Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus: Meaning and InterpretationAlbert Camus's Myth of Sisyphus is a philosophical writing based on a Greek Myth of Sisyphus. In this essay, the writer has allegorically presented Sisyphus as the symbol of humankind and his task as the symbol of absurd human existence. Before writing about the concept of absurdity, Camus has described about how Sisyphus was a highwayman, to rub people passing by the highway, but Homer says that he was a prudent. Even there are two causes about his punishment.
Albert Camus (1913-1960)
One myth says that Sisyphus revealed the secret abduction of Aegina by Zeus so that in anger Zeus punished him to the underworld where he had to roll up the rock from bottom to the top of the hill. Another Myth says that Sisyphus ordered his wife to throw his dead body in a public place but not to bury it. After death, he was awaken in the hell, he got angry with his wife & decided to go back to the earth to punish his wife. After many requests, Pluto gave chance to go to earth and come to hell as soon as possible. Sisyphus was enchanted by the shining beauty of the earth so he forget everything.
Even though Pluto sent many messengers before sending Mercury, who seized him on his throat and brought him back to hell. In anger, Pluto gave Sisyphus the meaningless punishment of rolling up the rock from the bottom to the top of the hill. Myth of Sisyphus is presented as a meditation on the theme of suicide. Camus has brought the concept of absurdity, which is the essence of human existence. The philosophy of absurdity was developed as a branch of existentialist philosophy, which considers life as meaningless useless and fruitless nihilistic existence. Existentialism suggests that the problematic life has only the solution, which is suicide. But, Albert Camus propounded the new concept of absurdism and rejected that suicide is not the solution but the sin so it is not the solution of problematic life. He suggests that absurd life should be taken as a challenge and it should be continued. So absurd philosophy avoids that suicide is not the theme of life and to interpret that idea he has taken the myth of Sisyphus as an allegory.
Presenting the Myth of Sisyphus as an allegory Camus attempts to justify that life is meaningless absurd and fruitless but it should be taken as a challenge. As an allegory, Sisyphus symbolizes all humankind and what Sisyphus does is the symbol of what we do every day in our life, Camus describes that Sisyphus is on the bottom of the hill and he has to push the heavy rock to the top of the hill. Sisyphus recollects all the physical strength in his arms and giving the complete physical labour he pushes up the rock. It takes a long time to roll the rock up to the top of the hill but with in a second it rolls down and Sisyphus has to repeat again and again. He has to come down, the period of decent. At that time, Camus says that his attention is fixed to Sisyphus. He says that poor Sisyphus has to roll up the rock repeatedly but he does not achieve anything. Through the action of Sisyphus, we are reflected because our life and our day-to-day activities are also meaningless like Sisyphus.
But, Camus says that Sisyphus is happy and he should be happy because he has accepted the punishment given to him. When he is on the bottom, he has a hope that he will reach on the top. Even for a second he is on the top of the hill and looks up and smiles. It is his movement of happiness and scorn to the fate maker. He also suggests us that we should be hopeful of getting happiness but happiness is always momentary. He says that we should try to make our own fate and should try to make our own fate and should hate the fate maker. Therefore, he says that there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn. He even says that there is no sun without shadow or happiness and absurdity are the two sons of the same mother earth. What he means is that, without facing the absurdity, we cannot get happiness but it is not necessary that happiness must come after absurdity. We should hope but should not be sure of happiness because it is momentary. As there is shadow after the light there is absurdity with happiness, so happiness and absurdity go together like the two sons of the same mother earth.
He also brings the allusion of Oedipus and says that in spite of suffering, Oedipus says all is well. Oedipus unknowingly murders his father and sleeps with his mother, and then he makes him self-blind because he knows that he is victimized by fate. But, still he says all is well, which means he accepts suffering in life like Sisyphus and Oedipus we should also accept life and try to make our own fate without thinking of suicide which is the suggestion of the writer in this essay.
For mythology regarding the Greek character Sisyphus, see Sisyphus.
The Myth of Sisyphus (French: Le Mythe de Sisyphe) is a 1942 philosophical essay by Albert Camus. The English translation by Justin O'Brien was first published in 1955.
In the essay, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd, man's futile search for meaning, unity, and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Does the realization of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers, "No. It requires revolt." He then outlines several approaches to the absurd life. The final chapter compares the absurdity of man's life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, "The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".
The work can be seen in relation to other absurdist works by Camus: the novel The Stranger (1942), the plays The Misunderstanding (1942) and Caligula (1944), and especially the essay The Rebel (1951).
The essay is dedicated to Pascal Pia and is organized in four chapters and one appendix.
Chapter 1: An Absurd Reasoning
Camus undertakes the task of answering what he considers to be the only question of philosophy that matters: Does the realization of the meaninglessness and absurdity of life necessarily require suicide?
He begins by describing the absurd condition: life is meaningless and nonsensical, but humans strive constantly for meaning and sense in it. Religious explanations have been disproved by science, but science in turn can only describe existence, it cannot explain why there is existence or what its meaning or purpose is, as Spinoza among others believed it would one day be able to. Once stripped of its common romanticism, the world is a foreign, strange and inhuman place. Yet humans need meaning, even though it appears there is no meaning to be found. Much of life is characterised by such absurd paradoxes: we build our lives on the hope of tomorrow, yet tomorrow brings us closer to death, the ultimate enemy; we live as if we don't know about the certainty of death. Science professes a sensible explanation of the world, but ends in fantastic stories of microscopic galaxies of atoms that cannot be seen. This is the absurd condition and "from the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all."
It is not the world that is absurd, nor human thought: the absurd arises when the human need to understand meets the unreasonableness of the world, when "my appetite for the absolute and for unity" meets "the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle."
He then characterizes a number of philosophies that describe and attempt to deal with this feeling of the absurd, by Heidegger, Jaspers, Shestov, Kierkegaard, and Husserl. All of these, he claims, commit "philosophical suicide" by reaching conclusions that contradict the original absurd position, either by abandoning reason and turning to God, as in the case of Kierkegaard and Shestov, or by elevating reason and ultimately arriving at ubiquitous Platonic forms and an abstract god, as in the case of Husserl.
For Camus, who set out to take the absurd seriously and follow it to its final conclusions, these "leaps" cannot convince. Taking the absurd seriously means acknowledging the contradiction between the desire of human reason and the unreasonable world. Suicide, then, also must be rejected: without man, the absurd cannot exist. The contradiction must be lived; reason and its limits must be acknowledged, without false hope. However, the absurd can never be accepted: it requires constant confrontation, constant revolt.
While the question of human freedom in the metaphysical sense loses interest to the absurd man, he gains freedom in a very concrete sense: no longer bound by hope for a better future or eternity, without a need to pursue life's purpose or to create meaning, "he enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules".
To embrace the absurd implies embracing all that the unreasonable world has to offer. Without a meaning in life, there is no scale of values. "What counts is not the best living but the most living."
Thus, Camus arrives at three consequences from fully acknowledging the absurd: revolt, freedom, and passion.
Chapter 2: The Absurd Man
Camus then goes on to present examples of the absurd life. He begins with Don Juan, the serial seducer who lives the passionate life to the fullest. "There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional."
The next example is the actor, who depicts ephemeral lives for ephemeral fame. "He demonstrates to what degree appearing creates being." "In those three hours he travels the whole course of the dead-end path that the man in the audience takes a lifetime to cover."
Camus's third example of the absurd man is the conqueror, the warrior who forgoes all promises of eternity to affect and engage fully in human history. He chooses action over contemplation, aware of the fact that nothing can last and no victory is final.
Chapter 3: Absurd Creation
Here Camus explores the absurd creator or artist. Since explanation is impossible, absurd art is restricted to a description of the myriad experiences in the world. "If the world were clear, art would not exist." Absurd creation, of course, also must refrain from judging and from alluding to even the slightest shadow of hope.
He then analyzes the work of Dostoyevsky in this light, especially The Diary of a Writer, The Possessed and The Brothers Karamazov. All these works start from the absurd position, and the first two explore the theme of philosophical suicide. However, both The Diary and his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, ultimately find a path to hope and faith and thus fail as truly absurd creations.
Chapter 4: The Myth of Sisyphus
In the last chapter, 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. After finally capturing Sisyphus, the gods decided on his punishment for all eternity. He would have to push a rock up a mountain; 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, hates death, and is condemned to a meaningless task.
Camus is interested in Sisyphus' thoughts when marching down the mountain, to start anew. After the stone falls back down the mountain Camus states that "It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! 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." Acknowledging the truth will conquer it; 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. With a nod to the similarly cursed Greek hero Oedipus, Camus concludes that "all is well," indeed, that "one must imagine Sisyphus happy."
The essay contains an appendix titled "Hope and the Absurd in the work of Franz Kafka". While Camus acknowledges that Kafka's work represents an exquisite description of the absurd condition, he maintains that Kafka fails as an absurd writer because his work retains a glimmer of hope.