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The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (Vintage International) Library Binding – 26 Jun 2008

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Product details

  • Library Binding: 212 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143950556X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439505564
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 555,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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THERE is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Read the first page
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By Mr. J. C. Clapham on 13 July 2009
Format: Paperback
Great book, though the additional essays are also available in the new penguin edition, along with a new introduction
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Amazon.com: 102 reviews
472 of 482 people found the following review helpful
The Struggle Is Enough 3 Oct. 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The collection of stories published as Le Mythe de Sisyphe in 1942 was the second of the absurds. The work has been cited by critics as refined and carefully crafted. The collection stands as more literature than philosophy. Camus spent at least five years writing and editing the work. The polish is clear with the very first sentence: "There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide."
According to Camus, suicide was a sign that one lacked the strength to face "nothing." Life is an adventure without final meaning, but still, in Camus' eyes, worth experiencing. Since there is nothing else, life should be lived to its fullest and we should derive meaning from our very existence. For Camus, people were what gave life meaning. However, in the moments following the realization that one will die, that one's descendants will die...in fact, that the earth will die, one senses a deep anxiety. And, as an atheist, Camus doubted meaning beyond this life.
"A world which can be explained, even through bad reasoning, is a familiar one. On the other hand, in a world suddenly devoid of illusion and light, man feels like a stranger." Isolated from any logic, without an easy explanation for why one exists, there occurs what some call "existential angst." While Camus did not use the phrase, it adequately describes the sensation. Even existentialists of faith struggle with creation, wondering why humanity exists when a Creator would not need mankind. Merely wanting to create something seems like a curious reason to create life. So, even for those of faith, the initial creation can be puzzling.
How does one exist without any given purpose or meaning? How does one develop meaning? Le Mythe de Sisyphe addresses this directly in the retelling of the famous tale. Considering the plight of Sisyphus, condemned to roll a stone up a mountain knowing the stone will roll down yet again, it is easy to declare his existence absurd and without hope. It would be easy to believe Sisyphus might prefer death. But in Camus' myth, he does not.
"Living the absurd...means a total lack of hope (which is not the same as despair), a permanent reflection (which is not the same as renunciation), and a conscious dissatisfaction (which is not the same as juvenile anxiety).
For Camus, Sisyphus is the ultimate absurd hero. He was sentenced for the crime of loving life too much; he defied the gods and fought death. The gods thought they found a perfect form of torture for Sisyphus. He would constantly hope for success, that the stone would remain at the top of the mountain. This, the gods thought, would forever frustrate him.
Yet, defying the gods yet again, Sisyphus is without hope. He abandons any illusion that he might succeed at the assigned task. Once he does so, Camus considers him a hero in the fullest sense of the word. Sisyphus begins to view his ability to do the task again and again--to endure the punishment--as a form of victory.
"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. We have to imagine Sisyphus happy."
178 of 189 people found the following review helpful
This book is best read as a companion to The Stranger. 24 Oct. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Sartre said this book should be read as you read The Stranger, and I have found that advice to be valuable to my students. My kids are always a bit bewildered about the scene where Mersault kills the Arab, but when they read, "The greatest good is the greatest consciousness," they begin to see why the Stranger was so strange. And when he "awakens" just before dawn of the day he is to die, and the students read, "You must live your life as if you have been condemned to die and sun is beginning to rise," they begin to understand. The title essay for the book argues what I think is the final argument in the Ontological question raised by the Greeks: Since life is absurd, where the meanings should be is a vacuum, and we desperately want meaning when we recognize our necessary death, then we are free to make our own meanings, and it is the making of meaning that is the point of living; that is, the growth of individual consciousness. Camus, then, is the great optimist in a time of great pessimism.
107 of 114 people found the following review helpful
a must read for anyone who wants to understand Camus 7 Oct. 2000
By M. H. Bayliss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewer below who points out that this collection, especially the title essay, is a great companion for reading The Stranger. My AP English students loved The Stranger, but they got a much clearer idea of what Camus' brand of existentialism was after reading this essay. It sounds like a bizarre concept, but Camus regarded Sisyphus as a hero because every single time he toiled to push the rock up the mountain, there is one brief moment when he reaches the top that he is CONSCIOUS of his task, and in this brief glance downwards, Camus feels that Sisyphus experiences a small degree of something close to hope. This realization defeats the gods who sentenced him because he finds consolation in his struggle. For Camus, it is the struggle that must occupy us. The difference between Sisyphus and a factory worker is that Sisyphus experiences the freedom to think and process what he doing. For Camus, this level of consciousness can free any of us from our everyday lives.
This collection is a must to get a better understanding of The Stranger and other Camus novels and ideas.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
excellent background on a writer's philosophies 24 Sept. 2001
By arye orona - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Myth of Sysiphus deals with what Camus calls the most important question a philosopher can ask: "is life worth living?" The possitive answer is to continue living, while the negative is to take one's own life. Camus discusses the relation of the "absurd world" to a person's decision to live. He also describes, in some legnth, what he means by the term "absurd world." Basically, he's talking about the world as having no meaning by itself. Man attempts to give meaning to the patterns, and chaos that he sees. So, the absurd is humankind attempting to relate to, and explain an inexplicable existence.
He says that a person (at least those who are willing to think about their world) will inevitably be faced with a situation in which the world seems to become meaningless. This is what brings up the inevitable question... "is life worth living?" Camus comes up with his own answer to this question.
This isn't as accessable as his fictional pieces ( e.g. The Stranger, or the Plague), however, it does give you excellent insight into the philosophies that run throughout his other Novels. So, if you are already a Camus reader, I would highly suggest reading The Myth of Sysiphus --and then reading his other works again. However, if you haven't been exposed to him yet, I would recomend starting with The Stranger before reading this.
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Life is like a comedy: pointless, but enjoyable! 22 Oct. 2004
By John Barkley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"There is but one truely serious philosophical question and that is suicide." That is the famous first sentence. I think that he should've said there is only one practical question in philosophy and that is suicide; that would have been a fact, rather than a value-judgement. He states his conclusion early, perhaps so no-one gets the wrong idea, which is that recognising the absurdity of life is not a reason to die, but rather a reason to live on freer than before. He condemns the concept of hope as a killer of life, later on, as well as all religious meanings given to life.

I think this book is of most use to those who have recently lost their religion, to those who have lost a loved one and to angst-ridden youths. The central conclusion - that just because life is meaningless does not mean that it is bad - is not something that most people would dispute, but it is rather something that is hard for people to accept emotionally, when you may have had meaning provided for you by religion or by your family beforehand. Camus tries to show quite a diverse way in which life can be affirmed, despite its absurdity; he talks of indulgence in the "Don Juan" section, but then glorifies literature later on. On this point, if you are not familiar with the works of Dostoyevsky, Kafka or the figure of Don Juan, you will not understand the last third of the essay.

Camus makes clear in this book that he is not an existentialist. He calls this attitude "philosophical suicide", as it occurs when reason comes up against its limits and choses to negate itself then [e.g. Kirkegaard with faith, Heidegger with anxiety]. Camus thinks that you should recognise your limits and live within them; this means aiming for quantity of pleasure, rather than quality - a more realistic aim. He is, in my opinion, closer to Schopenhauer [despite the lack of metaphysics] than to the existentialists. He also quotes Nietzsche a lot [so that it gets a bit too annoying, at times], although he does not share Nietzsche's grand idea of conquering everything and showing pity to no-one.

Some have commented that this book is heavy in philosophy. I would say that this is the lightest philosophy gets; it is often classified in a "fiction" section, rather than in "philosophy". Someone also said that the absurdist attitude Camus has leaves no room for morals. That was not what this book is about! That person should look up "The Rebel", where he deals with that issue very profoundly.

One thing I found a short-coming in this book is that there are several complications with the issue of suicide that he does not address. For example, if you live under some totalitarian regime, where you can neither indulge in the excesses of Don Juan nor read the books of Kafka nor write anything creatively, where should the meaning of life lie there? Perhaps, this is when the state is trying to be like a religion and assign a value to life for its citizens. As he says on the first page, "a reason to live is an excellent reason to die". Also, in his treatments of religions, he is rather narrow and does not address the Eastern faiths. Schopenhauer saw them as the best answer to the absurdity of the world. Does not Buddhist calm and meditation provide an alternative, without asking to belief in any meaning of life? I was disappointed that he did not address this.
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