REVIEW: The Myth of Sisyphus

The Myth of Sisyphus is an intense, though enigmatic, call to life.

Not many of us can deny the pleasure that comes with reading, but for me, that effect has always been troubled by the confines of the academic year. I certainly enjoy the books I have read on my course, and that is without a doubt, but the spectre of time limits has always hung over my shoulder and tampered with my ability to enjoy them. Needing to read the equivalent of a novel (or sometimes two) a week took its toll, and so I was as glad as any when the course dawned and the springtime sun, with its promise of freedom, rose and took its place.

I took that liberty as it came and ended up embroiled in the many floor of Foyle’s Charing Cross branch. After much decision, I came out with three things: The Hobbit, Harry Potter en de Steen der Wijzen, and The Myth of Sisyphus, by Albert Camus. The latter for the reason that, apart from The Republic, I had never before read a book entirely dedicated to philosophy, and so I thought, considering how many times I have seen ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy’ on Facebook meme pages, that I should finally check it out.

My first impressions, if I am to be honest, were a mixture of some minor confusion … and a little more minor confusion. The writings of French philosophers have often been infamous for the focus they put on the literary, rather than the scientific when explaining their theories, and this text is no different. Camus’ style deploys a considerable amount of obtuse techniques and epithets that, although making the text a very dazzling read, do not award much clarity to those who (like me) are unversed in the tongue of high-brow philosophers. So do not wade in and expect the language of a self-help book, like I naively did; instead, try to enjoy the eloquences of what is more an informative fiction, than non-fiction. This is not to say that Camus’ philosophy does not deserve credit, just that it requires, by the very nature of its style, some work (and some googling) to get to grips with. But who does not like a challenge?

To comment on the rationale itself, I must say that Camus’ view of the world’s absurdism has the possibility to be life-changing, and that, in what is a relatively short work, it has had that effect on me. To this Algerian thinker: ‘there is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide’, to which this work is dedicated to answering; to solving that conundrum which is life’s absurdity, and to resolve within oneself that constant but fruitless search for meaning. During the text’s course, Camus breaks down those thoughts of Husserl, Kierkegaard and others, who attempt to elevate science or religion in their search to justify their existence, and tells us to accept its inherent pointlessness; to revolt, to break free from the bounds of destiny or purpose, and most importantly, to live.

I sincerely recommend that at some point in your future you read this work, or any of Camus’ other essays. Either for their wonderful writings, the intense spirit of life inherent within, or as a code by which to see your own existence. For, as is said in The Myth of Sisyphus:

‘What counts is not the best living but the most living.’

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