- An absurd reasoning
- The Absurd Man
- Absurd Creation
- The Myth of Sisyphus
Camus starts by declaring that “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.” (p 1) He points out that whatever we do we die; that whatever we do our place in the world and the traces that we leave behind are transient; that even Goethe will one day be forgotten; and that therefore it really doesn't matter whether we die now or linger on, suffering the insults of mortality. Perhaps it might matter if there was a God but the problem of evil (“Either we are not free and God the all-powerful is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all-powerful.All the scholastic subtleties have neither added anything to nor subtracted anything from the acuteness of this paradox.” ; p 54) means that God is either amoral or largely impotent. So why not end it all now?
This is a densely argued book with many assertions and little in the way of evidence but the questions he asks are important ones and deserve thought. I suppose my response has been, like many I suspect, to bury my head in the sand by refusing to seriously consider the possibility of personal extinction and just getting on with the mostly pleasant business of chugging through life. Going through the motions perhaps. Which, I think Camus would say, is an utterly absurd response.
An absurd reasoning
- “ I see many people died because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living.” (p 2)
- “Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit.” (p 4)
- “Mere anxiety, as Heidegger says, is at the source of everything.” (p 12)
- “During every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future. ... yet a time comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. He takes his place in it. He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end. He belongs to time and, by the horror that seizes him, he recognises his worst enemy. Tomorrow, he was longing for tomorrow, whereas everything in him ought to reject it.” (p 12)
- “In reality there is no experience of death. Properly speaking, nothing has been experienced but what has been lived and made conscious.” (p 14)
- “This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of the irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.” (p 20)
- “They have always been meant to defend the rights of the irrational. The tradition of ... humiliated thought has never ceased to exist.” (p 21)
- “The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity.” (p 25)
- The absurd is “divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together.” (p 48)
- "Death is there as the only reality. After death the chips are down. I am not even free either to perpetuate myself, but a slave, and above all a slave without hope of an eternal revolution.” (p 55)
- “Mystics ... find freedom in giving themselves. By losing themselves in their god, by accepting his rules, they become secretly free. In spontaneously accepted slavery they recover a deeper independence.” (p 56)
- “The slaves of antiquity ... knew that freedom which consists in not feeling responsible.” (p 57)
- “The Greeks claimed that those who died young were beloved of the Gods. And that is true only if you are willing to believe that entering the ridiculous world of the Gods is forever losing the purest of joys which is feeling, and feeling on this earth.” (p 61)
The absurd man
- “Everything is permitted does not mean that nothing is forbidden.” (p 65)
- “It is not through lack of love that Don Juan goes from woman to woman ... it is indeed because he loves them with the same passion and each time with his whole self that he must repeat his gift and his profound quest. ...Why should it be essential to love ready in order to love much?” (p 67)
- “Melancholy people have two reasons for being so: they don't know or they hope.” (p 68)
- “That smile of complicity that debases what it admires” (p 69)
- “There is significance in that favourite Scriptural word that calls the carnal act ‘knowing’.” (p 73)
- “All existence for a man turned away from the eternal is but a vast mime under the mask of the absurd. Creation is the great mime.” (p 91) This made me think of Buddhist sand pictures, laboriously created over weeks only to be swept away once completed.
- “From the moment when thought won over style, the mob invaded the novel.” (p 97, fn) For example, Dickens conceived Oliver Twist as charting a boy who, though born in the workhouse, was returned to gentility because of his pedigree. A 'blood will out' thesis. This is what makes Oliver one of the weakest characters in the book and, for me, fatally undermines the story.
- “One recognises one’s course by discovering the paths that stray from it.” (p 110)
- “The thesis-novel, the work that proves, the most hateful of all, is the one that most often is inspired by a smug thought. You demonstrate the truth you feel sure of possessing.” (p 112)
January 2018; 134 pages
Books and plays written by Nobel Laureates that I have reviewed in this blog include:
- Thomas Mann (1929) Death in Venice
- Hermann Hesse (1946) Steppenwolf and Demian
- Andre Gide (1947) The Immoralist and Strait is the Gate and The Vatican Cellars
- William Faulkner (1949) Sanctuary and As I Lay Dying
- Albert Camus (1957) The Plague and The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus and The Fall
- John Steinbeck (1962) Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row
- Samuel Beckett (1969) "The Expelled; The Calmative; The End & First Love" and "Waiting for Godot"
- Heinrich Boll (1972) The Train was on Time
- Saul Bellow (1976) "The Victim"
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982) Chronicle of a Death Foretold
- Doris Lessing (2007) The Golden Notebook
- Patrick Modiano (2014) The Black Notebook
- Kazuo Ishiguro (2017) When We Were Orphans and The Buried Giant