Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Camus and the Absurd

Death makes life absurd. For Camus, the Absurd is a philosophical concept to understand the conflict between the rational mind and the large, uncaring universe. It is difficult for us to accept that we do not matter, that Good is not always rewarded, Evil is not always punished, and that we will eventually be wiped clean from the surface of the earth - like we never existed.  The absurd doesn't exist because there is no God, it would exist even if there was a God.

For Camus, understanding the Absurd is to confront the meaninglessness of life.  Death is a certainty, but we must act as though life has meaning.   Our only salvation from this despair and nihilism comes through taking responsibility for our lives.   Living the Absurd comes down to these tenets:

1.  To confront the meaninglessness of life
2.  Recognizing it is cowardly to kill oneself (we must live between hope and suicide)
3.  We must act as if life had meaning (with "clown-like" distractions)
4.  Continue walking the tightrope between these extremes and we accept full responsibility for our lives

Life without meaning

Camus said that "Life will be more fully lived in so far as it has no meaning". Now man can "live out his adventure within the confines of his own lifetime" and recognize the "optimism without hope".

We are not abandoning ourselves to despair, but recognizing the futility of our existence.  We are in a sense living a much more fulfilled life.  To illustrate these, Camus uses the the Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a stone endlessly up to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down and to start his task all over again. Camus thought about the "pause" when Sisyphuss has to go back down the hill to collect the stone.  It is at this moment when Sisyphus confronts the consciousness of his fate and acceptance begins.  Even though his task is pointless (futile), this is Sisyphus's greatest strength and he has become a master of his own fate. The worst torture would be "the hope of succeeding". 

Living the Absurd, above all, "means a total lack of hope (not the same as despair), a permanent rejection (not renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction (not a juvenile anxiety)"

If life has no meaning, why do we keep living? 

Camus said, "There is only only really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide."

For Camus, to reconcile with the irrational, to commit suicide, "is a lack of understanding".

In the absence of a god (a divine judge) a human being becomes both the accussed as well as his own judge and has the right to condemn himself.  A suicide "is prepared in the silence of the heart in the same manner as a great work of art".  To die by one's own hand means recognizing "the lack of any serious reason for living...and the futility of suffering." However, living means "keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is basically a question of observing it."  Therefore, if one commits suicide they have chosen to reject the fact that they are living, which is irrational since only a living individual can commit suicide.  Furthermore, they have not understood that the "meaning" of life is to live a "meaningless" life, living for the sake of living. 

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