The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus

This essay is an in-depth discussion of Camus’s view on absurdism and how man continues his existence on the face of it. Is he to go on living or commit suicide and make an exit from life? If he continues his existence, then, how to face life, being conscious of its absurdity? The Myth of Sisyphus clears this dilemma.

In the preface, Camus says, “The fundamental subject of The Myth of Sisyphus is this; it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate”. Camus rules out suicide as a solution from the outset. The purpose of this essay then is to explain how man must go on living in the understanding that this world is a meaningless and absurd one.

Before he comes to that, he first addresses the question of why men contemplate suicide as a possible solution? “Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of the habit (mechanically going through daily routine), the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation and the uselessness of suffering”. Men become weary of the mechanical existence. But so long as they are unconscious of it, they’ll go on existing. A moment comes, however, that awakens the consciousness of these weary men, and when that happens, there are only two paths to choose from: committing suicide or treading on the path of recovery. Camus advocates the latter.

What then is his theory? How is the man to walk on the path of recovery with his knowledge that the world is an absurd and meaningless place? To Camus, “accepting a life without appeal” is the solution: face life with no hope and with indifference. It is not an easy solution, especially to continue existing without hope! But Camus says that is necessary if we are to confront this absurd world. There should be no reconciliation but only a consciousness of absurdism (which he called “revolt”), and certainly no falling back on the divine authority. If so, only freedom and passion should govern the existence of man. When a man is conscious of absurdism, he lives in a perpetual conflict. He knows only of one certainty, and that is death. So, he must choose a life of freedom for that short period and indulge in his passions with careless indifference.

This is where the myth of Sisyphus comes in. Sisyphus’s “scorn of the Gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted towards accomplishing nothing”, for he was condemned for eternity to roll a rock up to a mountain top knowing very well that it’ll come down and that he’ll have to do it repeatedly. The life of an absurd man is similar to that of Sisyphus. He rolls his rock of passion over and over up to the mountain top fully knowing its futility. Camus says that it is “the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth”.

The essay lucidly expounds on Camus’s own interpretation of existentialism in the face of absurdism. It is deep and thought-provoking. Even if one doesn’t fully agree with his philosophy, one cannot disregard certain truths of it. As for me, Camus always caters to my thirst for intellectually challenging reading. The brain needs a full dose of a stimulant now and then. 🙂

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.