Books · General philosophising

Rolling the rock up together?

The Myth of SisyphusThe Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good friend introduced me to Nietzsche in my early teens, and Nietzsche and I have had a turbulent relationship ever since. One of the first adult books I read was Kafka’s The Trial and Nietzsche was there too, inviting me to step off the city on poles into the bottomless swamp.

Oh baby hold my hand
we’re gonna walk on water
.

Nietzsche said there are no facts, no truth. After he said this, some philosophers stopped writing like Kant and wrote like poets. Camus says here that ‘there is no truth, merely truths. From the evening breeze to this hand on my shoulder.’ Consciousness creates a ‘shimmer’ of truths.

If there is no god and we are all condemned to death and I am conscious then my life is absurd. Existentialists arrived here and made their leaps of faith to gods. Karl Popper made the leap of faith to reason (reason is Popper’s god. There is no a priori argument for reason), but Camus does not want to leap, he asks if we can live with what we have, this absurd life, and not kill ourselves. Nietzsche said we make art in order not to commit suicide. Camus tells us that Dostoyevsky found his ‘leap’ here – if we cannot bear to live without belief in an immortal soul, then the immortal soul must be!

Camus will not leap and he will not choose suicide: he decides we can live with what we have if we remain lucid and conscious and don’t succumb to illusion. After Camus, some artists created in order to provoke and maintain the absurd consciousness. This is the effect Beckett gets, I think, in Waiting for Godot. The sleeplessness, the watchfulness, the silliness of Camus’ absurdity.

I have myself been tempted by the leap, to reason or the immortal soul. But in the main I have lived after Nietzsche, without much anguish. I do not find it so hard to ‘imagine Sisyphus happy’, to watch with Camus as he walks down to the valley of hell after his rock to start over, stronger than the rock then, striding unencumbered. I’ve been busy and the birds have sung and food has tasted good and love has touched me. (These White men who had so little to do that they were overwhelmed by grief for lost illusions might have felt better after baking a loaf or sweeping out the house)

Camus gives three sketches of ‘absurd men’. Don Juan and the conquerer I have no use for, as with much of this book, I discard them as too mired in patriarchy to use without starting again. But the sketch of the actor sings out to me.

‘What matters,’ said Nietzsche, ‘is not eternal life but eternal vivacity.’ All drama is, in fact, in this choice.

Not because we should live as though in the limelight, or even because there is no rehearsal (no eternal return) but because in drama the shimmer of truth is shared. Camus does not seem to have thought of this: his absurd man is oh tragically alone (again I advise him: bath the baby, wash the linen). But in the theatre we are not alone, we are fish in the water of each other’s truths, we can live them in these mirrors.

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