“What is a rebel? A man who says no.”
While Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard and Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky have written extensively about absurdism and issues related to it around a century before him, Albert Camus is the one most closely associated with absurdism philosophy. As a person, he is often labeled as an absurdist author, existentialist thinker, even anarcho-syndicalist. But Camus emphatically says ‘no’ to the term of author, existentialist, or philosopher—let alone an absurdist. In fact, it seems he prefers not to be given any nicknames, except “The Rebel”.
One thing that is certainly clear is the fact that Camus is a French Algerian, having also a Spanish descent from his mother’s side, and was born from a Pied-Noir (a person of European origin who lived in Algeria during French rule, especially one who returned to Europe after Algeria was granted independence) poor family in Algérie-française (French Algeria). In the context of thought, Camus seems to be different from other philosophers—even compared to other influential philosophers, such as Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, to Jean-Paul Sartre—who sleeps on the top of the mattress of Existentialism.
The obvious distinction between Camus and existentialist philosophers is a matter of meaning. Some existentialist philosophers such as Kierkegaard or Nietzsche emphasize meaning in each individual. In short, both require human beings to quickly make sense of their lives. In other words, we as humans are required to live life with meaning, value, or essence.
According to Kierkegaard, what is very important for humans is their own state or existence. But in its existence, human existence is not static, but becomes, which implicitly changes and moves from the possibility to the higher level of reality. He formulated that human beings have three stages on the way to becoming a true self: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Simplified they are: aesthetic, the pursuit of pleasure; ethical, the assumption of duty to society; religious, obedience to God.
Simply, Kierkegaard wants us to transfiguring the meaning of all existence (despite irony) into the divine dimension (gods and religion)—therefore, the meaning of life according to him is to become a religious existentialist.
Thereafter, Sartre gave an antipodal for Kierkegaard Philosophy (Christian Existentialism) by the design of atheist existentialist on the corpus and discourse of Existentialism—and played the key role in French Existentialism (also influencing giant-man of French cinema: Philippe Garrel and Jean-Luc Godard, which is prominent for their existentialistic storytelling, nihilistic narratives, and atheistic worldview).
Meanwhile, Nietzsche engages us to value our life, to encourage us to become Übermensch (superman/superhuman/overman) who sees his existence as a source of value/meaning/essence—who exploded of all his existence (particularly: tragedy, despair, and suffering) with his legendary phrase: Fatum Brutum Amor Fati; love of fate, even when it comes with so brutal.
But Camus was an anomaly. It is another way, to be precise, a shortcut to unique philosophical thought. In the midst of earth that every day continues to spin like a carousel in the middle of a busy bazzar, the wheels of thought that require humans to live meaningfully, and the many of us who run away from absurdity—Camus want us to face the day full with courage and bravery—without any kind of philosophy which opens another getaway from absurdity.
Camus also said that life was already quaint enough, odd, strange, bizarre, abnormal as well as absurd. Indirectly, Camus assumes that every human being can still live a meaningless life. In other words, being useless is not a problem at all—and that is clearly okay. Camus seemed to be an oasis for some stranded, who were too thirsty because there was no water (meaning/value/essence) to drink.
“Don’t walk in front of me … I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me … I may not lead. Walk beside me … just be my friend.” —Albert Camus
On The Myth of Sisyphus
The philosophical essay entitled Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus) is Camus’s statement on the most archaic questions about meaning: “what is the meaning of life?”
In that philosophy essay, which contains 120 pages and originally published in 1942—Camus excorticate the classic problem of the existence of each individual: inevitably undermined by the absurd reality.
Camus shows that humans (as part of the absurdity itself) cannot possibly escape, or flee from the nightmare of the futility of life—as well as the meaninglessness of death.
The Myth of Sisyphus illustrates that life is indeed absurd and that is clearly illustrated by a person named Sisyphus. Based on a myth from Ancient Greece, Sisyphus was once a king—but by a reason of becoming too tyrannical, cruel, and cold-blooded—he was condemned by the Gods/Goddess on the top of Mount Olympus.
Sisyphus was punished, or rather cursed: to push a giant boulder to the top of the mountain—but when the boulder reached the top—the stone would roll back down, and Sisyphus had to do it again from the beginning—until swallowed by the eternity of time.
So that’s the only life he has. On a sane level of consciousness, the eternal curse by continually pushing a rock to the top of a mountain—afterward repeating it from the bottom is a sad, pathetic, hopeless, and useless curse. Nonetheless, Camus saw this curse was almost the same as the fate of humans in the world.
Just like a human being who is born, then grows old, then sleeps, then wakes up, in endless repetition of joy and sorrow, meaningless, purposeless, unclear—then dies without knowing why and how the hell he/she becomes a human being, without ever being asked by god or our parents: “hey sweetheart, do you want to be born?”—in short, absurd.
One side of Sisyphus, which we are seldom aware of, is his unconditional acceptance and rebellion at the same time. With grace, he accepted his curse even though it caused resentment and so annoying—when he had to start again from the beginning. Armed with the fire of rebellion—that continues to burn in his left chest—he burns his spirit to carry out his curse without complaining, giving up, let alone committing suicide.
After all, in essence, life is one package with death. We’re all going to die, and if Sisyphus could die by suicide to escape his curse, then he wouldn’t. The plot twist is that Sisyphus knows that suicide, both physically and philosophically, is suicide—which only an escapist does.
So it is fitting that Sisyphus was bestowed the title of an Absurd Hero (embraces the struggle and the contradiction of living without purpose). Sisyphus has fused with everything that is absurd, even cope with his goddamn boulder (burden, problem, conflict, etc.)—that he faithfully pushes continuously (accepting and rebelling).
Philosophically, Sisyphus gave precious lessons to us. No matter how bastards, brutal, difficult, scoundrel, rotter, damned, godforsaken, shoddy, or absurd our lives are—we can still be happy; so giving up (suicide) is not the right choice.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
“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.” Camus states in his essay—The Myth of Sisyphus.
So is this absurd life worth living? It depends on what we are looking for. If we seek certainty, order, and clarity—life will never seem to make us comfortable, let alone happy.
For most people, a life without meaning is not a life worth living. This is why so many of us end our lives on purpose, take one’s life, aka suicide. Camus understood this, then responded directly to it. He advises us to ask ourselves whether this life is worth living or not. But Camus concludes, that suicide doesn’t really help us much.
On account of that, there is no more meaning in death in absurd life. Suicide is only a transition, from questions about what makes life worth living. However, in terms of what meaning we might find—it also doesn’t really help much.
Our life is absurd, but our courage to live the absurdity is certainly more than enough. We and Sisyphus, may indeed be condemned to living in an absurd world—but the usual search for meaning — open ten billion opportunities making it more difficult for us to be happy—undoubtedly more pathetic and terrible than the absurdity itself.
The bad news is (physical and philosophical) suicide will never fill the void of human hearts. Regarding good-bad and right-wrong physical suicide, it seems we must agree with Jean-Paul Sartre: “the good-bad and right-wrong of suicide—can only be judged by the perpetrator himself.”
Perhaps fortunately, many of us have bad dreams when we are asleep. Unfortunately, some of us have nightmares when awake.
On Hope and Leap of Faith
“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” —Albert Camus
Camus wrote several well-known works such as L’Étranger/The Stranger (1942), La Peste/The Plague (1947), Le Mythe de Sisyphe/The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), La Chute/The Fall (1956), and L’Homme révolté/The Rebel (1951). His philosophies is filled with the idea of Absurdism—which has a plot about humans seeking meaning.
Inasmuch as we are rational beings & conscious beings, who are improbable can live without meaning, we need to invent our own meaning, devise our own values, live by our own significance.
Absurdism is also about certainty in an uncertain world. The certainty that nothing is certain—in a reality that never offers an explanation and a universe which seems not to give a fuck. But what if we hope for something, for example, for tomorrow? This is even more absurd.
The absurdity lies in the fact that if we use the Linear Concept of Time (or Western Concept of Time), the line of life always points to the future. Meanwhile, on the other hand, the future brings us one step closer to death. The past leads us to the present, and the present will lead us to the future (towards death).
German philosopher and Phenomenology expert, Martin Heidegger, in his book—Being and Time (1927)—has a better term to explain why it is more absurd if we are hoping more to the time—to portray our beings who are trapped in absurdness space-time … on the puzzling third dimensional world we called reality—he named it Sein-zum-Tode: in a nutshell, a being who realized that he was walking towards a completely unavoidable death; humans who realize that they are in a ‘frame’ called time.
What lies in the future or tomorrow? Yes, absurdity, also an unpredictable and unavoidable death.
Therefore, we must dare to reject the Leap of Faith. In short, Leap of Faith is an act of believing in or attempting something whose existence or outcome cannot be proved—is same as philosophical suicide (adhering to Religion, Science, Ideology, Philosophy, and so on)—as well as physical suicide (including Euthanasia). Not pretending to be the strongest, but Camus thought, Leap of Faith doesn’t seem like the right solution.
It would be better if we carry out insurrection, revolt, and rebel—against a life that is never clear. Embrace an odd life with the even. Beat the establishment with the acceptance of gloom. If it’s useless, it doesn’t matter. The most important thing is that we keep our passion alive.
Indirectly, Camus wants us to keep the passion of Carpe Diem melting to our bones. Carpe Diem is about living the day, boldly without fear. Fearless to face the tomorrow that may be conducive but conceive death.
So should we hope? Probably not.
“The absurd hero’s refusal to hope becomes his singular ability to live in the present with passion.” —Albert Camus
On His Death
Camus is a rebel, he bravely lives an absurd life sincerely. He did not commit suicide, physically or philosophically. He may indeed be the ultimate absurdist who live the absurdity and die absurdly.
And the pinnacle of his absurdity? The story of his own death. Camus had a lifelong fear of automobiles. When he started writing about the Philosophy of Absurdism, he wrote: “the most absurd way to die is in a car crash”. Later on, in the absurd afternoon of January 4, 1960—a powerful Facel Vega sports car skidded off an icy road in Burgundy (French Region), hit an idle tree, and ploughed into another. Camus was inside that car. He died instantly in that terrible car crash.
God must be like joking, is it?
There are many conspiracies behind his death, including the hypothesis that Albert Camus might have been killed by the KGB—for criticising the Soviet Union. But the most interesting thing is that Camus’s friend-turned-rival, Jean-Paul Sartre, writes a comical tribute: “there is an unbearable absurdity in his death.”
Camus kicked the bucket three years after receiving one of the most prestigious awards—the Nobel Prize in Literature. But Camus didn’t stop there, he would be immortal. Since he was the key to understanding the mind of absurdity of the world. As long as this world is absurd, Camus will stay alive. He will live in the hearts of us—who are confused in the midst of the labyrinth of reality.
Camus and Sisyphus are one entity. They both teach: the absurdity of life that we experience almost every moment, every second, should not make us unhappy. Even the cursed Sisyphus can still be happy, even with the absurd punishment that renders his life meaningless.
“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” —Albert Camus
Absurdist embrace the conflict between our desire of finding meaning and the universe inherently devoid of it. An absurdist is a rebel who will not allow the lack of meaning to stop him/her from living and facing that conflict on a daily basis.
Perhaps, sometimes, we forget to appreciate the little things that makes life worth living.
We should sit under Sisyphus: in living a life with a sincere and total acceptance, in other words, unconditionally for its absurdity. Lastly, a meaningless life doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain happiness. Live, enjoy, and revolt. Forget about tomorrow, which hasn’t happened yet, and perhaps never will. Process and present are the key, results and tomorrow are just a bonus. The path is the main, the goal is only the initial combination—which is called the end.
“But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” —Albert Camus
May all beings be happy.