Life, Death and the Absurdity of it All

by M-Gillies
Sisyphus by Titian

Albert Camus compared the Myth of Sisyphus to the Human Condition and challenged the reader to face up to his/her mortality.

“There will be no lasting peace either in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed.”

Albert Camus, French philosopher, writer and playwright developed contradicting conceptions of death early on in his life. It was when he was struck with tuberculosis, which left him bedridden that he turned to reading, and while the illness had lasting effects on his life, it was merely the bud of his inspiration toward the outlook he had of life.

In his definitive novel, Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he wrote of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who after being condemned by sadistic gods to spend his life rolling a rock up a hill, only to have the rock roll back down each time, day after day, did the author develop his philosophical view, which would inhabit his future work for the remainder of his years.

Comparing the myth to the state of the human condition, Camus explained that as humans and like Sisyphus, we search for meaning in a meaningless universe, toiling throughout our lives, struggling each day to survive, only to die in the end.

“We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking,” Camus said. “In that race which daily hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.”

In particular, it was through The Myth of Sisyphus in which Camus emphasizes the paradoxical dualism of human existence, such as happiness and sadness, light and darkness, and life and death, often challenging the reader to face up to their human finitude and mortality, and to accept that all happiness is fleeting.

It was with this pinnacle work that the basis of the movement known as Absurdism took forth, a philosophy which explored themes of loneliness and isolation; of the failure of the individual(s) to connect with others in any meaningful way; and of the senselessness and absurdity of life and death.

This was his way of stating how we value our lives so greatly, but at the same time understand that we will eventually die, thus making all our endeavors ultimately meaningless.

While this outlook seemed to steer more towards a nihilistic view, Camus disapproved of this notion. With this understanding of life, Camus hoped to encourage his readers to love life all the more and to find enjoyment in the forms of happiness, regardless of how fleeting and short-lived they may be.

Although The Myth of Sisyphus is his most recognized work in respect to absurdity toward life and death, other books which take a philosophical approach to death are, The Fall, The Plague, The Rebel, The Stranger and A Happy Death.

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