Camus in his works
Camus in his works, be it fiction, drama, or non-fiction, always takes up the same philosophical issues and themes and tried to re-explore them, which has become the key component of his thought and writing style. Few of these themes and issues which have become an inseparable part of his works include, alienation, absurd, rebellion and suicide.
Camus is known for his works displaying absurdism, but he makes it clear that Absurd is not merely a fraught with an intellectual confusion or paradoxes in a modern man’s life, rather he emphasis that it is a product of collision with the human desires for law, order, purpose and meaning in life and the blank, indifferent silence of the world. He says, “The absurd is not in man nor in the world,” and explains, “but in their presence together…it is the only bond uniting them.” (Camus, 1942: 21) But Sartre in his essay review on The Stranger, states that, “The absurd, to be sure, resides neither in man nor in the world…But since man’s dominant characteristic is ‘being-in-the-world,’ the absurd is, in the end, an inseparable part of the human condition.” (Sartre, 1962: 27)
Camus by putting forward this issue also gives the three possible solutions for this condition. Two he condemns himself as evasion and third one he puts forward as the better and apt solution. The first solution is little blunt but simple i.e., physical suicide. He believes that if a person cannot find meaning and purpose in living a life and feels it is not worth living then the best option is to commit suicide, but he feels that the renunciation of life would not be a true revolt. The second solution is the philosophical death, i.e., to create your own imagination to find a purpose and meaning in life, which Sartre terms as bad faith, for a short period, which again does not serve as a proper solution and could be fatal and self-destructive like the physical suicide. So at last, Camus gives the third option, which is more authentic and valid, i.e., to continue living the life by accepting and embracing the absurdity. Camus believes that the only response to it could be a courageous and unflinching acceptance of it as Absurd is an unavoidable human condition. Camus believes, that Life can “be lived all the better if it has no meaning.” (Camus, 1942: 18)
For Camus, Death is the second and much talked about source of absurdity in his works, first being the universe, which is irrational to the desires and demands of human beings. Whereas, Death is a source, which negates all human desires and aspirations, it also destroys the importance and meaning created by an individual, which comes to the conclusion that all human needs, desires and goals are irrational. Camus very clearly defines absurdity through the nature of human beings, being very clear about the eternal truth of death at a certain point of their life, still struggles hard to acquire materialistic things, aspire and desire for things and to find meaning and purpose in their life. Everyone, from the richest to the poorest, from the wiser to the miser is going to face the same fate of death, nothingness. But Camus does not even support the fact of committing suicide or despairing over things, as they both will destroy and harm the self. Camus writes, “Living an experience, a particular fate, is accepting it fully. Now, no one will live this fate, knowing it to be absurd, unless he does everything to keep before him that absurd brought to light by consciousness”, he further explains that, “Living is keeping the absurd alive. Keeping it alive is, above all, contemplating it”, therefore, “One of the only coherent philosophical positions is thus revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity”. (Camus, 1942: 53)
He explains his solutions through his very famous philosophical essay, Myth of Sisyphus, where Sisyphus is doomed to roll the rock up the mountain and every time it rolls back to the bottom. He shows that Sisyphus is fully conscious of his hopeless and helpless plight and understands the meaninglessness and irrationality of the universe. Still he never quits, and in doing so he becomes the icon of revolt and of the human condition for Camus. Camus argues that this defiance and revolt in the face of the world enables an individual to possibly live the life more passionately than before. For Camus, to wake up each day, to fight a battle, which an individual knows he cannot win, but to do this with grace, wit and compassion gives a sense of mission and to face and accept the Absurd with the true spirit of heroism. Camus in the most paradoxical form first conveys that, if it is necessary to have meaning in life in order to exist in the world but in contrary he affirms that the life can be lived in a much better way if there is no meaning in life. In a nutshell, the purpose of the essay is to portray that the meaningless life does not only take an individual to the conclusion of suicide and self-destruction, instead it at times helps an individual to live the life to the fullest, in a much better way than before. It majorly wants to portray that the acceptance of the Absurd is much more helpful than trying to find temporary ways to hide away.
During the period when he was much concerned about his Absurdist Philosophy, he at many occasions explicitly rejected the label of being an Existentialist. Even in his more mature works that he developed after the Second World War, he if not explicitly then in indirect and implicitly rejected being an existentialist. Through his very famous philosophical essay, Myth of Sisyphus, Camus at many occasions try to make it clear that he is not an existentialist and does not support the existential position. As he states, “Restricting my discussion to existential philosophies, I see that every one of them, without exception, proposes evasion” and in a unique way of reasoning, “they start out from the absurd and move across the ruins of reason, in a universe that is closed and limited to the human…find a reason for pinning their hopes on what impoverishes them. (Raskin, 157)
Camus to reaffirm that he is not an existentialist, he states in an interview in 1945, that he is not an existentialist, “and the one philosophical book I have published, The Myth of Sisyphus, was written against philosophers called existentialists…” (158) Camus stood against being called as an existentialist because he believes that existentialism is the philosophical suicide because the existentialists reduce the life of a human being to history, as in an entry in his Carnets from 1946, he wrote, “Existentialism has retained from Hegelian thought its fundamental error which consists of reducing man to history.” (162), and he also wrote that, “We live in terror…because man has been entirely given over to history and…that he could find the beauty of the world and of faces. (Camus, 1991: 10)
Following the views of existentialists on the major themes of existentialism like individuality, anxiety regarding life and death, authenticity, meaning and absurdity, social criticism and importance of social relations, we are lead to a number of directions, where few insist that it concerns with what is right and what is wrong in the moral chaos of the world, whereas the others claim that living a meaningful life in a world where everybody talk about the purpose has become obscure. Secondly, the threat of non-being i.e., death and life, both the extreme chances and events cause anxiety, which is understood through Heidegger’s Being-in-the-world and Tillich’s Being-Itself. Thirdly, Sartre’s opposition to the concept of bad-faith, i.e., self-deception for the temporary relief from the suffering of an individual is an example of authenticity though well explained by Heidegger. Fourthly, the existentialists criticise the social conventions, specially Camus in his works tries to unmask the social conventions, as they are believed to be the expressions of ignorance and the forms of hiding.
Along with Camus, Sartre projects the nature of absurdity in detail as Camus was the prominent figure in the development of the philosophy of absurdity through his works. He holds that life is absurd and the hope to find meaning in life is absurdity. As Roquentin in Nausea, throughout the novel strives to find meaning in life or the meaningful existence. As for Sartre, being-for-itself is nothingness, which he perceived as the source of both absurdity and meaningfulness. As being-for-itself finds it absurd finding meaning or purpose of their existence and gives meaning too their existence. It is paradoxical yet meaningful.
Many reseasrches have been dons on the selected subject and area of this dissertation. It is pertinent to analyse them and identify research gaps and to have an in depth study. In the article titled, ‘Problem of the Other in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existential Phenomenology’ by Pallavi Sharma, it makes an attempt to analyse the problem of ‘Other’ as treated in the phenomenology of Jean Paul Sartre. It takes into the consideration the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Levinas and other philosophers and their concept of freedom and alienation. It examines the notion of alienation through Sartre’s concept of the Other in both his early and later works. In ‘The Stranger : A Study of Sexism, Racism and Colonialism’, by Tulshiram Bhoyar, he tries to analyse Camus’ surface level interpretation of this novel, The Stranger and explore the hidden meaning of the text from the sexual, racial and colonial point of view. This article critically examine the protagonist, Meursault and come to the point that Meursault displays misogynistic attitude towards women, perpetrates prejudicial act against native people and commits a callous crime against an indigenous person. The article titled, ‘Psychological Interpretation of the novel The Stranger.’, by R. Gnanasekaran, aims to explore the consciousness of the author and his work. The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay that raises the problem of how to live in a world without clear meaning. His early works are based on the assumption that there is no absolute moral values, that life is a matter of living from day to day, trying to find happiness. The dissertation aims to provide an in-depth understanding of Absurdism, Existentialism and some psychological problem based on the novel with the help of psychological interpretation. The article, ‘The Existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre’, by James Collins, intends to deal with the problems seen in the works of the great existential philosophers, i.e., one and the many, essence and existence, participated and absolute being, casualty and freedom, space and time. The works of Lavelle are also dealt with, as they construct the philosophy of being which takes care of the modern problematics also. In ‘Nausea: An Expression of Sartre’s Existential Philosophy’, by Ashok Kumar Malhotra, deals with the existence in general and man in particular which are superfluous, absurd, contingent and vicious. The paper explores Roquentin’s struggle with his inner crisis to understand the meaning of existence by writing diary entry. Through this the idea of ‘experience of immediacy’ is explored. ‘Existentialism in Sartre’s Nausea’, by David Kipp is the research paper which deals with an individual’s attitude of resentment along with the problem of the meaning of life which thereafter leads to the exploration of the issues of individualism to collectivism, materiality to ideality, theory to practice, Sartrean’s sadism-masochism opposition and the Sartrean Look. ‘Concept of Alienation and Individual Authenticity In Jean-Paul Sartre’, is an unpublished research work discusses the phenomenological pursuit of Jean Paul Sartre’s ‘being’. Further the research work talks about Sartre’s concept of alienation, where the concepts like, the bad faith, the problem of others and the Sartrean look are studied in depth.
The major works on existentialism in literature deals with the problem of the meaningless existence of an individual in an absurd world, whereas in this dissertation, the main focus is to understand meaning of an individual’s life through the concept of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’ Existential Dualism within the selected fictional works. Many articles have been written, which intend to find and understand the existence of an individual in an absurd world. As the works of Camus are majorly based on the assumption that there is no absolute moral values, that life is a matter of living from day to day, trying to find happiness, but this research intends to understand the existence of an individual through the concept of existential dualism of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in their selected works of fiction, where an individual needs to find meaning in his life, not through the gaze of the other but through realising that his existence does not lie in the bad faith, rather in the reality, where he needs to accept the reality and redefine the purpose of his living. The other major theme in Camus’ works is suicide and in Sartre it is bad faith, which helps an individual to end all his sufferings and problems of alienation and isolation, but in this dissertation, the main focus will be on how alienation and isolation can lead a person to redefine his existence and have meaning in his life. The literature also deals with the understanding of the essence of a person in life, which confines a person to live life according to the standard of society, whereas this dissertation will show how the protagonists of the selected novels of Sartre and Camus, find their way out from the clutches of society which confines their existence and take the responsibility of their actions. There are works which emphasis on the existential themes but this dissertation helps in exploring the free self and the existence of an individual in an absurd world, which would finally help in reaching the ultimate purpose of finding meaning in the life of an individual in an absurd, irrational world.
In this dissertation, the philosophy of Sartre’s ‘being’, will be discussed, where he divides ‘being’ in Being-in-itself and Being-for-itself, and also he gives the third type of being, Being-for-others. This research will provide the development of the dualism of being along with the key concepts of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus within the fictional framework. As the main focus of the dissertation is to explore the meaning of an individual’s life, where the individual does not let the society confine his existence by forcing the him to surrender to the set standards of the society, where the individual has to settle with the set rules in order to make his place secure in the society.
In this research, the philosophical positions of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus will be related to their fictional works within the issues of alienation, isolation, absurdity and meaninglessness. It will further deal with how the issues like alienation and isolation could be dealt, as it becomes the weakness of a person thereby leading the individual towards suicidal tendencies in the works of Albert Camus and bad faith in the works of Jean-Paul Sartre, which temporarily help the individual to escape from the sufferings and difficulties of life. This research will help in understanding that how the issues like alienation and isolation could also be seen in the optimistic light and can lead a person to explore the meaning of life which will help him redefine his existence.
In this present study, a comparative framework will be built to do a cross analysis of the two selected philosophers and their works at three levels. The dissertation will attempt to track the succession of Dualism, Individuality and Meaning within the fictional works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. The first objective of this dissertation aims at understanding existential dualism within the comparative frame of ‘Dualism’ through the explication of the key concepts- ‘Being-in-the-World’, ‘Being-in-Itself’, ‘Being-for-Itself’ and ‘Being-for-Others’ – in their selected fictional works in order to understand the diverging and converging aspects of the concepts of the two writers. At the second level of comparison, i.e. ‘Individuality’, concepts namely ‘Freewill’ and ‘Freedom’ will be analysed with cross-reference of the works of the two writers. Similarly, the concepts namely, alienation, isolation, absurdity and meaninglessness/meaning will be dealt within the last comparative frame of ‘Meaning of Existence’. The last and most important objective is to see the diverging and converging points in the existential philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In this research, both primary and secondary sources will be consulted for an in depth critical analysis of the Sartrean idea of ‘Being’ and the explication of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’ key concepts.
Through the cross-examination of the selected fictional works, the dissertation intends to find the answers for few research questions. Firstly, the research will inquire how the idea of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’ key concepts developed with Existential Dualism. Secondly, the research will examine how individuality and authenticity of an individual can be studied through Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’ concept of Freewill and Freedom within the fictional framework. Thirdly, the main focus of the research is to explore the existence and meaning of an individual’s life in an absurd, irrational and meaningless universe through the issues of Alienation and Isolation within the selected fictional framework. Lastly, it will attempt to see if the philosophical perspectives of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus converge or diverge or both.
To understand Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus’ stand on Existential Dualism and their way of dealing with being and nothingness, to find the purpose of an individual’s meaningless existence in an absurd, irrational world through their selected fictional works, the dissertation will entail five chapters. The first so far has provided trajectory of major claims and philosophical standpoints of existentialism. The second chapter will provide the answer to the question of Dualism in Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus through their concepts of ‘Being-in-the-world’, ‘Being-for-itself’, Being-in-itself’, ‘Being-for-others’, ‘Bad-Faith’ and ‘Pure-Being-there’. It will give a conceptual insight into Existential Dualism. Third, it will be a study of Individuality in Jean-Paul Sartre and Camus’ selected fictional works through the themes of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Freewill’. Fourth, the meaning and essence of life and what comes before, will be explored through ‘Alienation’, ‘Isolation’, ‘Absurdity’ and ‘Meaning/Meaninglessness’. And in the final chapter, the major conclusion hoped to get out of this comparative framework is the diverging and converging points in the concepts and perspectives of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, through the in-depth study of their selected fictional works.