READINGS: EXISTENTIALISM (CAMUS)
Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus
CAMUS, The Myth of Sisyphus
Albert Camus, born in Algeria in 1973, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 7957, and died in
an absurd automobile accident in January 796o. His works may survive less in terms of intrinsic literary value than as
reflections of the problems that concerned his time-which is also our own. If it is a poet's task to reveal to his readers their
own concerns and to clarify ideas which they only sense confusedly, then Camus appears as one of the great poets of a
troubled generation-what a commentator on the night of his death called un maitre a sentir. Refusing all dogmas and
doctrines, Camus combined a strong sense of the absurdity of life, its unexplainable character, with an unyielding
humanism that affirmed the importance of morality, however artificial (indeed, inevitably artificial, but no less essential
for all that) and of happiness. From this position derived his appeal to a postwar youth, aware of the tragic
inconsequence of life, unable to find theoretical panaceas for its confusion, yet insisting on happiness and some sort of
viable, but not dishonest or merely pretended, values. His novels, The Stranger and The Plague, both reflect
Existentialist man's isolation in an alien world, meaningless but for the meaning he introduces into it.
In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus considers the problem of suicide (if life is pointless, why not end it?) and
around this he builds a Promethean justification for living. Friedrich Nietzsche in his last work, Ecce Homo, had
written that the man who perfects himself and transcends his mere animal nature of "object" can achieve happiness no
matter what the condition or "justification" of the world may be. This kind of man, says Nietzsche, "affirms the world .
. . in all eternity." He learns "not only to bear the necessary, even less to conceal it . . . but to love it." In a sense, this
may be said to be also the conclusion reached by Camus and, from this point of view, it should be possible, as Camus
concludes, "to imagine Sisyphus happy."
The Myth of Sisyphus
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. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a
philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of
that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for
careful study before they become clear to the intellect.
If I ask myself how to judge that this question is more urgent than that, I reply that one