From “Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt”, by John Foley

“[A]ccording to Camus, if the absurd is not to degenerate into moral nihilism it must rehabilitate itself in the light of revolt, and that if revolt is not to deteriorate into a regime of tyranny and oppression, it must remain conscious of its origins in the absurd premise.

[…]

In Hazel Barnes’s translation of Being and Nothingness, the Sartrean absurd is defined as “That which is meaningless. Thus man’s existence is absurd because his contingency finds no external justification” (Sartre 1956: 628). In marked contrast, for Kierkegaard, the absurd refers to that quality of Christian faith that runs counter to all mundane human experience or, in Kierkegaard’s terms, “The absurd, precisely by reason of its objective repulsion, is the dynamometer of the inwardness of faith” (Lowrie 1938: 336; cf. Kierkegaard 1941: 189).

[…]

Reviewing Sartre’s Nausea in 1938, […] Camus criticizes the author for “thinking that life is tragic because it is wretched”, and argues that “the realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end in itself but only a beginning”. “It is not the discovery which is interesting,” argues Camus, “but the consequences and rules for actions which can be drawn from it.”

[…]

Camus claims that the absurd arises out of the “confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (MS: 32; E: 117–18). Human beings are naturally inclined to want and expect the world to be intelligible “in the full and familiar ways that religious and philosophical systems have portrayed it”. This kind of intelligibility purports to be comprehensive, to explain the world as a whole, and crucially, it purports to explain the world “in terms that human beings care about”, in ways that make sense “with respect to human values”. In Camus’s view, neither human existence nor the world are themselves absurd. Instead the absurd arises because the world is resistant to this kind of intelligibility: “we want the world to make sense, but it does not make sense. To see this conflict is to see the absurd” (Kamber 2002: 52). “If there is an absurd,” Camus says at one point, “it is in man’s universe” (MS: 38; E: 124). What normally brings the individual into confrontation with his absurd condition, suggests Camus, is the awareness not of human mortality per se, but of his own personal mortality. In the case of Camus himself, this awareness came with his f irst attack of tuberculosis, in 1930 or 1931, at the age of seventeen. For someone whose juvenile writing displayed a profound bond with the natural world, the sudden visceral awareness of his own mortality, the imperviousness of nature to the private traumas of humankind, the feeling of dying slowly from the inside, the painfully asphyxiating experience of the pneumothorax treatments that denied him even the pantheistic prayer of uninhibited respiration, left clear fissures in the latent pantheism of his earliest, mainly lyrical, writing.3 However, this is not to say that the absurd is born of an irrational response to the realization of human mortality. While feelings of the absurd may thus be awoken, awareness of the absurd, Camus insists, is specifically a rational, intellectual discovery, deduced from the recognition of the division between our expectations of the world and the world itself, unresponsive to those expectations (MS: 26; E: 112).

[…]

It is Camus’s contention that ordinary human existence tends to take this level of perfect coherence for granted, but that occasionally, or perhaps inevitably, “the stage-sets collapse”, and one is wrenched from one’s ontological complacency and forced to confront the radical incoherence perceived to be at the heart of the relation between the self and the world, that sense of absurdity which a recent critic has characterized as “the feeling of radical divorce, of living in a once familiar but now suddenly radically alien homeland, of being adrift between past and future and unable to rely on either to give meaning to the present, of being a stranger to the world and to oneself” (Carroll 2007b: 56–7).

[…]

He asserts repeatedly that it is the implications of the absurd that interest him: “I was looking for a method and not a doctrine. I was practicing methodical doubt.” The absurd, then, as conceived by Camus is fundamentally an epistemological claim addressing an ontological need; that is, a claim regarding the knowledge we can have of the world.

[…]

For Camus the absurd describes “a tension, born of a discrepancy between external reality and the human desire for familiarity”, but this does not discount such things as the existence of beauty, friendship, health, satisfying work and creativity.”

From “Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt”, by John Foley

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