…Acknowledging the truth of the situation will conquer it, and in the story of Sisyphus, just like the absurd man, keeps pushing. When Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. “All is well,” indeed, and “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”…
Absurdism originated from (as well as alongside) the 20th-century strains of existentialism and nihilism. Where existentialists generally agree that the individual can construct his or her own meaning in life as well as have free will, nihilists contend that these things do not exist and it is futile to seek or to assign meaning in an universe where none is possible to be found. Absurdists allow the possibility for some meaning or value in life but are neither as certain as existentialists are about the value of one’s own constructed meaning nor as nihilists are about the total inability to create meaning. Absurdists also reject free will, encouraging merely that the individual live defiantly and authentically in spite of the psychological tension of the absurd.
In Albert Camus’s writing, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus considers absurdity as a confrontation, opposition, or conflict between man’s desire for significance, meaning and clarity versus the silent, cold, meaningless universe. The absurd condition is that we build our life on the hope for tomorrow, on the hope that science and rationality can explain the world, yet tomorrow and these things bring us no ultimate truth or knowledge and only closer to death. Camus concludes, “Thus I draw from the absurd, three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death, and I refuse suicide. ‘Revolt’ here refers to the refusal of suicide and search for meaning despite the revelation of the Absurd; ‘Freedom’ refers to the lack of imprisonment by religious devotion or others’ moral codes; ‘Passion’ refers to the most wholehearted experiencing of life, since hope has been rejected, and every moment must be lived fully and within a freedom in regard to common rules.”
The specific conflict of the‘The Absurd’ refers to the contradictory nature between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe. The three ways Camus discusses resolving this dilemma are:
- Suicide (or, “escaping existence”). A basic solution in which a person ends one’s own life. Life is too much and not worth living. Camus dismisses the viability of this option as it does not counter the Absurd, but rather, by ending an individual’s life, one’s existence only becomes more absurd.
- Devout and un-wavering religious, spiritual, scientific, or abstract belief in a transcendent realm, being, or idea. A solution in which one believes avidly in the existence of a reality that is beyond the Absurd, and has meaning. Such a belief requires an irrational leap of faith into the intangible and unprovable. It fills the void with an invented belief and requires an avid “act of eluding” which avoids or tries to escape the Absurd rather than confronting it. Camus regards this solution as “philosophical suicide” as one only extends deeper into the Absurd by believing in fairy-tales, myths, logic, or whatever absurd rules or fantasies one chooses. It ignores the Absurd and is the most common approach taken by people.
- Embracing and acceptance of the Absurd. This solution allows the Absurd while continuing to live in it, in spite of it. By embracing all the unreasonableness the world has to offer there is no scale of values and what counts is not the best living but the most living! By accepting the Absurd, one can achieve the greatest extent of one’s freedom. If the absurd experience is truly the realization that the universe is fundamentally devoid of absolutes, then we as individuals are truly free. By recognizing no religious, spiritual, or other moral constraints, and by revolting against the Absurd (through establishing our own meaning-making) while simultaneously accepting it as absurd, one can more likely find contentment through the personal meaning constructed in the process. It is all about the process within the gradual search for what makes us happy and develops meaning.
When we become aware of our contradictory nature within ourselves and all that exists, this is what ultimately creates meaning and freedom. The meaning is created through recognizing the meaningless of it all, and the rebelliousness against the truth of this ultimate meaninglessness reality. Clearly no ethical rules apply as they are all based on higher powers or on justification. “Integrity has no need of rules and everything is permitted is not an outburst of joy, but rather a bitter acknowledgment of a fact.” The image that comes to my mind with all of this is one of a joker or of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Standing for things obsessively and desperately one minute but then laughing madly at ourselves and others and talking nonsense about whatever it is we’re choosing to stand for and establishing meaning to, in the next. “It’s all absurd, It’s all absurd!” I seem to dance around ecstatically laughing and saying maniacally in my head.
The story of the Myth of Sisyphus:
InAlbert Camus’s essay, heoutlines the legend of Sisyphus who defied the gods and put Death in chains so that no human needed to die. When Death was eventually liberated and it came time for Sisyphus himself to die, he concocted a deceit which let him escape from the underworld. After finally capturing Sisyphus, the gods decided that his punishment would last for all eternity. He would have to push a rock up a mountain and upon reaching the top, the rock would roll down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. Camus sees Sisyphus as the absurd hero who lives life to the fullest, yet is condemned to a meaningless task.
Camus presents Sisyphus’s ceaseless and pointless toil as a metaphor for modern lives spent working at futile jobs in factories and offices or of those following similar such expected rules and norms within culture. “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”
Camus is especially interested in Sisyphus’ thoughts when marching down the mountain where he returns to his endless task of pushing the rock back up to the top. “It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. “I see that man going back down with a heavy, yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.” This is the truly tragic moment, when the hero becomes conscious of his wretched condition. He does not have hope, but “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn” and acknowledging the truth of the situation will conquer it, and Sisyphus, just like the absurd man, keeps pushing. Camus claims that when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance. Camus concludes that “all is well,” indeed, that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”