According to Camus, the execution of King Louis XVI during theFrench Revolution was the decisive step demonstrating the pursuit ofjustice without regard to limits. It contradicted the originallife-affirming, self-affirming, and unifying purpose of revolt. Thisdiscussion belongs to Camus’s “history of Europeanpride,” which is prefaced by certain ideas from the Greeks andcertain aspects of early Christianity, but begins in earnest with theadvent of modernity. Camus focuses on a variety of major figures,movements, and literary works: the Marquis de Sade, romanticism,dandyism, The Brothers Karamazov, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche,surrealism, the Nazis, and above all the Bolsheviks. Camus describesrevolt as increasing its force over time and turning into an ever moredesperate nihilism, overthrowing God and putting man in his place,wielding power more and more brutally. Historical revolt, rooted inmetaphysical revolt, leads to revolutions seeking to eliminateabsurdity by using murder as their central tool to take total controlover the world. Communism is the contemporary expression of thisWestern sickness.
The Myth ofSisyphus is far from having a skeptical conclusion. In response tothe lure of suicide, Camus counsels an intensely conscious and activenon-resolution. Rejecting any hope of resolving the strain isalso to reject despair. Indeed, it is possible, within andagainst these limits, to speak of happiness. “Happiness andthe absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable”(MS, 122). It is not that discovering theabsurd leads necessarily to happiness, but rather that acknowledgingthe absurd means also accepting human frailty, an awareness of ourlimitations, and the fact that we cannot help wishing to go beyond whatis possible. These are all tokens of being fully alive.“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill aman’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”(MS, 123).
The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays book by Albert Camus
In some regards Camus' view of Sisyphus can seem quite accurate and in tune with the original text, but based on Camus' interpretation of the justness of Sisyphus' punishment, it is clear that the writer has some different ideas as well.
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We can compare hisconclusion with Pyrrho’s skepticism and Descartes’smethodical doubt. First of all, like Pyrrho, Camus has solved hispressing existential issue, namely, avoiding despair, by a kind ofresolution entailed in accepting our mortality and ultimateignorance. But there are two critical differences with Pyrrho:for Camus we never can abandon the desire to know, and realizing thisleads to a quickening of our life-impulses. This last point was alreadycontained in Nuptials, but here is expanded to linkconsciousness with happiness. For Camus, happiness includesliving intensely and sensuously in the present coupled withSisyphus’s tragic, lucid, and defiant consciousness, his sense oflimits, his bitterness, his determination to keep on, and his refusalof any form of consolation.
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and Justin O'Brien
In The Rebel, a complex and sprawling essay in philosophy,the history of ideas and literary movements, political philosophy, andeven aesthetics, Camus extends the ideas he asserted inNuptials and developed in The Myth of Sisyphus: thehuman condition is inherently frustrating, but we betray ourselves andsolicit catastrophe by seeking religious solutions to its limitations.“The rebel obstinately confronts a world condemned to death andthe impenetrable obscurity of the human condition with his demand forlife and absolute clarity. He is seeking, without knowing it, amoral philosophy or a religion” (R, 101). Ouralternatives are to accept the fact that we are living in a Godlessuniverse—or to become a revolutionary, who, like the religiousbeliever committed to the abstract triumph of justice in the future,refuses to live in the present.
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This leads to one of the most interesting and perplexing aspects ofCamus’s thought: his determination to criticize attitudes that hefinds to be natural and inevitable. The possibility of suicide hauntshumans, as does the fact that we seek an impossible order and anunachievable permanence. Camus never directly attacks existentialistwriters, but largely confines himself to describing their inability toremain consistent with their initial insight. Similarly, he is clearthroughout The Rebel that the metaphysical need that leads toCommunism’s terror and Gulag is universal: he describes it and itsconsequences so that we can better resist it in ourselves as well asothers. His reflexive anti-Communism notwithstanding, an underlyingsympathy unites Camus to those revolutionaries he opposes, because hefreely acknowledges that he and they share the same starting points,outlook, stresses, temptations, and pitfalls. Although in politicalargument he frequently took refuge in a tone of moral superiority,Camus makes clear through his skepticism that those he disagrees withare no less and no more than fellow creatures who give in to the samefundamental drive to escape the absurdity that we all share.