The Myth of Sisyphus
The Absurd Man: Don Juanism
In the second part of the book, Camus tries to continue his discussion on a more practical level. While the first part carried an abstract discussion of the concept of the absurd and the consequences of living with it, this part provides a number of examples of lives that embrace Camus's principles of revolt, freedom, and passion (see An Absurd Reasoning: Absurd Freedom ). Here he gives us the seducer ("Don Juanism"), the actor, and the conqueror, and then he discusses the role of the writer in the subsequent part. Camus is careful to note that though these are examples, they are not necessarily meant to be emulated. He does not want to hold them up as ideals, but wants only to use them to clarify the position he is discussing.
Camus prefaces his analysis of these examples with a few remarks as to what they all hold in common. The absurd man relies only on his courage not to hope for anything more than life has given him and on his reasoning that tells him that all his actions are limited to having consequences in this world, and not in a world beyond.
The absurd man is amoral (which is not to say that he is immoral). Either morality comes from God or it is invented by humans in order to justify certain kinds of behavior. The absurd man cannot believe in God, and he has no need of justification. He is guided only by his own integrity, and integrity does not need to be guided by a moral code. Because he is free from morality, and thus from the concepts of guilt or wrong-doing, Camus describes the absurd man as "innocent."
His first example of the absurd man is the famous seducer, Don Juan. He moves from woman to woman, seducing each one in turn with the same tactics—the same maneuvers—with which he seduced his previous lovers. He never stays with one woman too long before moving on to his next conquest.
Camus dismisses all accusations that Don Juan is desperately seeking true love, or that he is melancholy, or that he is unimaginatively repetitive, or that he is callously selfish, or that he will be a miserable old man. All these accusations seem to assume that Don Juan is ultimately hoping to achieve transcendence, to find something that will take him beyond his day-to-day seductions, and that he is totally incapable of finding that transcendence.
On the contrary, Camus portrays Don Juan as a man who lives for the passions of the present moment. He lives without hope of finding any transcendent significance in his life, and he recognizes the meaninglessness of his seductions. He is not looking for true love; he wants only to experience the continual repetition of his conquests. He is not melancholy; that would suppose that he hopes for something more or that he doesn't know all that he needs to know. He is not unimaginatively repetitive in his seductions; he is interested in quantity, not quality, and so if the same techniques always get him the desired result there is no reason to alter them. He is not callously selfish; he may be selfish in his own way, but he does not seek to possess or control those whom he seduces. He will not suffer the consequences of his actions; he lives in full awareness of who he is and of where he is going. Therefore, old age and impotence can hardly catch him off-guard.
Throughout the first part, we have seen that Camus's discussion can only be called "philosophy" in the loosest sense of that word: he seems to have little interest in arguing for the positions he takes, and is not primarily concerned with whether or not his assertions are true. His interest is in the art of living, and throughout the first part, his investigation is constantly directed not by a search for truth but by a search for a way of life that does not rely on metaphysical speculation. His primary interest is how to live, and it is only natural that he should then turn to a practical discussion of the absurd life, as he does in this section.
The difference between the absurd man and the rest of mankind is not so much a matter of outward actions but of the inward attitude he takes toward his actions. The difference, it seems, between Don Juan and an ordinary seducer, is not so much a difference in behavior as a difference in their attitude toward their behavior. One might lay on a run-of-the-mill seducer all the accusations that Camus defends Don Juan against. The significant difference, it would seem, is that for Don Juan there is nothing beyond the seduction. Don Juan does not seduce women in the hope of finding love or of easing his melancholy: he seduces for the joy of seducing. Don Juan is an absurd man in that he acknowledges that his life is meaningless and that his actions have no significance beyond their consequences in this life.
Camus characterizes the absurd man as essentially innocent, a term he probably uses in contrast to the Christian concept of sin. According to Catholic doctrine, we are all born sinners, stamped with the original sin of Adam and Eve. A Christian lives with a constant awareness of sin and guilt, and works to earn forgiveness and entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The Christian life thus focuses on a cosmic struggle between our inherent evil and our capacity for good. The innocence of the absurd man, however, negates any awareness of sin or guilt. A fear of divine judgment or a sense of a cosmic struggle between good and evil does not overshadow his actions and decisions. There are no internal checks to prevent him from doing what he wants. In this sense, the innocence of the absurd man also entails a kind of integrity. He is able to lead a life that is consistent with his interests and desires. He does not need any kind of moral code beyond "what I like is good and what I dislike is bad."
In the absence of a moral code, there is nothing to stop people from behaving in a criminal or harmful manner, but Camus does not take this to be much of a problem, even though perhaps he should. His focus is on the inward attitude that the absurd man takes toward his actions, and not on what these actions might be. By demonstrating his concept of the absurd man through a series of examples, he avoids facing the question of how an absurd life might realize itself. Could a serial killer live an absurd life? Isn't it possible to kill just as Don Juan seduces, free from moral qualms and guilt? And if this is so, what reservations might this give us about Camus's philosophy of the absurd? Camus seems to think that an absurd man would be no more harmful than an ordinary person, but he never gives any compelling reasons for why this should be the case.
This ideal of living outside any kind of moral code owes a great deal to ##Nietzsche##, who coined the notion of living "beyond good and evil," of living outside of a moral code. Though Camus differs greatly from Nietzsche in terms of his style, his preoccupations, and his ultimate conclusions, the direction of his thought bears Nietzsche's distinct imprint. Camus's concept of the absurd is quite similar to what Nietzsche characterized as "nihilism," and his absurd man is similar in many ways to Nietzsche's concept of the "free spirit."
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