Book Notes – The Myth Of Sisyphus

Thank god it’s over.

Long time ago I pledged not to put down a book I started reading. I tend to read at least couple of books in parallel, and if not being disciplined, I can easily focus on one and drop the other. I might then start yet another one, and forget about the other two.

“The Myth Of Sisyphus” almost got me to break this rule, though I haven’t. It wasn’t my “avoids putting a book down” principle that kept me going, but the book’s underling idea – the absurd life, the poignant quotes it is packed with, and the wealth of references it makes to other writers and books. Timing contributed as well, as this book came in a relevant time in life.

And so, I wanted to read what Camus had to say, but his writing style is annoying, verbose, and too abstract. Too often Camus will go in circles, to a point where I lost his line of thought. His writing style, and the way he structures his sentences are awful, making me read the same paragraphs over and over again, trying to comprehend what in havens he meant to say.

As eager I was to wrap my head around absurdism, I wouldn’t have made it without the excellent help of sparknotes. (I did skip the adjoining essays. It was too much…)

The central concern of The Myth of Sisyphus is what Camus calls “the absurd.” Camus claims that there is a fundamental conflict between what we want from the universe (whether it be meaning, order, or reasons) and what we find in the universe (formless chaos). We will never find in life itself the meaning that we want to find. Either we will discover that meaning through a leap of faith, by placing our hopes in a God beyond this world, or we will conclude that life is meaningless. (source: sparknotes)

But put writing style aside, the absurd is a thought provoking idea, and I can see why it was so influential. It raises a lot of questions, leading me to think about life in ways I never did before. However, while doing so, it doesn’t provide satisfying, practical answers. And so, the book delineates the philosophy it manifests, in that it helped me asking questions and seeing things as they are, while leading me towards no particular destination. And so, finishing reading it, I feel I was left at a dead-end.

Takeaways

  • If there is no eternal life, and if we don’t know what’s the meaning of life, nor will we ever know, why keep living?
  • God, as well as hope are ways around the previous question. Both don’t give answer, but stir us from the meaningless habit of living.
  • Suicide is the other extreme. If one have freedom of choice, why would she keep doing the same thing over and over again, knowing what he is doing is futile and has no point, meaning or legacy. Stop doing this repetitive thing (i.e. keep leaving the repetitive, meaningless, life) is a sound option. But it means caving to the absurd, just like believing in god and developing hope.
  • If not God, Hope or suicide, how can one keep living knowing that nothing one does adds to something?
  • Camus’s answer is to revolt, or, well, keep living live life with passion and to the fullest. While the previous point make sense, this one is less so, simply because I don’t see clearly how it translates to real life, and how my day-to-day decisions would be affected by it.
  • So, while the absurd makes a lot of sense, and make me realize that I’m not the only one who’s seeing the absurdity in life, it doesn’t get me much further. And so, I’m going to acknowledge the absurd and keep living my life, probably hoping and dreaming on “some day…”.

Favorite quotes

“Beginning to think is beginning to undermined.” (p.4)

“In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it.”(p.5)

“Living, naturally, in never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit.”(p.5)

“A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.”(p.6)

“We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking.” (p.8)

“Hitherto, … , people have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living.” (p.8)

“One kills oneself because life is not worth living, that is certainly a truth – yet an unfruitful one, because it is a truism. But does that insult to existence, that flat denial in which it is plunged come from the fact that it has no meaning? Does its absurdity require one to escape it through hope or suicide – this is what must be clarified, hunted down, and elucidated” (p.9)

“…during every day of an unillustrious life, time carries us. But a moment always comes when we have to carry it. We live on the future: ‘tomorrow,’ ‘later on’, ‘when you have made your way’, ‘you will understand when you are old enough’. Such irrelevancies are wonderful, for , after all, it’s a mater of dying. Yet a day comes when a man notices or says that he is thirty. Thus he asserts his youth. But simultaneously he situates himself in relation to time. … He admits that he stands at a certain point on a curve that he acknowledges having to travel to its end.”(p.13)

“Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all contemplating it. Unlike Eurydice, the absurd dies only when we turn away from it. One of the only coherent philosophical position is thus revolt.” (p.54)

“It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will.”(p.55)

“… either we are not free and God the all-powerful is responsible for evil. Or we are free and responsible but God is not all-powerful.”(p.56)

“Before encountering the absurd, the everyday man lives with aims,… He weighs his chances, he counts on ‘someday’…”(p.57)

“One becomes so accustomed so quickly. A man wants to earn money in order to be happy, and his whole effort and the best of a life are devoted to the earning of that money. Happiness is forgotten; the means are taken for the end.”(p.103)

“If God exists, all depends on him and we can do nothing against his will. If he does not exist everything depends on us.”(p.108)

Follow up books

Other links

Footnotes:

1

I read it few years ago, but now I’m interested in reading it under the prism of absurdity