Camus beyond the Absurd

"In one of his most revealing essays, ‘The Enigma’ (1950), Camus expressed his annoyance at being constantly associated with the philosophy of the absurd. He had only explored a topic much in the air. His analysis of absurdity was always meant to be a starting point, nothing more. It is neither possible nor consistent, he asserted, to “limit oneself to the idea that nothing has meaning and we must despair of everything… As soon as we say that all is nonsense we express something that has sense.” Denying that the world has meaning involves “suppressing all value judgments.” However, living is in itself “a value judgment.”

This essay spoke directly to the contrasting strains in Camus’ thought: the cold materialism of contemporary philosophy, and the warm joy of lived experience. The road beyond absurdity lay close at hand. It had nothing to do with embracing transcendence or abstract absolutes, it was rather a confidence in directly savored experience. He described this path as an “instinctive fidelity to a light where I was born and where, for millennia, men have learned to salute life even in suffering.” Celebrate both life’s joys and its suffering. Embrace neither a simple ‘yes’ nor a simple ‘no.’ Rather seek an integrative ‘yes’ that makes room for a ‘no’. At the heart of things there is for Camus what he says was central to Aeschylus – not a lack of meaning, but an enigma. [...]

Camus had projected a comprehensive series of works divided into three cycles. The first two, the cycle of the absurd and the cycle of revolt, he got to accomplish. The third could have taken him into a realm where an overarching ‘yes’ nonetheless incorporates the need to struggle associated with a ‘no’. He called it the cycle of love. To our dismay and loss, he never got to create it."

Ray Boisvert, Camus: Between Yes & No, Philosophy Now

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