Albert Camus opens The Myth Of Sisyphus stating: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” The question is: how does one come to the realization that life is not worth living?

To answer this question Camus goes back to the moment of the realization of truth, the discovery of the sun (in the allegory of the cave). Let’s go back with him: it is human nature to wonder about one’s surroundings. Why is the sky blue? What is lightning? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? It is the relationship man builds with the world, which he calls desire for unity. But the world is not reigned by reason. As Kant pointed out in Transcendental Aesthetic, numbers are a human invention, they don’t exist in nature, and geometrical figures are only real in an abstract plane. Science is but an a priori, a way to try to cope and make sense of the world but these answers are still unreal since it is all a fabrication of men. Moreover, more abstract, existential questions seem unsolvable as there is no right answer and there never will be. Kant points out that even if we manage to prove the existence of God through mathematics and quantum physics, this proof is nothing but forgery for the tools to measure the events are inventions of civilization. The human mind, looking for rationality will be confronted by the irrationality of the world.

Camus points out that at some point every man (and woman) will come to this realization. In our desire for unity, we will all realize the vicious cycle in which our curiosity has led us. At this moment, one feels a complete divorce between oneself and the universe, like one has been living a lie and feels like a stranger to one’s own life. At this exact moment, one is confronted with the Absurd. “The absurd is ludic reason noting its limits,” it is the prime relationship of men with the world. Without the presence of men, the absurd doesn’t exist.

One feels a constant nostalgia for unity, a longing for something one never had and knows it to be impossible. One’s reaction might be that of suicide, either physical or philosophical. Both are condemned by Camus. One can find hope in religion, in faith. He can choose to be given answers and live in constant denial, committing philosophical suicide. This leap will doom one to constant frustration. Another way to escape would be by killing oneself, through physical suicide. To decide that life isn’t worth living for there is no meaning in it.

The Algerian philosopher argues that there is another way of looking at it: life is better with no meaning, with nothing to determine its course. One develops an indifference to the future and desires to utilize the freedom that one has discovered. “If the absurd cancels all my chances of eternal freedom, it restores and magnifies, on the other hand, my freedom of action,” wrote Camus. The absurd takes one to the realization of the non-existence of determinism; one is free to make any choices in life and to live in the present.

To live authentically is to accept the absurdity of existence. One must acknowledge the absurd and live accordingly, not thinking of life as something transcendent or looking for a meaning in its mundanity. This acceptance is called Lucidity. In The Myth of Sisyphus, the Greek hero is condemned to an eternal penitence: to roll a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down and repeat the task to the infinite. Albert Camus states that, in the way down the hill, walking towards the rock, Sisyphus is conscious of his fate and of the absurdity of his situation. He embraces it in lucidity and rejoices in his total freedom of deciding to attribute appreciation to his task: “If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? […] Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his decent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory.”

When one desires unity, for answers to the world that surrounds humanity, one is faced with the irrationality of this world. It is in the confrontation with the absurd that one finds the freedom of one’s being-in-the-world. To take this freedom and live in it authentically, one renounces the quest of knowledge and embraces the present as it is one’s only certainty. This constant acceptance of the absurd is what is called lucidity.

 

Julia Anquier’s “The Best Adaptation Never Made” won first prize in the Third Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Julia is a Directing major in her junior year. She was born in Paris, and in 2011 she received her Baccalauréat (Serie L) with Mention Tres Bein in Brazil. Julia has written and directed a number of short films and documentaries, while working for Studio 65 in New York City as a member of their Film Research Department. Prior to working for Studio 65, Julia spent time with Flint Productions in London as a Production Assistant and Assistant Editor. Most recently, Julia worked as the Assistant Casting Director for the Stephen Daldry film, Trash, and she was eventually promoted to Assistant Director Trainee.