escape the thought of the absurdity of life. Here he goes against both religious existentialists such as Kierkegaard, and atheist existential philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre.
Sisyphus Takes Responsibility
Camus himself advocates a philosophy that maintains the absurd as a basic human condition. We simply have to accept that the world is meaningless. And at the same time rebel against this absurdity, by establishing moral rules and principles about people’s inviolable rights. Here Camus returns to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, about the man who is punished by the gods and is required to push a large stone up to the top of a mountain. As soon as he reaches the top, the stone rolls down again, and Sisyphus has to start all over again. Again and again, ad infinitum. For Camus, this becomes a picture of someone who has recognized that everything is useless – and absurd, while at the same time he has taken responsibility for his own destiny and refuses to give up.
As an irony of fate, Camus died in a car accident that appeared absurd in every way, and which has been the subject of a number of speculations afterward. Sartre, who was often in heated polemics with Camus, described the accident as an “unbearable absurdity”. And Camus himself, a few years before the accident, allegedly stated that the most absurd way to die would be in a car accident.