Reading Camus is Making Me Think

I’m now about one-third of the way through Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. I could’ve probably read half of the Harry Potter series in the time that it has taken me to get through just nearly 50 pages of Camus. I don’t know, though, because, without compunction, I’ve never read or seen any Harry Potter.

For me, the best thing to come about because of Harry Potter is the gorgeous Emma Watson.

I have to sit at my desk with only my desk lamp on and a candle burning to read The Myth of Sisyphus. The desk lamp provides enough light for me to read the book, and the candle gives me something to focus my attention on when I look up pensively frustratedly from the book. I can’t sit in my absorbing recliner, like I do with most books, because it’s too comfortable. I need to be kept alert by sitting cross-legged on my desk chair, and by hunching over so that every so often I feel a twinge of pain in my spine right between my shoulder blades.

My reasoning wants to be faithful to the evidence that aroused it. That evidence is the absurd. It is that divorce between the mind that desires and the world that disappoints, my nostalgia for unity, this fragmented universe and the contradiction that binds them together.

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I studied Philosophy at school. I thought I was half-way decent at reading it, too. Now, I’m regretting skipping any class. I want someone to explain to me what Camus is talking about.

I do sometimes get this sense that I understand what he’s talking about. There are times when he’s finally making himself clear to me. Then, only a few periods (full stops; the dot at the end of a sentence which disappears in text messages) later, I’m baffled.

Here’s the thing: so far, all he’s done is gone through a short history of thought in order to prove the necessity of his project. I think.

A man who has become conscious of the absurd is for ever bound to it. A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future. That is natural. But it is just as natural that he should strive to escape the universe of which he is the creator.

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I agree with him that his project is a worthwhile one. I couldn’t write an essay on it, though. How was I ever able to punch out thousands of words on a single book by a single author discussing a single idea and have it come back with a decent grade?

Why did the world once make sense to me?

It is essential to consider as a constant point of reference in this essay the regular hiatus between what we fancy we know and what we really know, practical assent and simulated ignorance which allows us to live with ideas which, if we truly put them to the test, ought to upset our whole life. Faced with this inextricable contradiction of the mind, we shall fully grasp the divorce separating us from our own creations. So long as the mind keeps silent in the motionless world of its hopes, everything is reflected and arranged in the unity of its nostalgia. But with its first move this world cracks and tumbles: an infinite number of shimmering fragments is offered to the understanding.

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I’m a little bit upset by the fact that I’m having a hard time reading this book that is referenced often enough in popular culture.

I know that it’s difficult for me to read, not only because I’m having trouble understanding it, but also because I’m forgetting to swallow, leading to drips of drool on my desk or on the pages of the book.

I have this weird tick. If I’m thinking hard about something, my face contracts and, to other people, it looks like I’m smiling. (I tried recreating it for you, but I didn’t put enough thought into the picture.) My cheeks push up my glasses slightly, my mouth is open, my lips are stretched to their respective corners on my face, and my eyes squint. My sister is the only other person I know who shares this same trait. She happens to also be the only other person who can distinguish between when I’m smiling and when I’m pensive.

When I’m sitting upright, this pensive smile doesn’t usually lead to drooling because I can catch the saliva when it crests my lips. When I’m hunkered over a book or papers that I’m working on, it’s an issue because I only notice a drop of drool after it has fallen.

The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feelings in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity.

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Generally, I think reading is more difficult for me now because I don’t do enough of it. Sure, I’m constantly reading something, whether it’s an email or a road sign, but it’s not really the same thing. I’ve been trying to read more books, largely because I’m starting to get frustrated with how little I know about the world around me. That’s not entirely accurate, however, because what I think I mean is that I’ve lost touch with the novelty of the world around me.

I’m not even sure that that is what I’m trying to say.

Maybe what I want to say is that I’m trying to engage in projects that help me understand me better. Reading is a good way to do this. Reading philosophy, I thought, would be an approachable way to do this because I’ve done it before. Plus, I thought it would make more sense than it is.

I’m being a little bit unfair to myself. I’m getting through the book with some understanding of what’s going on. Sure, it’s taking me longer, and it’s a bit more of a struggle, than I was anticipating, but that, in itself, is not an entirely bad thing. It’s teaching me something about myself. Namely, I have to read more and more often.

My struggle, such as it is, isn’t much when compared to Camus’ objective: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” That’s serious shit.

Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impluse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus


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