The Fate of Camus

I was flipping through a back issue of Philosophy Now the other day, when I was struck by a small piece penned by Ray Cavanaugh.  The piece was about the life of Albert Camus.  Look what a handsome chap he was –

albert-camusNow, I don’t know much about Camus, but have read The Stranger and remember coming away from that with a disquieting sense of having learned something about the world I didn’t really want to know.  The thing is, Camus seemed to specialize in the utter randomness of things; that abyss of meaninglessness that can cause one to stare morosely into one’s drink and question what the point of anything is.

What struck me about the article wasn’t its tone or tenor, but the simple description of how Camus died.  On January 4, 1960, the car he was in left the road at high speed, killing him instantly at the age of 44.  In his pocket was found the train ticket he hadn’t used after accepting the lift to Paris.  How random this decision, and what a tragic outcome.  One can only hope he would lift a glass in appreciation of this final absurdity.

On the bright side, he left us with one of the loveliest quotes ever penned:  “In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

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18 thoughts on “The Fate of Camus

  1. Great post. Not enough people talk about him. I’ve read quite a bit of his work (I highly recommend “The Fall”–it’s enough to potentially change the way you think about society), and perhaps I can offer some insight that might make his brand of Absurdism seem a little less dour.

    Camus was obviously in the company of Sartre, each of whom had lived through both world wars, and fought their respective urges to give up on humanity by adopting similar, but mutually distinct philosophies. The key to understanding Camus is realizing that everything in his ethos is rooted in his attachment to the myth of Sisyphus (which lent his treatise on Absurdism its title). In Sisyphus–the fallen king fated to forever push a boulder up a hill, only to have it tumble back down–Camus saw the perfect metaphor for modern civilization: Fighting wars in the pursuit of world peace, only to have that boulder of armistice tumble back down into another armed conflict. Certainly, that must seem like a most pessimistic worldview, but Camus found hope in it.

    In his own words (from “The Myth of Sisyphus”):
    “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    This indirectly ties in to the quotation you selected–both of them are to say that in the absence of any ability to change our state of existence, we must accept it, and learn instead to take joy in the act of finding meaning in our seemingly pointless struggles. For my money, his was the most beautiful and hopeful philosophy of all, though it requires no small amount of soul-searching and self-honesty to comprehend it.

    • Hi John,
      Thank you for your comment! I’m glad you liked the post. I haven’t read The Fall but am midway through The Stranger, so that is next on my list.

      Thank you also for the lovely treatment of Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus. Although the continually falling boulder in some ways seems so bleak/testament to the pointlessness of human endeavour, there is yet something hopeful about it. Maybe it is Pandora’s mountain he is rolling boulders up on. 🙂

      That’s a beautiful quote you provided – as well as interpretation of it.

  2. Was it really a tragic outcome or was it an outcome that was made tragic? Lol
    Either way, it’s all absurd. As Nietzsche once said, “when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you…”

    • Hi Lexmat – I love Bertrand Russell… I’m not familiar with that quote, but thank you, it’s beautiful. Funny enough I posted on something like that very recently, in terms of Nietsczhe’s abyss, but his words seemed to caution against looking into the abyss.

  3. We all have a train ticket in our pocket. Choice is nearly infinite in our part of the world and that can be a lot to get our heads around. I strive to remember to trust myself, forgive myself and to never lose touch with my invincible summer.
    … and keep one’s drink topped up!

    As for the abyss of meaninglessness, two ways of coping here:

  4. Other nice similar:
    The freedom to think is the courage to run into your demons.
    (Alain de Botton)
    The best way to get out is always to jump inside.
    (Robert Frost, “A Servant to Servants”)

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