The Myth of Sisyphus

by: Albert Camus

Absurd Creation: Philosophy and Fiction

Summary Absurd Creation: Philosophy and Fiction

The visual arts and music affect us on an experiential level, so it is not difficult for them to achieve the absurd ideal of describing without explaining. Language, however, is primed and suited to explain, and Camus wonders how absurd fiction might be possible. Like a philosopher, a good writer creates an entire world that he also inhabits. However, he communicates by means of images rather than reason because he prefers lucid exposition to any attempt to explain matters. In order to remain true, however, the absurd writer must always remain aware of the futility of his work: it will never bring clarity or transcendence to him or to others.

Analysis

A person leading an ordinary life, unaware of the absurd, is driven by hopes and ambitions. There is a sense that there are things in life that are 'worth doing.' Camus often clumsily associates the commonly accepted idea that there are things in life worth doing with the idea that life must be meaningful. This association is a bit suspect, but the initial assertion, that most people assume life is worth living, is sound. The absurd man, by contrast, lives with the awareness that nothing he does really matters.

The absurd man essentially lives free of illusions. He can see that all our deeds, passions, and thoughts are ultimately insignificant. At the same time, he has no other option but to continue living. He can see other people unconsciously playing out their roles and he chooses to play along. Because he is aware of the absurdity of existence, he is aware that he is acting out a role, while the ordinary man remains blissfully unaware.

Camus would most likely approve of Shakespeare's line that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Camus would distinguish the absurd man from the ordinary man by saying that the absurd man is aware that he is merely an actor, while the ordinary man is deceived into thinking that he is something more.

Ever since (and even before) Aristotle, the idea that art imitates life has been in common usage. The Greeks used the word mimesis to describe the kind of imitation art plays on life, which is the source of the English word "mime." Camus almost certainly has the Greek concept in mind when he speaks about the absurd man as living out a mime, and about the creative act being the greatest mime of all.

Art is mimetic because it imitates real life. Camus is suggesting that life is also mimetic, that we are ultimately just actors on a stage, unconsciously playing out our roles. But what is the "real life" that this life imitates? Camus suggests that we live under the illusion that life has a meaning and that the human soul is eternal. We play out our roles, imitating a life that does indeed have meaning. The absurd man behaves similarly, but remains aware that he is only pretending. It seems then, that the heightened awareness of the absurd man gets him no further than an awareness that his life is just an act.

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