Albert Camus: The Smiling Sisyphus
• Born Nov. 7, 1913 in Mondovi, French Algeria • Father dies in 1914 during World War I, only story Albert knows is that his father became violently ill at a public execution. • Mother was illiterate, partially deaf, and afflicted with a speech disorder – very poor. • Attended elementary in a school close to a Moslem community and saw first-hand the idea of the “outsider” he would later develop.
Significant Events • High school: developed a lifetime love for literature, theater, and film. • Also enjoyed soccer for sport and the life lessons it taught him “I learned. . . that a ball never arrives from a direction you expected it. That helped me later in life, especially in mainland France, where nobody plays straight. ”
Significant Events • Briefly joined the Communist Party but was disillusioned by the mindless, even absurd, work he was assigned to do. • In the 1940’s his writing began to attract international attention. • In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Prize. He was grateful, but he felt he had not yet achieved the fame such an award indicated.
Significant Events On January 4, 1960, Camus died tragically in a car accident.
THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS Camus publishes this non-fiction work a year after completing The Stranger. In this retelling of the myth of Sisyphus, he embodies his concept of the Absurd. The story concludes with Camus’ pivotal philosophical statement: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. ” To understand his point, we must understand themes that his writing explores.
L’Étranger (The Stranger or The Outsider) • Written by Albert Camus in 1942 • (who did not sail the ocean blue)
Albert Camus The Stranger A tale of absurdity, death, and coming to grips with the meaning of one’s existence. No single work by any existentialist has reached more people directly The Nobel Prize for literature in 1957
Themes of Albert Camus The Absurd Revolt The Outsider Guilt and Innocence Christianity vs. Paganism Individual vs. History and Mass Culture Suicide The Death Penalty
Camus’ Absurd World • The world of values is • never predictable nor controllable.
Revolt “A spirit of opposition against any perceived unfairness, oppression, or indignity in the human condition. ” This idea runs counter to existentialism as it proposes that there is a common good that is more important than one’s destiny. True revolt is performed out of compassion for others.
The Outsider “The `stranger’ or the outsider observes everything, even his own behavior, from an outside perspective. ” Camus lived most of his life being in various groups without being of them. This view requires a “zero-degree” objectivity about everything. Camus had this with friends and community.
Paganism vs. Christianity Guilt and Innocence There is no clear answer to this in The Stranger. The reader must decide if the character is legally innocent of the murder he is charged with or if he is technically guilty? It is the struggle between universal guilt (original sin) and universal innocence (pagan primitivism) Camus respects the Christianity even uses many Christian symbols in his writing, but he maintains Pagan world views. “I continue to believe that this world has no supernatural meaning. . . But I know that something in this world has meaning – man. ”
Individual vs. History and Mass Culture Modern life has an alienating and dehumanizing effect of man. We live in an age that is becoming more impersonal everyday. If anything, modern man lives the drudgery of Sisyphus in meaningless jobs with mind-numbing repetitions.
Suicide Penalty This, for Camus, is the fundamental issue for moral philosophy as it represents the only possible response to the Absurd. In the end, the morally valid response is to continue living. Death Camus opposes the death penalty in all of his writings. He considered it “the most premeditated of murders” because it causes the victim to suffer his death every day until it happens.
EXISTENTIALISM? Although Camus was personally committed to values such as individualism, free choice, inner strength, authenticity, personal responsibility, and self determination, he repeatedly denied that he was an existentialist. Although he embraced many of the ideas, he believed that for one to be considered anything one must commit totally to that doctrine; he was unwilling to do so.