The Myth of Sisyphus


The Absurd Man: Conquest

Summary The Absurd Man: Conquest

Not coincidentally, Camus says the importance of the rebel's struggle is not that he overcomes others but that he overcomes himself. Ultimately, victory is as futile to the conqueror as posthumous fame is to the actor. For both, the only kind of achievement that would matter to them would be some sort of transcendental achievement, something that would give their life and their work some kind of meaning according to some set standard. However, both recognize the absurdity of their position, and recognize that there is no meaning or transcendence to be found in this life. Any lesser success will make no difference in the grand scheme of things. The rebel with an absurd awareness knows that a victory against his oppressors will not give life meaning, and so the success or failure of his struggle is ultimately unimportant beyond the present. Nonetheless, the struggle itself focuses his energies in such a way that he becomes more creative and more engaged with the world around him. Though his struggle may not overcome the political forces he opposes, it will teach him to overcome himself, so to speak, and to face the absurdity and the intensity of life head on.

While Camus's own life can be read into the examples of seducer and actor, his discussion of the conqueror is markedly autobiographical. He wrote The Myth of Sisyphus while working for the French Resistance during the Second World War. We see in his discussion of the conqueror the portrait of a man who does not so much choose to engage in political struggle as one who has the struggle thrown upon him. There is no sense of moral outrage at his oppressors, just a sense that their oppression has made rebellion the only satisfactory mode of life. Under the Nazi occupation, which severely limited the freedoms of the French people—freedom of expression in particular—resistance became the only possible outlet for self-expression and self-realization.

In closing, let us quickly link the conqueror with Camus's three characteristics of the absurd man: revolt, freedom, and passion. The conqueror is in a state of revolt in a very obvious and literal sense. But not only does he object to the political forces he struggles against; he also revolts against the fact (which he cannot deny) that his struggle will make no difference in the grand scheme of things. His freedom is linked on a very literal level to his political struggle. In rebelling, he is refusing to accept the laws and orders imposed on him by others, and fights for his freedom to act and think as he chooses. As Camus remarks, the absurd man's struggle focuses his energies on the present moment, on himself, and on the people around him. This sense of immediacy is precisely what Camus means when he talks about passion.

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