Albert Camus was a French philosopher who lived from 1913-1960. He was born in French Algeria to a Pied-Noir family. He is mostly known for his philosophic ideas, although he was also an author and a journalist. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. As many philosophers, he was an atheist. He was a member of the French Communist Party for many years, but was kicked out after he joined the Algerians People's Party. After that, Camus became affiliated with the French Anarchists' movement. When Paris was liberated from the Allies in 1944, he saw and reported the end of the fighting. He was left leaning, one of the few French editors to express disgust at the nuclear bombings of Japan, but his criticism of Communism alienated him from his peers.
Camus, (center, wearing black) at 7 years old.
Even though Camus is generally grouped with existentialists, he was not one. He contributed greatly to the rise of absurdism, and opposed the idea of nihilism while exploring the idea of individual freedoms.
"No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked."
Jean Paul Sartre (left) by Albert Camus (right). They had a friendship-turned-rivalry because of their differing ideologies. They were both prominent French philosophers, novelists and essayists. They both received Nobel Prizes in Literature, but Sartre declined his. (He stressed that this was certainly not because Camus had received one before him.)
Camus' essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" is considered one on Camus' more absurd works. Sisyphus is a symbol of absurdism- the human tendency to search for meaning despite the inability to find it. Camus urged people to embrace the concept of absurdity in human existence- recognizing the individual's quest for meaning in a cold, silent world. Since there is no provable inherent meaning in the universe, humans will never finding meaning in relation to the world they inhabit.
Much of Camus' study around absurdity hinges around suicide, the ultimate choice between life and death. The only way to escape the absurd paradox of human existence is suicide. Suicide can be defined either as physical suicide or something like a leap of faith (belief in a god) that Camus characterized as psychological suicide. Conversely, rejecting suicide means that the decision to search for meaning (a reason to live, as it were) has been made even though there is no hope for it in the grand scheme of things. Accepting this reality of humanity's lack of meaning frees the individual and allows each moment to be lived fully.
Absurdism assumes that living (or not committing suicide) is a choice that must be consciously made. Existentialism is different in that it assumes that a desire to live exists in all beings, and that defines the creation of individual meanings. However, absurdists require a knowledge that the meaning of the world is unknowable before personal freedom is possible. Otherwise, it could simply be psychological suicide, because faith, the enemy to reason, would be present.
One of Camus' most famous works, The Stranger, or, as it was originally known, L'étranger.
The Stranger is a novel by Camus, which uses the stream-of-consciousness style of writing that was popularized during Camus' lifetime. The narrator's voice is choppy and apathetic, and the plot rambles along to an ultimately pointless murder of a nameless Arab man on a beach. Grappling with death and violence with a compelling voice, it is one of the best novels of its century.
Camus was killed tragically in a car accident at the age of 47. He was found with a train ticket in his pocket- he was planning to take the train with his wife and children, but changed his mind and rode with his publisher instead. A deeply influential French philosopher, his works remain important even today.
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