Camus died on 4 January 1960 at the age of 46, in a car accident near Sens, in Le Grand Fossard in the small town of Villeblevin. In his coat pocket was an unused train ticket. He had planned to travel by train with his wife and children, but at the last minute he accepted his publisher’s proposal to travel with him.
Man’s search for objective meaning in a meaningless universe is Absurd. There are three responses to the Absurd – physical suicide, philosophical suicide, and acceptance. Camus rejects the first two options because they are merely attempts to escape the problem. To accept the Absurd, however, is to overcome it. By accepting that the World is devoid of absolutes, man is free to create his own meaning and purpose.
The absurd condition of man’s existence is brilliantly captured in a dialogue from Woody Allen’s film ‘Play It Again, Sam’.
Allen: That’s quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn’t it?
Woman: Yes, it is.
Allen: What does it say to you?
Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless, bleak straitjacket in a black, absurd cosmos.
Allen: What are you doing Saturday night?
Woman: Committing suicide.
Allen: What about Friday night?
One response to the Absurd is to commit physical suicide. ‘Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.’ Camus argues that physical suicide is merely an attempt to escape the Absurd. It does not reconcile the conflict between man’s desire for significance and the universe’s cold indifference.
Another response to the Absurd is to commit philosophical suicide. Camus claims that people who find meaning in the concept of God or in the concept of transcendence have taken a leap of faith and have committed philosophical suicide. Camus argues that like physical suicide, it is merely an attempt to escape from the Absurd, rather than an attempt to overcome it.
The last response to the Absurd, and the response that Camus supports, is that of acceptance. According to Camus , the Absurd Hero acknowledges the truth of the Absurd and embraces the freedom that it bestows upon him. In a World devoid of absolutes, man is free to create his own meaning and purpose. This process of creation is enough to make him happy.
The Ancient Greek King Sisyphus is the epitome of Camus ’ Absurd Hero. According to myth, Sisyphus put Death in chains so that men would no longer die. The gods eventually freed Death, and then punished Sisyphus. They condemned him to ceaselessly roll a stone to the top of a mountain, only to watch it roll back down again. ‘Sisyphus is the Absurd Hero. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which his being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.
It is important to note the similarity between Sisyphus’ punishment and man’s Absurd existence. Both Sisyphus and man are condemned to futile and hopeless labor. But Sisyphus teaches man the way to overcome his fate. ‘Sisyphus teaches the higher commitment that negates the gods and raises rocks. He concludes that all is well. This universe without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that mountain, in itself forms a World. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy!’