Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

The Myth of Sisyphus (London: Penguin, 1975 [1942; tr. Justin O'Brien 1955]) by Albert Camus

p. 1 There is but on truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.

6 Does the Absurd dictate death? This problem must be given priority over others, outside all methods of thought and all exercises of the disinterested mind.

12 At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman….

14 I am interested… not so much in absurd discoveries as in their consequences.

15 The mind's first step is to distinguish what is true from what is false.

[FALSE: Cf. St. Thomas on the mind first recognizing reality (res), and as a unity, then this or that being (aliquid), and finally judging truth or falsity in light of the foregoing. St. Thomas notes in De Ver, i, 1, resp. "that which the intellect first conceives as, in a way, the most evident, and to which it reduces all its concepts, is being. [Illud autem quod primo intellectus concipit quasi notissimum, et in quod conceptiones omnes resolvit, est ens….]" Adrian Reimers, on page 97 of his The Soul of the Person, expands on this by saying, "To understand is to grasp the essence of a being, and this is the first act of the intellect. The second act is 'composition and division,' that is, in predicating something of a subject." Further, Étienne Gilson, on page 64 of his God and Philosophy, offers this:

…such is the natural order followed by our rational knowledge: we first conceive certain beings, then we define their essences, and last we affirm their existences by means of a judgment. But the metaphysical order of reality is just the reverse of the order of human knowledge: what first comes into it is a certain act of existing which, because it is this particular act of existing, circumscribes at once a certain essence and causes a certain substance to come into being. … In Saint Thomas' own words: dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae––"to be" is the very act whereby an essence is.
–– Cf. Qu. disp. de Pot., qu. VII, art. 2, ad 9.]

18–19 But you [a scientist] tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. … So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot for all that apprehend the world. … And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach me but are not sure.

20 But what is absurd is the confrontation of the irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. … From the moment absurdity is recognized, it becomes a passion, the most harrowing of all.

24 [Kierkegaard as a Don Juan of the understanding, full of pseudonyms and contradictions]

25 Husserl and the phenomenologists… reinstate the world in its diversity and deny the transcendent power of the reason. … it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment.

28–29 …absurdity springs from a comparison. … The absurd is essentially a divorce. … I can say therefore that the Absurd is not in man… nor in the world, but in their presence together. … For me the sole datum is the absurd.

30 …a man is always a prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself from them.

32 "The only true solution… is precisely where the human judgement sees no solution. Otherwise, what need would we have of God? We turn towards God only to obtain the impossible. As for the possible, men suffice." If there is a Chestovian philosophy, I can say that it is altogether summed up in this way.

34 To an absurd mind reason is useless and there is nothing beyond reason.

36 Christianity is the scandal, and what Kierkegaard calls for quite plainly is the third sacrifice required by Ignatius Loyola, the one in which God most rejoices: 'The sacrifice of the intellect.'

37 The important thing, as Abbé Galiani said to Mme d'Epinay, is not to be cured, but to live with one's ailments.

38 Reconciliation through scandal is still reconciliation. … I want to know whether I can live with what I know and with that alone. I am told again that here the intelligence must sacrifice its pride and the reason bow down. But if I recognize the limits of reason, I do not therefore negate it, recognizing its relative powers.

39 …sin is what alienates from God. The absurd, which is the metaphysical state of the conscious man, does not lead to God. …the absurd is sin without God.

40 For the existential[ist]s negation is their God. To be precise, that god is maintained only through the negation of human reason.

41 …phenomenology declines to explain the world, it wants to be merely a description of actual experience. It confirms absurd thought in its initial assertion tat there is not truth, but merely [phenomenally concrete] truths.

44–45 …after having denied the integrating power of human reason, he [Husserl] leaps by this expedient to eternal Reason [i.e., in the innumerable panoply of Platonic phenomenal essences].

47 The irrational, as it is conceived by the existentialists, is reason becoming confused and escaping by negating itself. The absurd is lucid reason noting its limits.

48 My reasoning wants to be faithful to the evidence that aroused it. That evidence is the absurd. It is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together. Kierkegaard suppresses my nostalgia and Husserl gathers together that universe. That is not what I was expecting. It was a matter of living and thinking with those dislocations, of knowing whether one had to accept or refuse.

51–53 At a certain point on his path the absurd man is tempted. … He is asked to leap. All he can reply is that he doesn't fully understand, that it is not obvious. Indeed, he does not want to do anything but what he fully understands. … 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. … Living is keeping the absurd alive. … One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. … That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it. … In its way, suicide settles the absurd. It engulfs the absurd in the same death. But I know that in oder to keep alive, the absurd cannot be settled. … I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life and yet I must carry it alone.

54 The only conception of freedom I can have is that of the prisoner or the individual in the midst of the State.

57 …completely turned towards death (taken here as the most obvious absurdity), the absurd man feels released from everything outside that passionate attention crystallizing in him. He enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules. … In the same way… the slaves of antiquity did not belong to themselves. But they knew that freedom which consists in not feeling responsible.* Death, too, has patrician hands which, while crushing, also liberate. [* … The absurd man is the contrary of the reconciled man.]

58 …refusal to hope…. Indifference to the future and a desire to give up everything that is given. … Knowing whether or not one can live without appeal is all that interests me.

61 The present and the succession of presents before a constantly conscious soul is the ideal of the absurd man.

64 What, in fact, is the absurd man? He who, without negating it, does nothing for the eternal.

65 Everything is permitted does not mean that nothing is forbidden. The absurd merely confers an equivalence on the consequences o those actions. It does not recommend crime, for this would be childish, but it restores to remorse its futility.

67 In the absurd world the value of a notion or of a life is measured by its sterility [i.e., for generating hope and futurity]. … [Don Juan always looking for total love in each woman, not finding it, and thus seeking just as ardently and puppyish in the next woman.]

70 Not to believe in the profound meanings of things belongs to the absurd man. … 'Collecting' amounts to being capable of living off one's past. But he rejects regret, that other form of hope.

71 One must be Werther or nothing.

76 Never has the absurd been so well illustrated or at such length [as in drama and acting].

83 [Thus spake the Conqueror:] 'Knowing that there are no victorious causes, I have a liking for lost causes…. [84] Between history and the eternal I have chosen history because I like certainties. Of it at least I am certain, and how can I deny this force crushing me? … [85] Even humiliated, the flesh is my only certainty. I can live only on it. … A revolution is always accomplished against the gods, beginning with the revolution of Prometheus, the first of modern conquerors.'

89 If the term 'wise man' can be applied to the man who lives on what he has without speculating on what he has not, then they [consistently absurd men] are the wise men. …a conqueror but in the realm of the mind, a Don Juan of knowledge, an actor but of the intelligence, knows this better than anyone…

90 …the absurd joy par excellence is creation. 'Art and nothing but art,' said Nietzsche; 'we have art in order not to die of the truth.'

91 For the absurd man it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing. Everything begins with lucid indifference.

96 If any art is devoid of lessons, it is certainly music. It is too closely related to mathematics not to have borrowed their [sic] gratuitousness.

109 It is possible to be Christian and absurd. There are examples of Christians who do not believe in a future life. [??]

"…we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen." (The Nicene Creed)

110 [Moby Dick as a truly absurd work]

114 A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world.

117 It is during that return [down the hill], that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. … when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks towards the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

122 [Kafka's Metamorphosis embodies] an ethic of lucidity.

125 [Kafka's The Trial] a complete success. Flesh wins out.

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