Essay, Research Paper: Jean Sartre

Famous People

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On of the major playwrights during this period was Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre had
been imprisoned in Germany in 1940 but managed to escape, and become one of the
leaders of the Existential movement. Other popular playwrights were Albert Camus,
and Jean Anouilh. Just like Anouilh, Camus accidentally became the spokesman for
the French Underground when he wrote his famous essay, "Le Mythe de Sisyphe"
or "The Myth of Sisyphus". Sisyphus was the man condemned by the gods
to roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down again.
For Camus, this related heavily to everyday life, and he saw Sisyphus an
"absurd" hero, with a pointless existance. Camus felt that it was
necessary to wonder what the meaning of life was, and that the human being
longed for some sense of clarity in the world, since "if the world were
clear, art would not exist". "The Myth of Sisyphus" became a
prototype for existentialism in the theatre, and eventually The Theatre of the
Absurd. Sisyphus is the absurd hero. This man, sentenced to ceaselessly rolling
a rock to the top of a mountain and then watching its descent, is the epitome of
the absurd hero according to Camus. In retelling the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus is
able to create an extremely powerful image with imaginative force which sums up
in an emotional sense the body of the intellectual discussion which precedes it
in the book. We are told that Sisyphus is the absurd hero "as much through
his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death,
and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole
being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing." (p.89). Sisyphus is
conscious of his plight , and therein lies the tragedy. For if, during the
moments of descent, he nourished the hope that he would yet succeed, then his
labour would lose its torment. But Sisyphus is clearly conscious of the extent
of his own misery. It is this lucid recognition of his destiny that transforms
his torment into his victory. It has to be a victory for as Camus says: I leave
Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But
Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He
too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems
to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake
of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself
towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus
happy. (p.91).Sisyphus' life and torment are transformed into a victory by
concentrating on his freedom, his refusal to hope, and his knowledge of the
absurdity of his situation. In the same way, Dr. Rieux is an absurd hero in The
Plague, for he too is under sentence of death, is trapped by a seemingly
unending torment and, like Sisyphus, he continues to perform his duty no matter
how useless or how insignificant his action. In both cases it matters little for
what reason they continue to struggle so long as they testify to man's
allegiance to man and not to abstractions or 'absolutes'. The ideas behind the
development of the absurd hero are present in the first three essays of the
book. In these essays Camus faces the problem of suicide. In his typically
shocking, unnerving manner he opens with the bold assertion that: There is but
one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. (p. 3).He goes on
to discover if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human predicament. Or to
put it another way: Is life worth living now that god is dead? The discussion
begins and continues not as a metaphysical cobweb but as a well reasoned
statement based on a way of knowing which Camus holds is the only epistemology
we have at our command. We know only two things:This heart within me I can feel,
and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it
exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. (p. 14)With
these as the basic certainties of the human condition, Camus argues that there
is no meaning to life. He disapproves of the many philosophers who "have
played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to
life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living." (p.7)
Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human's irrational
"nostalgia" for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning
to the "not me" of the universe, no such meaning exists in the silent,
indifferent universe. Between this yearning for meaning and eternal verities and
the actual condition of the universe there is a gap that can never be filled.
The confrontation of the irrational, longing human heart and the indifferent
universe brings about the notion of the absurd.The absurd is born of this
confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.
(p.21)and further:The absurd is not in man nor in the world, but in their
presence together...it is the only bond uniting them. (p. 21)People must realize
that the feeling of the absurd exists and can happen to them at any time. The
absurd person must demand to live solely with what is known and to bring in
nothing that is not certain. This means that all I know is that I exist, that
the world exists ,and that I am mortal. Doesn't this make a futile pessimistic
chaos of life? Wouldn't suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life?
"No." "No." answers Camus. Although the absurd cancels all
chances of eternal freedom it magnifies freedom of action. Suicide is
"acceptance at its extreme", it is a way of confessing that life is
too much for one. This is the only life we have; and even though we are aware,
in fact, because we are aware of the absurd, we can find value in this life. The
value is in our freedom, our passion, and our revolt. The first change we must
make to live in the absurd situation is to realize that thinking, or reason, is
not tied to any eternal mind which can unify and "make appearances familiar
under the guise of a great principle," but it is: ...learning all over
again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea
and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. (p. 20)My
experiences, my passions, my ideas, my images and memories are all that I know
of this world - and they are enough. The absurd person can finally say "all
is well".I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me
also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own
life, and yet I must carry it alone. (p. 41)Camus then follows his notions to
their logical conclusions and insists that people must substitute quantity of
experience for quality of experience. The purest of joys is "feeling, and
feeling on this earth." This statement cannot be used to claim a hedonism
as Camus's basic philosophy, but must be thought of in connection with the
notion of the absurd that has been developed in the early part of the essay. Man
is mortal. The world is not. A person's dignity arises from a consciousness of
death, an awareness that eternal values and ideas do not exist, and a refusal to
give in to the notion of hope or appeal for something that we are uncertain of.
In the following essays, Camus presents examples of the absurd person. We are
given Don Juan, the actor, and the conqueror as examples of people who multiply
their lives in an attempt to live fully within the span of their mortality. But
more important is the creator who is discussed in the essay "Absurd
Creation". "The absurd joy par excellence is creation." For in
creating a work of art the creator is living doubly in as much as his creation
id a separate life. "The artist commits himself and becomes himself in his
work." Works of art become, then, the one means for a person to support and
sustain a lucid consciousness in the face of the absurdity of the universe. The
present and the succession of presents before an ever conscious mind, this is
the ideal of the absurd man. (p. 81)Art is for Camus an essential human activity
and one of the most fundamental. It expresses human aspirations toward freedom
and beauty, aspirations which make life valuable for each transient human being.
Art defies that part of existence in which each individual is no more that a
social unit or an insignificant cog in the evolution of history. In The Myth of
Sisyphus then we find the philosophical basis for the stranger, the doctor, and
the judge-penitent. This is the starting point of Camus's thought. Camus is
concerned here as in his other works with persons and their world, the
relationships between them, and the relationships between persons and their
history. In The Myth of Sisyphus he opposes himself to the rationalism of
classical philosophy which seeks universal and enduring truths or a hierarchy of
values which is crowned by God; he believes that truth is found by a subjective
intensity of passion; he maintains that the individual is always free and
involved in choice; he recognizes that persons exist in the world and are
naturally related with it;he is deeply concerned with the significance of death,
its inevitability and its finality. The absurd is a revolt against tomorrow and
as such comes to terms with the present moment. Suicide consents to the absurd
as final and limitless while revolt is a an ongoing struggle with the absurd and
brings with it man's redemption. One can see now why Sisyphus is the absurd
hero. He is conscious of his plight: it was his scorn of the gods, hatred of
death, and passion for life that won him the penalty of rolling a rock to the
top of the mountain forever, and he does not appeal to hope or to any uncertain
gods. His is the ultimate absurd, for there is not death at the end of his
struggle. All is not chaos; the experience of the absurd is the proof of man's
uniqueness and the foundation of his dignity and freedom. All that remains is a
fate whose outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death,
everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the
sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world. The outcome of
his thought , ceasing to be renunciatory, flowers in images. It frolics - in
myths, to be sure, but myths with no other depth than that of human suffering
and like it inexhaustible. Not the divine fable that amuses and blinds, but the
terrestial face, gesture, and drama in which are summed up a difficult wisdom
and an ephemeral passion. (p. 87)One could do worse than to consider the
myths-retold in the works of Camus. Sisyphus is the absurd hero. This man,
sentenced to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain and then
watching its descent, is the essence of the absurd hero according to Camus. In
retelling the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus is able to create an extremely powerful
image with imaginative force, which sums up in an emotional sense the body of
the discussion. We are told that Sisyphus is the absurd hero "as much
through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred
of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the
whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing.” (p.120). Sisyphus is
conscious of his dilemma, and in that lays his tragedy. For if, during the
moments of descent, he nourished the hope that he would yet succeed, then his
labor would lose its torment. Nevertheless, Sisyphus is clearly conscious of the
extent of his misery. It is this logical recognition of his destiny that
transforms his torment into his victory. It has to be a victory for as Camus
says: “I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's
burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and
raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth
without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that
stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a
world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (p.123). Sisyphus' life and torment are
turned into victory by concentrating on his freedom, his refusal to hope, and
his knowledge of the absurdity of his situation. It matters little for what
reason he continues to struggle so long as he continues on this absurd path and
not venture on to the path of dreaming or wishing. The ideas behind the
development of the absurd hero are present in the first three essays of the
book. In these essays, Camus faces the problem of suicide. In his typically
shocking, unnerving manner he opens with the bold statement that: “There is
but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” (p. 3). He
goes on to discover if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human dilemma. Or
to put it another way: Is life worth living now that God is dead? Since Camus
doesn’t believe in the Superior Being, he must find another way to describe
the fate of man. We know only two things: “This heart within me I can feel,
and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it
exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.” (p. 19)
With these as the basic certainties of the human condition, Camus argues that
there is no meaning to life. He disapproves of the many philosophers who
"have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a
meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living.”
(p.8) Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human's irrational longing
for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning to the universe, no
such meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe. Between this yearning
for meaning and eternal truth and the actual condition of the universe, there is
a gap that can never be filled. The confrontation of the irrational, longing
human heart and the indifferent universe brings about the notion of the absurd.
“The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the
unreasonable silence of the world.” (p.28) Yet: The absurd is not in man nor
in the world, but in their presence together...it is the only bond uniting them.
(p. 30) People must realize that the feeling of the absurd exists and can happen
to them at any time. The absurd person must demand to live solely with what is
known and to bring in nothing that is not certain. This means that all I know is
that I exist, that the world exists, and that I am mortal. Doesn't this make a
useless life? Wouldn't suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life?
"No." answers Camus. Although the absurd cancels all chances of
eternal freedom, it magnifies freedom of action. Suicide is "acceptance at
its extreme"; it is a way of confessing that life is too much for one. This
is the only life we have; and even though we are aware, in fact, because we are
aware of the absurd, we can find value in this life. The value is in our
freedom, our passion, and our revolt. The first change we must make to live in
the absurd situation is to realize that thinking, or reason, is not tied to any
eternal mind which can unify and "make appearances familiar under the guise
of a great principle," but it is: “...learning all over again to see, to
be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image,
in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment.” (p. 26) Camus then follows
his ideas to their logical conclusions and insists that people must substitute
quantity of experience for quality of experience. The purest of joys is
"feeling, and feeling on this earth.” This statement cannot be used to
claim self-satisfaction as Camus's basic philosophy, but must be thought of in
connection with the notion of the absurd that has been developed in the earlier.
Man is mortal. The world is not. It is therefore absurd to try to understand
something we will never have, immortality. A person's dignity arises from a
consciousness of death, an awareness that eternal values and ideas do not exist,
and a refusal to give in to the idea of hope or appeal for something that we are
uncertain of and cannot know. In the following essays, Camus presents examples
of the absurd person. We are given Don Juan, the actor, and the conqueror as
examples of people who multiply their lives in an attempt to live fully within
the span of their mortality. However, more important is the creator who is
discussed in the essay "Absurd Creation". For in creating a work of
art the creator is living doubly in as much as his creation in a separate life.
The artist gives himself and becomes himself in his work. Works of art become,
then, the one means for a person to support and sustain a logical consciousness
in the face of the absurdity of the universe. Art is for Camus an essential
human activity and one of the most fundamental. It expresses human aspirations
toward freedom and beauty, aspirations that make life valuable for each
short-lived human being. Art defies that part of existence in which each
individual is no more that a social unit or an insignificant cog in the
evolution of history. One can see now why Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is
conscious of his predicament: it was his scorn of the gods, hatred of death, and
passion for life that won him the penalty of rolling a rock to the top of the
mountain forever, and he does not appeal to hope or to any uncertain Gods. His
is the ultimate absurd, for there is not death at the end of his struggle. Not
all is chaos; the experience of the absurd is the proof of man's uniqueness and
the foundation of his dignity and freedom. “All that remains is a fate whose
outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death, everything,
joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the sole master.
What bound him was the illusion of another world. The outcome of his thought,
ceasing to be renunciatory, flowers in images. It frolics - in myths, to be
sure, but myths with no other depth than that of human suffering and like it
inexhaustible. Not the divine fable that amuses and blinds, but the terrestrial
face, gesture, and drama in which are summed up a difficult wisdom and an
ephemeral passion.” (p. 117-118)

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