“II. Zealots Of Stockholm” – The Existentialist Theme Song

Heathen, it's a struggle just to keep breathing
“II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information)” by Childish Gambino

By definition, existentialism is defined a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. While we’ve explored the lot of existentialist ideals worked into our readings of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, I believe one of the most profound pieces of existentialist media is Donald Glovers “Because The Internet”, specifically his song titled “II. Zealots of Stockholm (Free Information). The overall story of the song follows Glovers relationships with his parents which evolves into the overall questioning of life and death. Throughout the song many lines allude to the overall existential meaning of the song, such as the final line of the first verse reading “F*ck him, I just really wanna feel something,” making reference to a girl pursuing her own individuality through cheating on her significant other for satisfaction. While I won’t cite the lines in full due to their explicit nature, it’s worth highlighting Glover’s notes of existentialist ideals throughout the rest of the track. During the second verse, Glover makes reference to the un-importance of sexual relationships being heavily romantic, the human race being in a constant race to achieve artificial power, as well as the fragility and insignificance of the human life. While Glover is known for plenty works displaying commentary on the worlds issues through music and film, some of his work being categorized as that of the theater of the absurd/existentialist type deserves more exploration and further attention in the media.

Marie is Happy too

Albert Camus’ The Stranger exhibits the way that societal expectations serve to uphold a system in which everyone’s aim is to reach an ideal and is, therefore, never satisfied. These ideals are merely constructs, however; irrational and absurd. Camus asserts that the only way to truly seek happiness is to avoid seeking control over what is random and to embrace one’s agency to determine their own fate. 

Of the characters through which Camus demonstrates the theme of his novel, Marie acts as somewhat of a contradiction. She chooses to follow societal norms, unlike characters like Meursault and Salamano, who are disconnected from judgment and expectations. Marie illustrates what is expected of a romantic relationship when she asks Meursault if he wishes to marry her (41). The motivation behind this as well as her subsequent questioning of whether he loves her seems to be because Marie assumes this is what should happen in a romantic relationship like theirs. The widely accepted image of love that she embodies merely serves to establish a need for perfection in the construction of an expected passion for romance.

Despite striving to follow in the image of society, Marie is the most joyful character in the novel. This is in part because of her naivety, but also because she is the most open-minded and accepting. When Meursault responds to her question, he is contradictingly dispassionate. Marie is not upset by this, but comes to understand Meursault’s seemingly shallow view of her. While one might argue that this only proves her naivety, it also allows her to fully enjoy her relationship with Meursault because she is not overly attached to any one idea or expectation.

The Murderer and the Priest: Meursault and Chesterton

"But I was sure about me, about everything, surer than he could ever be, sure of my life and sure of the death I had waiting for me. Yes, that was all I had. But at least I had as much of a hold on it as it had on me. I had been right, I was still right, I was always right. I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another ... Couldn't he, couldn't this condemned man see...And that from somewhere deep in my future...All the shouting had me gasping for air. But they were already tearing the chaplain from my grip and the guards were threatening me. He calmed them, though, and looked at me for a moment without saying anything. His eyes were full of tears. Then he turned and disappeared." (122, Camus, The Stranger)
"Then when this kindly world all round the man has been blackened out like a lie; when friends fade into ghosts, and the foundations of the world fail; then when the man, believing in nothing and in no man, is alone in his own nightmare, then the great individualistic motto shall be written over him in avenging irony. The stars will be only dots in the blackness of his own brain; his mother's face will be only a sketch from his own insane pencil on the walls of his cell. But over his cell shall be written, with dreadful truth, 'He believes in himself.'" (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

G.K. Chesterton was a British Catholic author and social commentator in the early 20th century. I finished reading Orthodoxy by Chesterton a while ago, and found what he said, even though it was written long before the rise of existentialism to the mainstream, to be applicable to a lot of the themes in The Stranger. The egoist philosophers who Chesterton criticizes, who believe in nothing but themselves, are strikingly similar to the existential philosophers who reject all systems of life but their own, especially including Meursault, of The Stranger, and may even be defined in the same statement.

"For the sake of simplicity, it is easier to state the notion by saying that a man can believe that he is always in a dream. Now, obviously there can be no positive proof given to him that he is not in a dream, for the simple reason that no proof can be offered that might not be offered in a dream. But if the man began to burn down London and say that his housekeeper would soon call him to breakfast, we should take him and put him with other logicians in a place which has often been alluded to in the course of this chapter [the insane asylum]. The man who cannot believe his senses [the egoist], and the man who cannot believe anything else [the materialist], are both insane, but their insanity is proved not by any error in their argument, but by the manifest mistake of their whole lives. They have both locked themselves up in two boxes, painted inside with the sun and stars; they are both unable to get out, the one into the health and happiness of heaven, the other even into the health and happiness of the earth. Their position is quite reasonable; nay, in a sense it is infinitely reasonable, just as a threepenny bit is infinitely circular. ...When [these philosophers] wish to represent eternity, they represent it by a serpent with his tail in his mouth. There is a startling sarcasm in the image of that very unsatisfactory meal. The eternity of the material fatalists, the eternity of the eastern pessimists, the eternity of the supercilious theosophists and higher scientists of to-day is, indeed, very well presented by a serpent eating his tail, a degraded animal who destroys even himself." (Orthodoxy)

The main argument against this view is of course that there is a vast difference between the egoist and the existentialist, which is true, at least from a sympathetic perspective, but it could certainly be argued that both philosophies view the world in a similar, or at least comparable way. Chesterton’s criticism applies to both, since both philosophies essentially reject all counter-arguments by saying they don’t matter or don’t actually exist. They cannot be reasonably disproven, but this does not mean that they are correct.

I ended up putting the two pieces (The Stranger and Orthodoxy) together after reading the man referring to Meursault as the antichrist, and especially during the climactic final pages with his interaction with the priest, because it contrasts the vastly different realities these two men lived in, and how they were almost like oil and water to each other. For me, the priest seemed to be the human living his life with care and compassion, and Meursault living like a dead man, as if nothing mattered, so it struck me when Meursault himself saw the exact opposite. I don’t mean to push a religious message here, only that it seems like most human beings can probably see Meursault as the antithesis to humanity, if they look hard enough. Since he lives without emotion, morality, or any other basic human connection to reality.

Does The Stranger Covery True Happiness

In life people believe that happiness is from aspects of life like love, family, and being successful. But in life the real things that exist are pain and suffering which creates these other aspects like love and family. Although the aspects of life create a shadow over the real things that exist in the world. And because of this achieving true happiness is much more difficult than understand how it works. Because one of the ways to achieve true happiness is understanding one’s life and what they are made to do in the world. But also being able to be contempt with themselves and how they live in this world which is a very terrible one to live in because of the hardships. So being able to do these things and make this realization creates one true happiness.

In The Stranger by Albert Camus he portrays the main character Meursault as someone with no feelings and is a weird individual. In the beginning of the story Meursault’s mother dies and he has a hard time dealing with it, but does not feel remorse in the moment or even later in the story until the end. When he makes his realization that the world is a cruel place and his feelings about certain aspects of life are more twisted than what one would expect from a “normal person”. Through the story there are different aspects of life that are made in different ways but are fully developed through the pain and suffering in life which are the main aspects of how life is lived and figuring that aspect out is how to achieve happiness in the accursed world. Towards the end of the story he makes a realization that the death penalty is what he deserved and what his position is in the world and what his purpose was in this world. Because he died happy understanding the his life and how the world works and how his life played out and his fate was set and his realization allowed him to achieve true happiness.

This explains how The Stranger expresses true happiness and how when the main character Meursault finally achieves true happiness because he makes the realization of his life and his purpose in this life. Once he made the realization of the pain and suffering that this world brings on people he lived in. He was able to understand his purpose and what his life played out for him. Which allowed him to die happy because of the way he was able to understand the true aspects of life.

The Theme of The Stranger and Real Life

I think that the theme of The Stranger is that although the rejection of society’s values can be very detrimental to the survival and success of an individual, by rejecting cultural values we are given the opportunity to create our own values, and in so doing impose order on an absurd world and achieve true fulfillment. This is shown various times throughout the novel. Meursault, through his breach of his society’s command to not murder, puts his own values and desires above those of his society and is imprisoned and set to be executed. However, he accepts this as a necessary consequence of his actions by accepting his execution and time in prison. And he decides that, even though he has died because of it, he is happy that follows his own values and rejects the chaplain’s attempt to impose values on him.

This is all well and good, but how should we apply this insight into real life? I think we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath-water; that is, I don’t think that we should reject all cultural values; or even that creating our own values is the only way to achieve true fulfillment. My parents, for example, have followed societal values, but they’re fulfilled (I think). Rather, I think life is better lived when we just question our values. We don’t have to copy Meursault and ignore all societal values, but we should emulate his questioning of the daily values we take for granted.

Women in The Stranger and Trust

Women in The Stranger are typically being acted upon instead of making their own decisions. The main character is Meursault, a man who views love and relationships as insignificant. Because of this, women are repeatedly portrayed in negative lights. Raymond’s mistress is painted as a cheater and weak because she is repeatedly abused by him. Women and dogs are repeatedly paralleled in the text, suggesting to readers that they are seen as less human than their male counterparts.

In the movie Trust, a woman, Maria is the main character. Most of the scenes center around her and the experiences she has over the course of the movie. She begins the movie in a “Stranger” sort of portrayal. A promiscuous unmarried, pregnant woman who has been rejected and ostracized from everyone in her life. However over the course of the movie she starts to make more choices that make her a more well rounded character. She takes it upon herself to change her lifestyle, become more educated, and more independent. Trust shows that women are able to break out of the binary Camus introduces in The Stranger and participate in a world where they have more agency.

Trust. Does Maria Embody Meursault Tendencies?

Trust, the 1990s comedic, dramatic, and crime filled movie displays many complex characters. Maria Coughlin, one of the main characters in Trust embodies similar tendencies to Meursault, the main character in The Stranger. One may argue that both Maria and Meursault are raging existentialist. One may argue that both are thriving in their given environments. Is it fair to categorize both characters as extreme philosophical thinkers or do they just co-exist in society? As I write this, I would argue that Maria and Meursault both embody existentialism and what it means to question constructs. However, I would love to hear your thoughts on this multiplex question.

Why Meursault is Better than All of Us

In our society, all we do is think about the future. We are excited about upcoming events, nervous about conflicts/challenges, and we never stay in the present. Despite this reality, Meursault does the opposite. He does not think ahead and he does not worry about the future. Instead, Meursault lives in the moment and accepts his reality.

Due to his mindset, Meursault is able to enjoy the little things. He was able to enjoy a day at the beach with Marie, not thinking about anything other than her. At an even larger scale, Meursault was able to become content with prison. While the situation to anyone else would be horrible, Meursault finds the good in it and does not resent his situation.

To outsiders, Meursault is a sociopath. He is apathetic and has no drive for anything in his life. He is someone no one hopes to become. However, when his actions are closely analyzed and his mindset is understood, he is living life at its simplest and seems to have it all figured out.

He does not worry and is not filled with jealousy. Most importantly, he does not do anything he does not want to do. He lives without regrets. While everyone else is caught up in past problems and future dilemmas, Meursault is living life as intended. Above anyone else, he is a free man.

Does Meursault Believe in Passion?

Meursault shows his indifference towards any sort of relationship he has in his life that goes beyond acquaintances. He seems to not care about anyone in life other than himself, which he rarely cares about. This makes him look like a monster to the reader. This view of Meursault isn’t far from the truth. The end of the book shows that he chose to not take the advice of his lawyer. Meursault does not show any kind of remorse or seem apologetic at all therefore he is a monster. He does not deserve anyone’s pity or sympathy. Not only does he show his carelessness when it comes to his own life but also to his own mother and girlfriend. He views them only as shallow memories and “misses” them based on the things that they would do for him if they were still with him. This is ultimately why he faces the indifference of the world itself when he is punished for the killing of the Arab.

The Verdict

After killing the Arab, Mersault is imprisoned while he awaits his trail. Before and during the trail Mersault is asked to recount the events that took place before the shooting including the funeral of his mother. While Mersault confessed to the crime, it seemed that his character was on trial and not the actual crime.

The prosecutor speaks in great lengths about Mersaults actions at the funeral of his mother. “It was then that he talked about my attitude toward Maman. He repeated what he had said earlier in the proceedings. But it went on for much longer than when he was talking about my crime-so long, in fact, that finally all I was aware of was how hot a morning it was” (101). The prosecution is more interested in his relationship with his mother than they are about the crime that Mersault confessed to committing.

This perception of Mersault being inhumane, a monster, and soulless is ultimately what sways the jury against him. The jury sentences Mersault to be beheaded in the town square. While Mersault did commit a crime, it is hard to believe that if Mersault had different beliefs and a different personality that he would have been judged as harshly.

Don’t Judge

There is a speech Benedict Cumberbatch performed that I often watch over when in need of inspiration. The speech he is performing is between pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse. In 1960, pioneering American artists Sol LeWitt and Eva Hesse met for the first time and became close friends. In 1965, Eva found herself facing a creative block during a period of self-doubt, and told Sol of her frustrating predicament. Sol replied with this letter. The main part of the speech I always focus on is the following,

learn to say F*ck you to the world every once in a while, you have every right to just Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!…”

As we recently read The Stranger by Albert Camus my mind kept coming back to this speech, especially toward the end of the novel.

Throughout the entire passage, Meursault in many ways lives his own world. Like I said above I often look to those words in the speech to think to do better in my own life. So why do we often judge how Meursault lives his life? Throughout the novel he undoubtedly, doesn’t overthink, he doesn’t worry and he doesn’t fear. He does what a lot of people in this society wish they could do, JUST DO IT. Whether it was taking care of the Arab man without hesitation, not judging his peers for their abusive lives, or being 100% honest in his romantic with Marie, he doesn’t overthink anything in life, whether good or bad. Speaking specifically to his relationship with Marie most when faced with the question “I love you” just give an unmeaningful response back, the easy way out. But not Meursault. He knew his feelings and is very self-aware. He told her straight up that he didn’t love her. He throughout the novel is entirely self-aware with his decisions and feelings, which is something I respect. I will never understand why most readers’ first thoughts of Meursault is to judge his lifestyle rather than respect it. The average person does not feel the emotions he feels and is nowhere near as self-aware as he is, which is why Meursault’s mindset is one to be respected not judged. 

Meuraults Take on Death

During Meursault’s trial, the death of his mom is brought up many times, and his reaction to his mother’s death is used against him. Witnesses are called to question how Meursault acted at his mother’s funeral and was described by many as being cold and disinterested.

People noticed that he did not cry at the funeral and did not want to see his mother’s body. It is also held against him that he went on a date and saw a funny movie with a woman the day after the wedding. Meursault expresses confusion as to why this is being used against him. He does not understand how this has any connection to his case. He also illustrated when his mother passed away that he was not too distressed as nothing had changed. Based on his reaction to his mother’s death and how it was being used against him at trial, it does seem to me that Meursault is not afraid of death or feels sad about anyone that dies.

Meursault seems to only care about a person’s death of it significantly changed his life and how he goes about things. For example, when Meursault shot the Arab man, he was not guilty or sad that he had done so. Meursault realized he had made a mistake as he was now going to go to prison but did not have remorse for the man.

By the way that Meursault reacted to his mother and the Arab man’s death, I believe Meursault does not care about the death of others, and only about the impact and undesirable effect it could have on him. 

A Healthy Observer

Throughout the first part of The Stranger Meursault plays the role of the detached observer. In my eyes, I feel many overlook the fact that Meursault is living a healthy lifestyle. When discussing The Stranger many feel the need to judge Meursault by giving him a diagnosis of a disorder because of the way he interacts. That is straight up the most wrong thing you can do to a character at the beginning of a novel. They try to judge him without giving him any empathy. Readers will judge him for not crying at his mother’s funeral without knowing the true relationship he and his mother shared. I feel there is an abstract point of view no one touches on and that is that the way Meursault lives his life in such organization and normalcy, that in his way is healthy.

Throughout the first part of the book, Meursault will go into this deep Rome of observation. Whether it is a character he meets or just how he feels the temperature in the room is too hot, he is very self-aware about how he feels the world around him is going. There are many points where his brain will go on random sprees of feeling the need to go into great detail about such a little event. Some examples being, when he was randomly observing the movie watchers he noticed things like “They look more serious. They were still laughing, but only now they seemed tired and dreamy.” Another time is when the “robot” lady sat with him at dinner and he was able to describe her every move from the exact tip to the way she was eating. When most analyze his observations they explain them as a way of weirdness and obsession but in my eyes, they are a great skill. I am amazed by the way he can keep in his brain one thing at a time so precisely that he can think and observe for as long as he can.

Another way readers judge Meursault is how lack of care for the world around him. While I agree yes the way he doesn’t seem to care about his mother’s death is very odd to me, I feel there is more than the reader does not know so I won’t be focusing on that piece of it. More of the way he interacts with his peers. Most readers think of it as anti-social ness but I think it is the very opposite. An anti-social wouldn’t follow a lady on a walk after he was interested in the way she ate, an anti-social wouldn’t listen to an abusive boyfriend and be able to not go off on him, and anti-social wouldn’t be able to have a clear structure to the way he feels in his sexual relationship. I feel rather than this showing he is anti-social it more shows how amazing Meursault is at controlling his feelings. I feel that isn’t talked about enough. Every decision he makes in the first 5 chapters he does so easily. He knows he doesn’t love the girl, he knows he is only going to listen to Raymond and not go too far for him, he knows how he feels the lack of need to worry about his mom’s death.

In many ways, while this may not be the popular viewpoint on how to take in the first part of the novel it is a viewpoint that had to be talked about. Just keep in the back of your mind as a reader that maybe he isn’t just weird and uncaring but instead so ahead of his thoughts and feelings that he does not feel the need to barge into anyone’s business but his own.

A Changed Man?

The first lines of The Stranger seem to be very well known in the literary world and rightfully so; “Maman died today. Or yesterday, I don’t know” (3). This is how the reader is introduced to Meursault and throughout the first half at least and even 3/4ths of the book this same indifferent and detached person is what we get. He through life with the understanding that whatever he does, doesn’t matter because it doesn’t really change his life. I think it’s important to note that before going to prison he really only thought about HIS life and how it really didn’t matter how it turned out to be. Because when he does go into prison he starts to have trouble accepting his inevitable death. All he cares about is “escaping the machinery of justice, seeing if there’s any way out of the inevitable” (108).

But soon into chapter 5, We see that Meursault in fact does realize deep deep down under all that hope and contradictory thoughts that “since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter”(114). Only then can Meursault accept that there is no need for hope for his appeal. Yet I don’t think he fully understands and fully accepts his death.

I think it’s his outburst with the priest, when we finally get to see Meursault’s beliefs and thoughts come together. From this encounter he finally understands that the universe and world is also indifferent and that no one persons actions changes anything because the world keeps living without a worry about anyone. He is able to recognize that whatever happened to him, he would be in the exact same position as now. Meursault feels free at the end by his death. He likes that he lived his life his true authentic way without the standards of society influencing anything, as a stranger.

Peaking Thinker, But Still Normal

Throughout the book The Stranger by Albert Camus, Meursault is seen as a kind of strange and detached character. And only through further close reading do readers notice the existentialism connections between Meursalt and his surprising presentness and acceptance of the absurdity of life (including his willingness to give up on some illusions). However, towards the end of the book I think he finally lets go completely and reaches the peak of existentialism that we talk about in class. I think before that he was not fully there yet. When he brings up his Maman, I originally thought it was gonna be about him playing into his bond to her or a profound comment about them and their relationship. Camus instead steers along this questioning path and talks about how Meursault begins to understand his mom, “playing at the beginning again” and how Meursault, “opened myself (himself) to the gentle indifference of the world” (122). I think the realization of Meursault, after the aggressive confrontation earlier, confirms to readers that he truly/fully started to free himself of the burdens of illusions in the book only towards the end. Additionally, it prompts the discussion of how people like Merusault’s mom decide on how they want to live their lives and freely change their path if they desire something different.

Another part of the book I would like to comment on is the times where Meursault does not just come across as this existentialist being and instead more like a normal person living and thinking. When he is waiting for his sentence to be acted upon he describes that he must distract himself and tries to look at the sky and find something interesting about it (112). The stressful waiting situation Meursault is in has put his reactions to the forefront and I think they exemplify that he does not feel nothing about death and instead is trying to process his fate anxiously. As humans I think we all have been in extreme situations that get us on edge and I think it is important that we acknowledge Meursault as a human and not just the ideas of believing in nothing at all. The anxiety he has while waiting as he describes hearing himself breathing, “like a dog’s panting” illustrates the normal behaviors he has, like anyone else would while waiting for their looming fate (113). And other times throughout the book when he wants ways to waste time whether to distract himself from his emotions or use it as an excuse to feel nothing, I think most everyone has a part of themselves that feels this way at times. Although it might be a flying thought that people want to dismiss, it still occurs at times when we simply wish something would end quicker so maybe we stare at a clock to waste time. The normal tendencies in Meursault are interesting to note and I think do not diminish his other strange actions but combine as a whole to form this complex character. And I wonder if in existentialism death is another illusion to diminish or if it is to be accepted as an absurdity of life. 

Who is Meursault?

In the novel The Stranger we are introduced to the character named Meursault is someone who does not seem to make true emotional connections and is emotionless for most of the story. An example of this behavior can be noted after Marie, Meursault’s girlfriend, asks him if he wants to marry her, “I said it didn’t make any difference and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had last time, that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her” (41). Meursault’s behavior is interesting because he doesn’t seem to have or even want to have an emotional connection and makes that evident. His mannerisms are interesting as well because he consistently describes what he’s doing, whether that’s waking up in the morning after spending the night with Marie as he “rolled over, tried to find the salty smell Marie’s hair had left on the pillow”(21) or following a girl home whom he did not know.

It’s interesting that he does this because it allows us (the readers) to see how he views things and his thought processes behind some of his actions. From this we can conclude that he thinks in a more realistic but also beautiful way. In Chapter 2, while Meursault is at home watching the events taking place over the balcony, he describes, “…the passing clouds had left a hint of rain hanging over the street, which made it look darker…The sky changed again. Above the rooftops the sky had taken a reddish glow, and with an evening coming on the streets came to life”(23). Meursault is a very descriptive when he talks about a person or thing that he sees, and this allows the reader to see how beautifully he sees the world, which sparks the inference that his mindset (being more closed off from people and living in the moment) allows someone to see the beauty of the world and the beauty of life really. However, in Meursault’s case, though he sees the world with such beauty, he also does not refect any emotion towards anyone which seems confusing. Meursault is a complex character and his view of the world, for the most part is interesting, while he does not seem to be interested in emotional connections, to the point where he kills a man.

Living to Live

Throughout Albert Camus’, The Stranger, Mersault struggles deriving the true meaning of his life. He at first struggles with conforming to social expectation and what people say the meaning of life is. Throughout the novel we see Mersault’s attitude towards Marie as emotionless and disconnected, but towards the end of the novel we get a true insight into his feelings, “I had been looking at the stones in these walls for months. There wasn’t anything or anyone in the world I knew better. Maybe at one time, way back, I had searched for a face in them. But the face I was looking for was as bright as the sun and the flame f desire – and it belonged to Marie” (119). This seems to show that Mersault felt more that just a physical attraction to Marie and one could even say he loved her, but as we approach the end of the novel Mersault’s confrontation with the priest seems to shatter his attachment to any socially expected means of life and his attachment to the idea of love. After becoming annoyed with the priest Mersault says, “I..told him not to wast his prayers on me…. None of his certainties was worth one hair of a woman head. He wasn’t even sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man…we’re all elected by the same fate” (120-121). His confrontation with the priest caused him to realize the only meaning to life was living because everyone died in the end, regardless of what they did during their lives.

I personally agree with this outlook on life. The compliance to the falsified meanings of life such as success, money, power, religion, or love seem to cause more pain than they do happiness. People try to achieve these things before they die, often focused on the past or future. This disconnect from the present moment causes them to miss the experiences right in front of them, and in the end then only thing you really have before death is what you have done and experienced.

Is Existentialism Deterministic?

In “The Myth of Sisyphus”, Albert Camus argues that Sisyphus, the hero of the absurd, is happy in his supposed punishment to eternally push a boulder up a hill. He reasons that in order for the punishment to be real, Sisyphus must be conscious of his own condition. Since Sisyphus continues to press on regardless of the futility of his task, Camus reasons that Sisyphus must therefore be content with his fate. “[A]ll is well” (20) and Sisyphus can find fulfillment in the endless task of rolling the boulder up the hill and watching it fall back down. He is therefore happy.

According to Camus, “If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which [the absurd man] concludes is inevitable and despicable” (20). The crux of the existentialist viewpoint as endorsed by “The Myth of Sisyphus” is that life is full of random violence, the most brutal of which being the inevitability of death. We are therefore free from any obligation to any societal constraints or illusions imposed upon us, since the inevitability of death means that none of it matters. This seems to result in the conclusion that people freed by existentialism can now act out their own lives with a free will as radical subjects. As Camus writes in The Stranger from the perspective of Meursault, “I had lived my life one way and I could just as well have lived it another. I had done this and I hadn’t done that. I hadn’t done this thing but I had done another. And so?…Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why” (121). An absurd hero controls their own fate.

Determinism, or the idea that all things that have and will happen are inevitable consequences of the ‘initial event’, seems to be clearly incompatible with the concept of ‘radical subjectivism’. Free will is defined in this blogpost as the inverse of determinism, that each person is ultimately free to act outside of the influence of their environment. This idea is clearly expressed in Baron d’Holbach’s article “We Are Completely Determined”, in which he explains that if science is to be accepted as being fundamentally true, then free will can be concluded as an illusion made up by our minds to provide the veneer of control. According to d’Holbach, “Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it.” Free will is an illusion created by the complexity of the mind, where one is “unable to unravel all these motions…and supposes himself a free agent.”

The structure of this argument is curiously similar to those made by existentialists to destroy societal notions, but it would seem a lack of free will would contradict the idea that once one was free from societal notions, they could now be master of their own fate – under the doctrine of determinism, that person was always going to become an existentialist, and the actions they take now as a ‘radical subjectivist’ were already predetermined by the fundamental laws of the universe.

To resolve this seeming contradiction, there must be one of two conclusions made about determinism and free will:

  • The world is deterministic and our belief in free will is an illusion. However, this illusion is acceptable as a substitute for real free will in our actions as individuals.
  • The world is not completely deterministic.

The first conclusion would be unacceptable to any self-respecting illusion-breaker. If existentialism and its conclusions about the human condition are taken as a fact, in a deterministic world, we still do not really control our fates. The second conclusion is exceedingly difficult to prove, but its existence as the only other option means that if we are to understand Camus as being correct and Sisyphus to be happy, then d’Holbach must be wrong. Existence precedes essence and necessitates freedom of will.

The Journey is what Matters

I disagree with Camus’ argument about the constant pain in the human condition, mostly because of the extreme view he takes. To a certain extent, I do believe that life is full of suffering and the facade of hope and love is what keeps people going. However, Camus takes the stance that life is somewhat worthless, and when you die doesn’t matter.

This is seen in Camus’ novel, The Stranger, as he opens with the infamous line “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday”(1). One interpretation of the quote is that it doesn’t matter what day Maman died, but on a more personal level it could mean it doesn’t matter that Maman died at all. This meaning would show that Camus doesn’t value life much, if at all, and he doesn’t value the experience of living simply because all life ends with death.

Not only is his point of view downright depressing, it also makes many aspects of life meaningless if it doesn’t matter when you die. Camus was an absurdist, and he believed that love is just a facade of life that keeps people living, but is truly worthless. But without love, there is no emotion in life, and with no emotion life would be meaningless.

This I strongly disagree with, because I think what you do with your life is what matters, not the end result. The feelings in life and what you do with the short time you have is what is most important. Therefore when you die would matter because being blessed with a long happy life is quite the opposite of dying early without enjoying life itself. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey”. Overall, it doesn’t matter that life will end with the pain of death, it matters that you live your life with emotion and love.

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

What does it mean to be real? According to the concept of existentialism, all our material objects and worldly attachments are all mere illusions that cloud the true meaning of life. All these social constructs have been created through struggles of power and wealth and have been maintained in our society to control people. In the absence of some of these constructs, perhaps the world would be a better place, but is there not value in some of these things that Camus and other existentialists call illusions?

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you were to take the leap of faith and believe fully in the values of existentialism. You would leave the world behind and say goodbye to your family, friends, and possessions, and live purely independently. If you lived free of outside perspective and societal pressures, you would probably be happy. However, I argue that we have been conditioned to live in our illusion of a society, and the existentialist lifestyle would not be very appealing. Would the happiness come from working hard and living an independent fulfilling life, or would it come from the fact that you are not living in an illusion anymore. In other words, is it better to be blissfully ignorant, or suffering in a life that is real? In the end, if life is really whatever you make it to be, as Camus says, then who is to say which is the real world and which is the illusion.

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