I have to admit. I have been very reluctant to review this book and intimidated by the grandeur of the author, and for good reason. Albert Camus is considered one of the most influential philosophers of the century whose views contributed to the rise of absurdism, a school of thought followed by many even before Camus such as Kierkegaard. Second youngest winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, you could understand my hesitance to discuss his work. However, I will attempt to write this with the right amount of objectivity and without projecting into it too much of myself.
“Nothing really matters” is a statement translated into countless songs, movies, books, paintings and more, it’s easy to fall into the deep abyss of apathy, especially when the entirety of pop culture tells you to do so, however, the concept is not unfamiliar to philosophers, in fact, Camus has probably coined the theme in his book The Myth of Sisyphus.
The essays in it begin with meditation on suicide in an absurd (in this sense, meaningless) universe and then follows with a discussion on man’s leap into spiritual irrationality. Thought to be depressing and disturbing by many, the book has been looked at through a pessimistic lens almost since its publication, and understandably so, Camus reminds us over and over again that life has no meaning, and neither does death and neither does religion, there is simply no way out. However, if read carefully enough, one could see the light drawn by Camus at the end of the tunnel, a way to survive and create and be amidst the absurd, a way out of the despair in the least.
A little backstory on the title of the book, Sisyphus was cruel Greek king punished for his deceitfulness and forced to push a large rock up a steep hill only to have it roll back to the bottom before reaching the top and the morbid labor would last an eternity. Until Camus changed the legend when he imagined Sisyphus smiling. For him, Sisyphus must be humanism in its fiercest form, “the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”, he was unstoppable, refusing to surrender to gravity, much like man shouldn’t surrender to death or nihilism. Without the rock, without the suffering, without the act, though banal and purposeless in nature, of constant labor work, Sisyphus’ name would not have lived on. For Camus, life itself is the rock.
The Myth of Sisyphus is controversial and thought-provoking, certainly not a casual or light read. It’s made to feed an open mind and shift the adopted worldview of “telos” as well as many other major themes in our lives. It’s also a door to understanding many of Camus’ other works like his prominent novel, The Stranger.
Enjoy and always bring a book home. x