Making Sense of the Absurdity of Life in Camus’s the Myth of Sisyphus

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Transcript The International  JOURNAL of  the ARTS  IN SOCIETY Volume 4, Number 5 Making Sense of the Absurdity of Life in Camus’sthe Myth of Sisyphus Ashkan Shobeiri, Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya and Arbaayah Ali Termizi    THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE ARTS IN SOCIETY First published in 2010 in Champaign, Illinois, USA by Common Ground Publishing LLC © 2010 (individual papers), the author(s) © 2010 (selection and editorial matter) Common Ground  Authors are responsible for the accuracy of citations, quotations, diagrams, tables and maps.  All rights reserved. Apart from fair use for the purposes of study, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright Act (Australia), no part of this work may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher. For permissions and other inquiries, please contact <>. ISSN: 1833-1866 Publisher Site: THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE ARTS IN SOCIETY is peer-reviewed, supported by rigorous processes of criterion-referenced article ranking and qualitative commentary, ensuring that only intellectual work of the greatest substance and highest significance is published. Typeset in Common Ground Markup Language using CGCreator multichannel typesetting system  Making Sense of the Absurdity of Life in Camus’s theMyth of Sisyphus  Ashkan Shobeiri, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, MalaysiaWan Roselezam Wan Yahya, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor,Malaysia Arbaayah Ali Termizi, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Selangor, Malaysia  Abstract: In his philosophical essay The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus delineates the concept of the Absurd in his attempt to provide some explanation on the absurdity of life in postmodern view. Camusderives the truth of absurdity in human life from a gap between an innate human desire for clarity and the irrationality of the world. Camus talks about the emotional and intellectual appearance of The Absurd when death annihilates all one’s desires for immortality. There is a “bad t” between humanandtheworld;whileoneislookingforclarityintheworld,yettheirrationalworldistotallyindifferent to one’s demands. The Absurd arises when there is no compatibility between the human and an irra-tional,unreasonable,andindifferentuniverse.Astheterm‘‘absurd”isalwaysconsideredproblematicand difcult to be discussed and dened, a critical review of Camus’s concept of The Absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus is necessary to give a clearer picture of Camus’s philosophical ideas as well as provide readers with tangible insights of the term. This effort is seen as an attempt to “make sense”of the absurdity of life in connection to one’s existence. Keywords: Absurdity, Albert Camus, The Myth of the Sisyphus Introduction A LBERTCAMUSWAS oneoftheleadingexistentialistthinkerswhowasawardedtheNobelPrizein1957forhavingilluminatedtheproblemsofthehumanconsciencein his own time. He, however, greatly disliked being called an existentialist. Theterm“absurd”wasderivedfromtheexistentialistideaspresentedinsomeofCamus’sliterary works, mostly and unquestionably in his well known essay  The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and is adopted in other works such as Martin Esslin’s  The Theatre of the Absurd  which consists of a body of plays written primarily in France from the mid-1940s throughthe 1950s.CamuswasnottheoriginatorofTheAbsurd.Manywritershadwrittenabouttheabsurdityof human condition; they had either described it directly or derived from their oeuvre. Thevariety of ideas and metaphors that Camus engaged through his own reading of the work of other thinkers such as Pascal, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kafka, and Sartre allowed him to re-spondtohishistoricalmomentinamoreappropriatemanner(Skrimshire,2006:286).Camusin fact demonstrated the signicance of The Absurd for his own moment, as well as providing insights into how the absurd is connected to our own postmodern moment. Hisattitudes toward The Absurd inspired many other absurdist followers; however, the term isnotlimitedtoCamus’sinterpretation.Firstly,letusexaminehowthetermhasbeenunderstood The International Journal of the Arts in SocietyVolume 4, Number 5, 2010,, ISSN 1833-1866 © Common Ground, Ashkan Shobeiri, Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya, Arbaayah Ali Termizi, All RightsReserved, Permissions:  and dened by critics, and then we will turn to Camus’s  The Myth of Sisyphus  and devotethe rest of this study to the analysis of the concept of the absurd in  The Myth of Sisyphus .In the 19 th century, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaardwrote extensivelyon the senseof absurdity. In  Fear and Trembling  , Kierkegaard’s famous literary work, he used the storyof Abraham, the biblical character, to show that through virtue of the absurd Abraham wasable to disobey all reason and ethical duties to reafrm his faith. Kierkegaard dened theterm in an essay in this way:What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must actin a case where my reason, my powers of reection, tell me: you can just as well dothe one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reection say: you cannotact and yet here is where I have to act... The Absurd, or to act by virtue of the absurd,is to act upon faith ... I must act, but reection has closed the road so I take one of the possibilities and say: This is what I do, I cannot do otherwise because I am brought toa standstill by my powers of reection. (Dru, 1938)Jean Paul Sartre (1964) also recognised the absurdity of individual experience. Absurd, ac-cording to Sartre, is front row seat to the images of what we are. It actually is nausea whenRoquentine,a writerin Sartre’s famous novel  Nausea , reects,“Everyexistingthing is bornfor no reason, carries on living through weakness, and dies by accident” (  Nausea , 182). Najuib Mahfouz, an Egyptian Nobel Prize winner in literature, dealt with the search for values in an irrational world, the lack of communication, the loss of individuality, and the problems as isolation and alienation in his novels. Mahfouz’s protagonists are in search of the meaningful values in their lives. In  Adrift on the Nile  (1994), for example, Samara, a journalist, decided to write a drama about the absurdity of the people’s lives that she visitedon the house boat (Al-sarayreh, 1998: 52). Samara wrote:Absurdityisthelossofmeaning,themeaningofanything.Thecollapseofbelief-belief.It is a passage through life propelled by necessity alone, without conviction withoutrealhope.Thisisreectedinthecharacterintheformofdissipationandnihilism….AllValues perish, and civilization comes to an end. (qtd. in Al-sarayreh, 1998: 92)It is fair also to mention 20 th century Czechoslovakian novelist Milan Kundera, who con-sidered the absurdity of life as a touchstone to the absurd experience which manifested itself in his country at that time in history (3). Kundera posits in  The Joke :The errors were so common and universal that they didn’t represent exceptions or faultin order of things; on the contrary, they constituted that order. What is it, then, that wasmistaken? History itself? History the divine, the rational? But why call them historieserrors? They seem so to my human reason, but if history really has its own reason, whyshould that reason care about human understanding, and why should it be as serious asa schoolmarm? What if history plays jokes? And then I realised how powerless I wasto revoke my own joke when throughout my life as a whole I was involved in a jokemuch more vast (all-embracing for me) and utterly irrevocable. (2002:66)Martin Esslin, a famous Hungarian critic, in his book   The Theatre of the Absurd   commenceshis discussion with the denition of the absurd with its dictionary meaning which is “‘out2THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF THE ARTS IN SOCIETY  of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical’” (1968:5). Healso continues with the common usage of the absurd which may mean ridiculous, but heimmediately points out that this is not what Camus discussed and meant. In order to give usa short and concise denition of the term Esslin posits:InanessayonKafka,Ionescodenedhisunderstandingofthetermasfollowed:‘Absurdis that which is devoid of purpose… Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, andtranscendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.(1968: 5)Beckett’s, Ionesco’s, Genet’s, and Adamov’s plays were coined The Theatre of the Absurd by Esslin. Esslin called them Absurd based on Camus’s concept of the absurd; however, he believed that these dramatists better captured the absurdity of existence in their plays thanin literary works by Camus. These plays abandoned the traditional elements of literature ingeneralandtheatreinparticularassetting,plot,andcharacterdevelopmentinordertoconveya sense of absurdity and illogicality in both form and content. These playwrights renouncedarguing about the absurdity of human condition; they merely presented the absurdity of theworld relaying that communication is difcult and individuality is lost. Aim and Methodology The aims of the study are twofold: (1) to attempt to clarify the concept of Absurd based onAlbert Camus’s  The Myth of Sisyphus , and (2) to use the viewpoints of critics and scholarsto give a clearer picture of Camus’s concept of The Absurd as well as provide readers withtangible insights of the term. The study involves close and careful reading of Camus’smanifest of the absurd in  The Myth of Sisyphus . The text is analysed using philosophicalstudy of the absurd while utilizing the perceptions of some critics and commentators to givemore insight into the meaning of the absurd and to “make sense” of the absurdity of life inconnection to one’s existence.Camus’s philosophical essay  The Myth of Sisyphus  consists of four main chapters whichare entitled: “An Absurd Reasoning,” “The Absurd Man,” “Absurd Creation,” and “TheMyth of Sisyphus.” Some of these chapters are turned into subtitles to support our argumentin this essay. Analysis and Discussion  An Absurd Reasoning  The opening lines of the book from “An Absurd Reasoning” begin with a consideration of the serious question about whether life is worth living.There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judgingwhether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental questionof philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. ( The Myth , 11)3ASHKAN SHOBEIRI, WAN ROSELEZAM WAN YAHYA, ARBAAYAH ALI TERMIZI
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