Behind the Myth of Sisyphus
The philosophical essay of “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus was written in France, in 1942. Obviously during a very historical time of war in which had a lot of people on the edge. The piece of work written was motivated by what Camus thought about the situation during the time; such as suicide, absurdity and happiness. The meaning of life was defined in many different ways, and with that being said Camus had seen so much that he had different values and searched for the truth about life and its purpose, plus what motivated a modest philosopher.
Society took this essay as something very absurd and really didn’t know how to react to it but wonder how meaningful is life and what is to be valued and what shouldn’t be. People were on the edge just thinking about these kind of things. Especially during this time people didn’t know what to believe or what to have faith on as well because of the war. Which is why society looked at this as dark comedy and could’ve also been an eye-opener to others as well. Just something to keep their minds off the situation that was occurring.
The World War II was happening at the moment and it was a historical disaster for many. When the Germans invaded France, Camus joined the French Resistance. He was in it for four long years and also wrote for a paper so he had to know a lot of information about the war. I am most certain that from the experience having gone through the war made him realize many things about the values of life. “It was during this period that Camus formalized his philosophy that human life was sacred, no matter how inexplicable existence of life might be.” (Bree). Seeing the death toll from the war any one can see how sacred life is. That is when he gradually started looking into life’s philosophy and he came up with the conclusion that life was absurd. “[m]isunderstood as a philosophy of hopelessness. Camus did hold that life was absurd — defying logical explanation, and ultimately irrational. However, Camus considered life valuable and worth defending.” (Bree). Basically, if you had an explanation and reason to what you were doing in life and if you considered it meaningful, then it was meaningful. Other than that, according to Camus’s philosophy it was absurd.
While Camus was arranging and discovering new thoughts about philosophy, he happened to write “The Myth of Sisyphus”. It was a Greek myth about a man named Sisyphus who was punished to repeat a meaningless task of pushing a rock up a mountain and seeing it roll back down once it reached the top. Why push a rock if it is going to go down again. However, it can be meaningless but only if it was interpreted that way. This essay was written when he came to seek about the meaningless and the absurdity of life. When Camus came to the conclusion whether to find the meaning of life was suicide in a way it contradicted himself. “Without man the absurd cannot exist.” (Camus). Suicide is way to see how life is valuable but obviously impossible to tell and demonstrated it to others philosophically. “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.” (Camus). Therefore, suicide is just really an absurd thing to do and impossible to prove the point.
That it when Camus came up with the idea that happiness and absurdity are similar. In “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Sisyphus goes through a struggle pushing the rock but once he reaches the top he is, I believe, happy for having accomplished it. He accomplished pushing it up after such a struggle. “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (Camus). Even though he was in a bad situation he saw the bright side of it. Either you were happy and realizing there are worst things than pushing a rock up a mountain, or sad because of the good things other people have that you didn’t. However, even though Sisyphus was happy for a moment, Camus thought it was absurd to be happy because Sisyphus knew his fate when he would reach the bottom of the mountain. Camus compared this to real life and it is the same awareness that an absurd man has in his life.
The war strongly influenced Camus’s thoughts. “Historical revolt, rooted in metaphysical revolt, leads to revolutions seeking to eliminate absurdity by using murder as their central tool to take total control over the world.” (Knopf). Philosophically, in the war murdering was eliminating absurdity and thinking that it would get that answer whether life is meaningful or not. Today society believes life is meaningful, however, there are a few who don’t think so and therefore, they come down to committing suicide.
That lead to Camus searching to see whether life is meaningful or not. When you discovery that life is meaningless, you can’t unrealized the truth about your life. You can’t go back and live life while ignoring yourself that there is no purpose. Which again leads to suicide, who wouldn’t want if knowing there is nothing for one in life at all. All you can have is hope for another day but even Camus argues that hope is not always a good thing it can also disappoint your expectations. I know it may seem confusing but as Camus believes that even the absurd can’t be understood at times. So even if life is meaningless it is precious! However, one cannot simply judge their own life and assume it is meaningless if you have not experienced everything. You cannot judge whether all you done was good or bad or if that was it in your life. Camus and Nietzsche are both similar in their own ways the only difference is that Nietzsche pursued for the truth about life and that life is meaningful. “Nietzsche’s point was that be wholly alive means being aware of the negative as of the positive, feeling pain, not shunning any experience, and embracing ‘even in its strangest and hardest problems’.” (Arson).
Then that is when Camus seems quite confused because at first he declares that life is meaningless and when he reaches the end he is pretty much concluding “[t]hat life is to clearly by judged to be better than others…” (Arson). Life is purely what we make of it and even Camus states at the very end of “The Myth of Sisyphus” that “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (Camus). That is why I conclude that Camus was absurd and essentially everyone was too. In all it was an absurd contradiction. The main theme shared thoughtout the course that can relate back and forth is truth and the good and evil. “Camus mirrors Nietzsche’s own morality when he interrogates God as a moral instance. Both authors seem to start from a fairly humanistic viewpoint: God is the constructed being, a named abstraction and an uplifted instance to distribute what is morally right and morally wrong.” (Svenja) With that said how are we to judge ourselves to know what is wrong and right and from there on serve a purpose in life? If we judge ourselves to having done something evil we usually feel bad and sometimes do the absurd and commit suicide. But even committing suicide is bad because you will never find out if there was meaning behind the a person’s life.
So you can’t even eliminate all the evil from the world. And if so, you cannot judge a person by their actions but philosophically judged on their intentions. “[t]hese figures try to re-feel themselves but they can only do so when they accept their fate as their own and not made by society.” (Svenja) In order to actually live life you must accept life and what becomes of it, meaningless or not, life will always be precious! Correspondingly, Camus must face his truth. “Like Sisyphus, we are our fate, and our frustration is our very life: we can never escape it.” (Satre) As a society that’s why we all must accept the truth in life and that is our fate as well. No matter if it has value, you must continue living, committing suicide is not the answer and by doing so you will prove to others that there can be meaningless lives. You can’t escape it and you can’t be absurd in Camus’s philosophy either. Camus even detects a level of absurdity in Nietzsche’s philosophy as well. Truth is that Camus is absurd, maybe he is searching for meaning of life so much that it becomes irrational.
Which in that case leads to him believing about suicide but knew he was never even going to find meaning that way at all. He would be never be able to tell how valuable life is. Therefore, Camus must be happy about life and its meaning so he can actually live life as it is. The only problem philosophers have is that they can never admit that absurdity in their thoughts, so they make a reason and figure out a way out of it. That’s the only way you can actually live life in happiness and still have fate even though you believe there is no meaning behind life. If you search for your meaning in life you will just dedicate all your time doing so, and never actually living life. One must value life day by day. However, in a way I do agree with Camus because if you have fate about the next day being better and then being disappointed about it, it is really saddening. So why have fate when you can just enjoy life as it goes and actually grab a value out of it. Just as Sisyphus did, when he actually became happy even though his fate was struggling all over again. He valued that he was doing better than other people who were suffering at the same time. I believe that’s how people should be in life, you should always seek out the good in bad situations no matter what. It is the only way people can live in true happiness.
Arson, Ronald, “Albert Camus” The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2012 Ed. Edward N. Zalta. ed. 2012. Print
Brée, Germaine; Camus, (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1959, 1961)
Camus, Albert. Myth of Sisyphus. 1942. Print
Knopf, A. Alfred. The Rebel: An Essay on Man In Revolt, New York. 1954. Print.
Svenja, Schrahe. “Albert Camus and Friedrich Nietzsche” Albert Camus Society. 2011. Print.