If the ideas that have been written in this book i.e. the meaningless state of existence, its absurdity in the light of atheism and the point of it all have not been raised independently by the reader, then the reader is likely to get caught in a dangerous maze.
The essay is beautifully written, the ideas are wonderfully interwoven and there is a sense that Camus is facing those important questions dead in the face. But aside from all that the greatest thing about Camus' essay is his directness. Every sentence in this book has some depth in it, there is not one superficial idea. The quotations leave the reader deep in thought and stay carved in the mind.
But as I mentioned and perhaps because of these reasons the book is dangerous. From the point of view of Camus, a man that looks at the world logically, he cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is absurd. Hence despair reigns, and then there is the necessary existential choice that the individual is faced with.
To me these questions are far more important than any others. When man knows that at the end of this great struggle he is faced with the nothingness, he wonders what is the point of it all. But is there? Camus answers positively that there is a point in living. By keeping the struggle alive and being absorbed in the finite condition that existence brings forth, in the mutation of consciousness an alternative set of values is introduced and everything is seen in a new light.
I know that many of the ideas here have already been covered by other thinkers in the past. Camus admits this and further mentions them in their struggle and ethics.
Camus has done a wonderful job, and this is a great introduction to his other novels, which illuminate the absurd and mans struggle.
What is daunting about the book is that Camus seems to be a little uneasy about where to start describing his philosophy of the absurd. The style of writing is swift, energetic, and lyrical, but frustratingly inprecise and vague (a little like Grand in the Plague who can't seem to find the right words). Camus creates in the book his own unique vocabulary that takes some getting used to, and often the book sounds repetitive. Words like lucid, nostalgia, fecund, and ephemeral are repeated ad nauseum. The upshot is, if one bothers to read the whole work, these words do begin to take on new meanings.
The best bits of the book are those in which Camus can find definite examples that illustrate or describe his point. When, for instance, he describes what it feels like to be overwhelmed by a feeling of absurdity, what it feels like to long for "oneness" (nostalgia), and what its like to return from abstraction to distraction. These are things that almost every human being encounters at least once in their life, and Camus never touches so close to his reader as when he faces, with great intellectual courage, these all-too-human feelings.
His examples of absurd heroes also make for great reading and much food-for-thought. The weakest is probably his essay on "Don Juan," which at times sounds a bit too much like a notorious womanizer justifying himself in his philosophy. Still, after revisiting the story of Don Juan, one is forced to reflect on Camus's message -- maybe this absurd hero, who defied God and loved in such quantity really IS something noble. Better, however, is his essay on Dostoyevsky's Kirilov and his philosophical suicide. Kirilov's absurd logic, which makes him God in an illogical circumstance where God does not exist, is a definitive piece of absurd thought.
The essay "Myth of Sisyphus" is a reiteration of the books themes in a more literary format, and since Sisyphus is the quintessential man-in-revolt, it makes a perfect capstone for the book. The appendix on Kafka (presumably left out in the original book, published in occupied France, because the author was Jewish) has given me a new perspective on his work. Camus points out, perfectly, the natural reaction of humanity to absurdity that defines Kafka's work, and in fact man's current condition. The idea of the Castle as a response to the Trial had never occured to me, and I enjoyed Camus, an athiest, delving into the religious points in Kafka's novels.
The other essays are a mixed bag. Some from "Summer" (L'Ete) which is collected in its enitirety in the volume "Lyrical and Critical Essays." A few other stray pieces and a questionaire are included. "The Minotaur" -- the longest of the additional pieces -- is a torturously long lyrical adventure through Oran that is a necessary evil to be visited before reading The Plague. One essay, recounting a 1953 visit back to Algeria, is moving in its emotional intensity, but the thought of Camus's mammoth failure during the Algerian crisis is unfortunately close to mind. The questionaire is brief and reveals a lot about Camus's temprement -- his mistrust of ideologies in particular. It is notable for some appreciated comments about the "true left" not being removed from its passionate humanism. These assorted pieces seem a little bit like junkyard scraps after finishing the essays of The Myth of Sisyphus. Still, they are worth looking at.
Very relevant, and one Camus's most remarkable achievements (along with the Stranger and The Fall). A must read for all Camus fans.
First of all, coming off of THE STRANGER, the incredible generalities spewed in this book are pretty thick and tough to comprehend. Read more