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The Myth of Sisyphus but reality of man...
Aug 08, 2010 09:17 AM 5274 Views
(Updated Aug 08, 2010 10:52 AM)



The Myth of Sisyphus is the most complete and unsophisticated form of philosophical enterprise that I have come across till now. I have yet to find a flaw in it yet, and that’s why, even after incessant re-readings, it stands atop its contemporaries and atop my heart to be cherished as my favourite philosophical treatise.

Written by Albert Camus, it is a collection of essays that have been compiled over time in one book. Thus, in a sense it is also more appealing to the average reader who may be inclined towards philosophical thinking but maybe hesitant to climb insurmountable mountains like Being and Nothingness by Sartre. A person can pick it up, read one essay, put the book down, ponder upon it, and start afresh with another essay which expands on another chain of thought. Thus, by breaking it down, it becomes much easier to comprehend.

This does not mean that The Myth of Sisyphus is devoid of philosophical referencing. In fact, there is quite an abundance of literary references as well as philosophical thought. Literary references such as Hamlet, Kafka – especially The Trial and The Castle, the legend of Don Quixote and Don Juan and Oedipus find a mention amongst many others whilst philosophers such as Nietzsche, Eugene Ionesco, Sartre, Descartes, Hegel and Kant are liberally used to substantiate Camus’ arguments. So there is plenty of material for budding philosophy bugs. However, in retrospect, the average reader should not be discouraged. What he will find is that even if he skips these references, Camus’ writing and thought is complete within itself, even without references to other works! The chain and line of argument will not be broken and it will be akin to reading a hotchpotch of intriguing fiction.

The highlight of the book however, is its clarity. This is the foremost reason why I value this book so highly. Each essay is an entity in itself, so profound and rich, but following a clear line of thought that you as the reader are never left out of the loop. The strength of Myth also is that it is based on logic rather than theory. Followers of Bertrand Russell and Leibniz and Analytic Philosophy, who generally shun Continental Philosophy for fear of excessive theory and not much logical coherence, will adore this! Camus is extremely simplistic in its approach. He uses terms which lie within the perimeter of the English language, using words which are already available and not coining terms like “Existence precedes essence” (Sartre) which complicate proceedings for the average reader with not much philosophical background. You will fall in love with how clearly Camus explains what he is implying and the abundance of examples to substantiate his claim. The premise behind some of the essays are –

An Absurd Reasoning – There could not be a better beginning. The essay explores the reasoning and logic behind suicide – why some people chose it and why doesn’t everyone, fed up of life just decide to end it all? The interesting aspect here is that he takes ‘faith’ (God, supreme power, whatever you want to call it) out of the equation. He analyses suicide from a completely logical, atheistic perspective, appealing to the rationalist in you, rather than sentiment. The beginning itself gets you hooked – “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to the fundamental question of philosophy”. In fact, he goes on to comment why he believes people turn to God whilst explaining suicide.

The Myth of Sisyphus – The essay which lends its title to the title of the book. Camus explains man’s repetitive habit of existence in terms of the legend of Sisyphus – a figure of Greek mythology. Camus outlines 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. Finally captured, the gods decided on his punishment: for all eternity, he would have to push a rock up a mountain; on the top, the rock rolls down again and Sisyphus has to start over. Camus likens Sisyphus to the existence of man. “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death and passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing.” Similarly, man’s fear of death and infatuation of life is futile because he willdie, but that does not mean that he should choose death, he chooses life – he is like Sisyphus who is condemned to push the rock continuously, thus man is condemned to live life to the full, until it is taken away from him, the precise moment of which cannot AND should not be chosen by man himself.

The Artist and His Time – This is the last essay and is structured like an interview where Camus answers questions abut his purpose and expression in the form of writing. He explains – “Considered as artists, we perhaps have no need to interfere in the affairs of the world. But considered as humans, yes.”


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The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus