Absurdist Brothers According to a study from MIT, people want to “‘become a hero’ by contributing something that is highly valued by the community.” (Klein).
People want to work for a grand cause that will make an impact on the world. People strive for purpose in life. Instead of working 9 to 5 at a desk, people hope for grander opportunities.However, absurdists are here to crush dreams and ruin the day. According to absurdism, this hope is ridiculous. Why strive for a purpose when there is none? To absurdists, life is pointless, the world is irrational, and everything is meaningless.
One should confront the truth that there is no alternative and live without hope and motivation. The founder of this philosophy is Albert Camus. For Camus, the absurdist hero acknowledged how absurd life was. The only way man could win against the uncaring universe was to acknowledge the truth that life is pointless and just continue living. Camus illustrated more details of his absurdist beliefs in his novel The Stranger and the essay The Myth of Sisyphus.
In both, the main characters dealt with this irrational pointless life with indifference. What makes these characters absurdist heroes are how they enjoy immediate physical experiences instead of depending on hope and how they are above their fate because of their consciousness. Monsieur Meursault is the Stranger; what makes him an outsider is how he is completely indifferent and apathetic to the world around him. He is an ordinary man with an ordinary job. The novel starts with him attending his mother’s funeral. However, it turns out that he is not quite so ordinary.
Meursault was extremely detached; he did not cry once and he even smoked a cigarette and drank a cup of coffee during her wake. The next day, he started a relationship with a woman. He became friends with his neighbor and went on a vacation to the beach with him. At the beach, a fight occurred between his neighbor and an Arab. Meursault stopped his friend, but later returned to the beach alone.
When he saw the Arab, he shot him for no reason, claiming that it was “because of the weather”. Meursault is arrested and ends up in court after the murder. Appalled by his apathetic and uncaring nature, the judge sentenced him to death. Meursault is an absurdist hero because of his indifference to the world. To Meursault, nothing matters. He does not care about anyone else or even his own life.
To him, “one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine here at all.” (41). Unlike most people who dream of a better life, he did not wish for another because to him, everything was the same.He felt that he had lived his life one way and “could just as well have lived it another.” (121).
His reasoning behind how life was so expendable was because “other men and women will naturally go on living – and for thousands of years” despite one individual’s death. Meursault is an extremely rational man who does not need to fulfill spiritual needs because he thinks that life has no purpose. For him, there is nothing beyond himself. In the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus draws upon Greek mythology and hails Sisyphus as the absurdist hero. Sisyphus is an unlikely hero, considering the fact that he was in Tartarus, the darkest part of the underworld with the harshest punishments. Why couldn’t Camus pick Hercules, son of Zeus, the Greek equivalent of Superman? Hercules was not good enough because he had hope.
He was motivated with a grand sense of purpose to fulfill ridiculous Herculean tasks. Sisyphus had no space for hope or purpose since he was busy facing eternal punishment. He was fated to roll a rock to the top of the mountain, only to watch it roll back down and start over. While pushing the rock up, he has no time to think because all of his energy is focused onto pushing the immense boulder. However, Camus was interested in the moment where Sisyphus descends the mountain without the boulder.
This is because in this moment, Sisyphus has time to think in “that hour like a breathing-space … that is the hour of consciousness.” In those moments, Camus claims that “he is stronger than his rock.” However, just because Sisyphus acknowledges his fate does not make him a hero. Or does it? His moments of awareness are critical to his outlook on life. As Sisyphus descends the mountain, he realizes how he will struggle forever. At first, I thought his punishment was horrible because of how it made his existence useless and hopeless.
His plight struck me as a tragedy because there was no end goal, there was nothing more to it. His punishment rendered his life as one without a purpose. I only thought of this one incident as hopeless; however, absurdists see all of life itself as hopeless and pointless. If the actions of Sisyphus’s plight were isolated from the rest of what society does (like having an enjoyable picnic with family during the weekends), then it is just another neutral activity. I only see his punishment as terrible because I think that he could be doing something more fun. However, to Sisyphus, there is only one task.
There is no picnic, there is only a rock. When not comparing this task to something else, it does not seem so bad because there is no alternative. Sisyphus has accepted that he only has one task and he no longer needs to hope for something more.Camus placed so much emphasis on this awareness because as long as Sisyphus confronts the truth, his punishment is just another activity to him and his fate will not be a tragedy to him. In this way, “he is superior to his fate,” and he cannot be punished by the gods.
I knew about Sisyphus’s fate after death, but I discovered more similarities between him and Meursault after reading about his life on Earth. At first, Sisyphus “woke up in the underworld” after his wife did not perform proper burial rites for him. He begged Hades to go back up to Earth and chastise his wife. However, after he returned to the land of the living, Sisyphus did not want to go back. Hades ordered Death to claim him. However, he cleverly “put Death in chains.
” Because of this, nobody could die. Ares, the god of war was infuriated because war was no longer as thrilling when soldiers did not perish. Sisyphus was dragged back to the underworld by Ares, where “his rock was ready for him.” Despite his apathy, Sisyphus is a man with a “passion for life”.After he returned to earth and “had seen the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness.
” Sisyphus hated being dead and very much preferred life. He tricked Death because he did not want to go back. However, he fought to stay on earth despite not doing anything there; his “whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.” Meursault shares this vigor in accomplishing nothing. Like Sisyphus, he finds pleasure in immediate physical experiences. For example, he enjoys good weather; “the summer night air flowing over our brown bodies felt good.
” (p35). Meursault finds solace in physical aspects of life rather than through spirituality means (like finding a sense of purpose). For example, he doesn’t love Marie; “she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything, but that I didn’t think so.” (p 35), but he does like sleeping with her; when just earlier he commented “When she laughed, I wanted her again.”(p 35).
Although both absurdists are apathetic to the purpose of life, they enjoy the experiences that life has to offer. They accept their lives as it is and do not depend on hope for something better. They are able to live with the truth that life is pointless and do not let that bitter truth get in the way of living life. Both Meursault and Sisyphus face unpleasant ends but they rise above their tragedy with awareness of their situation. As Sisyphus descends the mountain, he realizes how his fate is not much of a tragedy because life is pointless anyway during his “hour of consciousness”. Meursault also faced a similar “hour of consciousness” after he was sentenced to death for his crime.
As he was alone in his cell, he even thought about finding a way to escape “the machinery of justice.” Meursault even contemplated hope, “a leap to freedom, a wild run for it that would give whatever chance of hope there was.” However, he slowly became aware of his situation through rationalization, concluding that “hope meant being cut down on some street corner by a random bullet.” (p 109). Like Sisyphus, he becomes conscious of his situation and starts realizing that death was not so bad because everything else was pointless. Referring to the chaplain who tried to help him find God, Meursault says, “He wasn’t even sure he was alive, because he was living like a dead man.
But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me.” Like Sisyphus confronting the truth of his eternal punishment, Meursault confronted the truth of his death sentence. He further made peace with it by, “what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate?” By accepting the truth that life is expendable and futile, Meursault gets over his impending death. The question is, are these absurdist heroes better off than all of us? In this irrational world, Sisyphus and Meursault have accepted their fates as the only thing they have and the only thing they will be. Both acknowledged the truth that life has no purpose and that there is no hope. We react to their way of life with horror, disgust, and pity but maybe we can learn something from these absurdist brothers.
For most of us, we value hope because it is a way to escape from our unsatisfying lives and attain happiness. However for Sisyphus and Meursault, real happiness does not come from an escape. Real happiness comes after physical experiences that we learn to value after confronting the bitter truth. Because they are conscious and aware of the absurdity of life, they will not be deluded into a false happiness brought by hope. Camus ended his essay with “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” Maybe our expectations are too high.
Maybe we can take a few tips from absurdists and embrace our lives as it is instead of always hoping for something more. ? Works Cited Camus, Albert, and Matthew Ward. The Stranger. New York: Random House, 1988. Print. Mark Klein, and Luca Landoli.
Supporting Collaborative Deliberation Using a Large-Scale Argumentation System: The Mit Collaboratorium. Diss. MIT, 2008.Social Science Research Network. Web.
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