Why do I tend to relate to those Existentialist types?
Earlier in my life I found myself disconnected to the world via my account of my relation to family and my friends. I would often gravitate to the works of those who spoke in terms that I could relate to and found myself reading much about existentialism.
Sometimes I hear the words of Albert Camus whisper vehemently in my ears. His ideas about Absurdism and his philosophy I can often relate to, yet I find that I am somehow somewhere else in my thinking and being. The thoughts extended by my friend Mr. Camus does compel me to think on what he has said, but I feel he is missing something in his assessments.
Many writers have addressed the Absurd, each with his or her own interpretation of what the Absurd is and what comprises its importance. For example, Sartre recognizes the absurdity of individual experience, while Kierkegaard explains that the absurdity of certain religious truths prevent us from reaching God rationally. Camus regretted the continued reference to himself as a “philosopher of the absurd”. He showed less interest in the Absurd shortly after publishing Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus). To distinguish his ideas, scholars sometimes refer to the Paradox of the Absurd, when referring to “Camus’s Absurd”.
His early thoughts appeared in his first collection of essays, L’Envers et l’endroit (Betwixt and Between) in 1937. Absurd themes were expressed with more sophistication in his second collection of essays, Noces (Nuptials), in 1938. In these essays Camus reflects on the experience of the Absurd. In 1942 he published the story of a man living an absurd life as L’Étranger (The Stranger). In the same year he released Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus), a literary essay on the Absurd.
The turning point in Camus’s attitude to the Absurd occurs in a collection of four letters to an anonymous German friend, written between July 1943 and July 1944. The first was published in the Revue Libre in 1943, the second in the Cahiers de Libération in 1944, and the third in the newspaper Libertés, in 1945. The four letters were published as Lettres à un ami allemand (Letters to a German Friend) in 1945, and were included in the collection Resistance, Rebellion, and Death.
Camus presents the reader with dualisms such as happiness and sadness, dark and light, life and death, etc. He emphasizes the fact that happiness is fleeting and that the human condition is one of mortality; for Camus, this is cause for a greater appreciation for life and happiness. In Le Mythe, dualism becomes a paradox: we value our own lives in spite of our mortality and in spite of the universe’s silence.
– “The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human call and the unreasonable silence of the world”
While we can live with a dualism (I can accept periods of unhappiness, because I know I will also experience happiness to come), we cannot live with the paradox (I think my life is of great importance, but I also think it is meaningless). In Le Mythe, Camus investigates our experience of the Absurd and asks how we live with it. Our life must have meaning for us to value it. If we accept that life has no meaning and therefore no value, should we kill ourselves? In Le Mythe, Camus suggests that ‘creation of meaning’, would entail a logical leap or a kind of philosophical suicide in order to find psychological comfort. But Camus wants to know if he can live with what logic and lucidity has uncovered – if one can build a foundation on what one knows and nothing more. Creation of meaning is not a viable alternative but a logical leap and an evasion of the problem. He gives examples of how others would seem to make this kind of leap. The alternative option, namely suicide, would entail another kind of leap, where one attempts to kill absurdity by destroying one of its terms (the human being). Camus points out, however, that there is no more meaning in death than there is in life, and that it simply evades the problem yet again. Camus concludes that we must instead “entertain” both death and the absurd, while never agreeing to their terms.Meursault, the absurdist hero of L’Étranger, has killed a man and is scheduled to be executed. Camus made a significant contribution to a viewpoint of the Absurd, and always rejected nihilism as a valid response.
“If nothing had any meaning, you would be right. But there is something that still has a meaning.” Second Letter to a German Friend, December 1943.
Camus’s understanding of the Absurd promotes public debate; his various offerings entice us to think about the Absurd and offer our own contribution. Concepts such as cooperation, joint effort and solidarity are of key importance to Camus, though they are most likely sources of ‘relative’ versus ‘absolute’ meaning. In The Rebel, Camus identifies rebellion (or rather, the values indicated by rebellion) as a basis for human solidarity.
“When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical. But for the moment we are only talking of the kind of solidarity that is born in chains.” __The Myth of Sisyphus
Despite his opposition to the label, Camus addressed one of the fundamental questions of existentialism: the problem of suicide. He wrote, “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that” Camus viewed the question of suicide as arising naturally as a solution to the absurdity of life. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus seeks to identify the kinds of life that could be worth living despite their inherent meaninglessness.
If “absurdity” is the human failure to find meaning, and our existence is one that we create, than where do we look to find these answers? What is the natural antithesis of this argument?
• Existentialism says the existence of the person is above and before everything else, and the concept of existence before essence is of central importance in existentialism.
• Personal meaning of the world is at the core of existentialism whereas in absurdism, realizing personal meaning of the world is not that important.
Let us first start by looking to each other. To what depth can we reach another if we are alone in the world? If we believe the existentialist philosophers saying that existence precedes essence, than to what avail do we fathom the distance between two people?
In my experience I can say I have seen the depths of my despair and I do not wish for anyone to experience life with this disconnection. But with each fall, the mind can still reach for answers that may take us to tumble before we see anything that makes sense to us.
I think that the greatest human achievement lies not in our philosophical discourse but is in our capacity to love. When the concept of love is realized, than all other doctrines seem to evaporate before our eyes. From what I’ve read about the distinguished philosophers who struggle to find meaning in the world, they seem closed to the idea of the transformational qualities of love. If you can put aside the psychological and philosophical issues we often invent, our experience of the world is greatly shaped by the unifying connections to one another.
The fulfillment of how we treat each other is the primary concern we ought to establish without any debate over other human pursuits in the material world or the philosophical realm of our minds. Tend to the purpose of giving love and the rest of our subjective problems will often vanish before our eyes.
The greatest human tragedy must lie within our failure to love. Quite simply if we are able to give ourselves in an authentic loving way to the universe than our lives will exponentially benefit from the elation of our toils.
The argument made here is that the absurdity found in Camus can equally be found in the failure of human beings to co-exist in a loving biosphere. Our failure to exercise our choices to conduct ourselves in ways that will diminish any angst created by our minds detachment from others. A central thought we find in existentialism is a detachment that views the world as external and devoid of our being connected to it.
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.
It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”
“Thrown into the world”…. is a presumptuous statement by JP Sartre. I understand exactly what he means, yet I have considered that we are human and therefore must interact with the environment, thus we are an agency in the world whether we are “thrown” into it or not! My pragmatism will often counter the thinking of the existentialist when matters such as these present themselves.
I once viewed the world in such a way due to my relation to the world at that time, where my head was, and how my emotional balance presented itself to the world. I now see things within different harmonies of mind. A reasoning harmonic that includes many teachings that render choices we make in our lives. I choose to look towards a path that best seizes the opportunities I have once deserted.
If you look to those on their death beds, the top 10 regrets in life should give you a clue about how we should lead our lives. Why do we let triviality take precedence over our lives? I think after the wiser words of those whom have lived longer than we have is a place to look when we find our mortality is staring back at us in the mirror.
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