Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt

Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt

Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt

Albert Camus: From the Absurd to Revolt

Synopsis

Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, encompassing philosophy, literature, politics and history, John Foley examines the full breadth of Camus' ideas to provide a comprehensive and rigorous study of his political and philosophical thought and a significant contribution to a range of debates current in Camus research. Foley argues that the coherence of Camus' thought can best be understood through a thorough understanding of the concepts of 'the absurd' and 'revolt' as well as the relation between them. This book includes a detailed discussion of Camus' writings for the newspaper "Combat", a systematic analysis of Camus' discussion of the moral legitimacy of political violence and terrorism, a reassessment of the prevailing postcolonial critique of Camus' humanism, and a sustained analysis of Camus' most important and frequently neglected work, "L'Homme revolte" (The Rebel).

Excerpt

It is essential for us to know whether man, without the help of the eternal or of ration
alistic thought, can unaided create his own values … the uneasiness that concerns
us belongs to a whole epoch from which we do not want to dissociate ourselves….
We know that everything is not summed up in negation and absurdity. But we must
first posit negation and absurdity because they are what our generation has encoun
tered and what we must take into account.

(Albert Camus, “Le Pessimisme et le Courage”, Combat 3 November 1944)

Despite his popular image, strictly speaking Camus was not an existentialist. His first major philosophical essay, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), was explicitly intended as a critique of existentialism, especially the Christian existentialist tradition of Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Chestov. According to Camus, starting from the premise that nothing in the world has meaning or depth, existentialists proceed, through a leap of irrational faith, to find meaning and depth in it. He thus criticizes representatives of the philosophical movement with which he is most closely associated for “deify[ing] what crushes them and find[ing] reason to hope in what impoverishes them” (MS: 35; E: 112). Moreover, although in France in the 1940s and 1950s to be an existentialist was, most probably, to be a follower or admirer of Sartre’s atheistic existentialism, we find in this period both Sartre and Camus repeatedly insisting that Camus was definitively neither an existentialist nor a Sartrean. Indeed, in 1939, reviewing Sartre’s short story collection The Wall, Camus can be seen to object to Sartre’s depiction of human freedom as both total and futile. For Camus, as David Sprintzenced to self-contemplation”, is conscious of “his profound indifference to everything that is not himself”, is “alone, enclosed in this freedom”. This solipsism is symptomatic of the discovery of the absurd but, says Camus in a review of Sartre’s Nausea in 1938, “the realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end, but only a beginning. This is a truth that nearly all great minds have taken as their starting point. It is not this discovery that is interesting, but the consequences and rules for action that can be drawn from it.”

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