The experience of suffering is central to the life and work of a moralist. Certainly, this conviction is voiced in the visceral opening of Camus’ early essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’:
“Judging whether or not life is worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 of Breton and Spanish parentage. He was brought up in North Africa and had many jobs there (one of them playing goal for the Algiers football team) before he came to Metropolitan France and took up journalism. He was active in the Resistance during the German occupation and became editor of the paper,Combat. Before the war he had written a play, Caligula (1939), and during the war the two books which brought him fame, L’Etranger (The Outsider) and Le Mythe de Sisyphe.
Abandoning politics and journalism he devoted himself to writing and established an international reputation with such books as La Peste (The Plague) (1947}; Les ]ustes (1949), and La Chute (The Fall) (1956).
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. In January 1960 he was killed in a road accident.
“There is just one truly important philosophical question: suicide. To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy. Everything else … is child’s play; we must first of all answer the question.”
In his profound and moving philosophical statement, Camus poses the fundamental question: is life worth living? If human existence holds no significance, what can keep us from suicide? As Camus argues, if there is no God to give meaning to our lives, humans must take on that purpose themselves. This is our ‘absurd’ task, like Sisyphus forever rolling his rock up a hill, as the inevitability of death constantly overshadows us.
Written during the bleakest days of the Second World War, The Myth of Sisyphus (Le Mythe de Sisyphe) argues for an acceptance of reality that encompasses revolt, passion and, above all, liberty.
Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus is remembered as one of the few writers to have shaped the intellectual climate of post-war France, but beyond that, his fame has been international.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Albert Camus declared that a writer’s duty is twofold:
“the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance against oppression.”
Though we do not face the same dangers that threatened Europe when Camus wrote The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger, we confront other alarms. Herein lies Camus’ abiding significance. Reading his work, we become more thoughtful observers of our own lives. For Camus, rebellion is an eternal human condition, a timeless struggle against injustice that makes life worth living. But rebellion is also bounded by self-imposed constraints –it is a noble if impossible ideal. Such a contradiction suggests that if there is no reason for hope, there is also no occasion for despair–a sentiment perhaps better suited for the ancient tragedians than modern political theorists but one whose wisdom abides. Yet we must not venerate suffering, Camus cautions: the world’s beauty demands our attention no less than life’s train of injustices. That recognition permits him to declare:
“It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.”
Quoting Albert Camus
“It was previously a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear on the contrary that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning”
At times I feel myself overtaken by an immense tenderness for these people around me who live in the same century.
“How unbearable, for women, is the tenderness which a man can give them without love. For men, how bittersweet this is.”
“I’ve been thinking it over for years. While we― Albert Camus, The Plague
loved each other we didn’t need words to make ourselves understood. But people don’t
love forever. A time came when I should have found the words to keep her with me, only
I couldn’t.” – Grant”
“What we call basic truths are simply the ones we discovered after all the others.”
“There, too, in that Home where lives were flickering out, the dusk came as a mournful solace. With death so near, Mother must have felt like someone on the brink of freedom, ready to start life all over again.”
“My soul’s a burden to me, I’ve had enough of it. I’m eager to be in that country, where the sun kills every question. I don’t belong here.”
It is not humiliating to be unhappy. Physical suffering is sometimes humiliating, but the suffering of being cannot be, it is life.
Whether seen from Tipasa or Paris, Camus remains the man whose life stands as witness to a kind of desperate heroism. His fierce condemnation of republican France’s treatment of Arabs and Berbers, his whipsaw denunciation of Vichy France’s anti-Semitic legislation, his lifelong opposition to the death penalty, his courageous effort to negotiate a civilian truce in war-torn Algeria all reflect the acts of a man who sought to mesh his life with his thoughts.
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