Understanding the Absurdity of Life

What is the meaning of life? This has been perhaps one of the most vexing questions of all time which has transformed several ordinary men into brooding intellectuals. While the world has seen the emergence of diverse theories propounded by the greatest of philosophers, none seem to have completely quenched the ultimate thirst for an objective analysis of life and its meaning. It was in the pursuit of this meaning that philosophers like Sartre, Kierkegaard and Albert Camus sowed the seeds from which eventually sprang a full grown tree of a new philosophical discourse on absurdism.

Albert Camus, in particular, has spoken at length about absurdity in his manuscript called the “Myth of Sisyphus”. Here, he has endeavoured to explicate the futility of investigating for the absolute meaning of life—which doesn’t really exist. “The absurd” for Camus stems from the discord between “the human need and the unreasonable silence of the universe”. This ultimately culminates into a sense of hopelessness and despair in the human heart. Camus addresses what he considers the most crucial problem of philosophy: suicide, and whether the absurdity of life is a good reason for committing suicide.

Men, by their very nature, are seekers of meanings, and in this pursuit, turn to religion and dogmatism to explain a world which in reality is characterised by sheer indifference and ‘irrationality’. An illusionary world embellished with meanings serves as a major source of comfort to humans as it offers false hope and reassurance, but once this world is stripped of all its meanings, man is thrown in an abyss of chaos and upheaval. Men continue to live in their robotic way, pursuing goals and ambitions mindlessly as if they are in a never-ending race. Then comes a day when they suddenly wake up from this deep slumber of ignorance after receiving a huge blow from the absurdity of life. An alien feeling of disharmony dawns upon them, and life, with all its essence and beauty, loses significance.

Try to imagine yourself as an invisible person and look at the world around you. It’s nothing but a mechanical interplay of relations with people chasing temporary materialistic pleasures and associating their very being with these short-lived passions. Such an existence is like an exile or punishment, just like the one awarded to the Greek mythological character named Sisyphus who was condemned by the Gods to perform the futile labour of rolling a massive boulder up the hill only to watch it fall down again and again till eternity. It begs Camus’ ever-so-important question: should we live life at all?

Human understanding is only limited to their own standards. Efforts to reduce the enormity of the universe into a set of uniform principles is futile. In an attempt to content himself, man attaches humanistic feelings of love and suffering to the apathetic universe. While a man’s craving for certainty persists, the universe remains still. And, it is from this relationship between the truth-seeking man and an unfeeling universe that the feeling of absurdity emanates. Science, the most authentic form of inquiry is itself based on hypothesis and conjectures. The claims believed to be true centuries ago are being altered and disproved now. In the face of such dynamism, certainty becomes a far-fetched dream.

Thus, it is not the individual or the world that is absurd, but the incongruous relation between the two. The absurd originates from comparisons and confrontation. In the case of man and the world, the absurd lies in the clash between the human desire to look for meanings in a meaningless universe. Although a little baffling to comprehend, once man develops faith in the absurd, it plays an active role in guiding his life’s choices. Apart from accepting the absurd, the other option open to men is to either physically end their lives once and for all, or commit a philosophical suicide, where they assume artificial meanings and purpose of life by resorting to theology or religion. While suicide may seem a reasonable option, it simply negates the problem and does not answer it. Camus staunchly denies suicide and refers to it as ‘a repudiation’.

The solution is to embrace this absurdity and live with it. This produces three consequences - Revolt, Freedom, and Passion. The revolt is identified by the relentless longing for an objective meaning, which is impossible to achieve. Freedom, on the other hand, is characterised by the realisation that an absurd man is free to act and doesn’t have to submit to the restrictions imposed by life. And finally, consequence or passion arises as a result of living life to the fullest by accepting the absurd and caring only about the present rather than the future or past.

Let us now go back to our ‘absurd hero’, Sisyphus. His perpetual toil of pushing the boulder up and watching it roll down enables us to acknowledge the melancholic truth of absurdity. And the only way to remove this anguish is by imagining Sisyphus as a happy person, who despite all the struggle, is enjoying the whole process. Likewise, we must also contemplate the absurd and accept the inevitable drudgery of existence, which can only happen when we conquer our fate without expecting anything in return. So, what are you thinking? Go, enjoy your life, so what if you’ve failed a test, missed a deadline or many deadlines. Such occurrences are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Appreciate and observe the grandeur of the world around you. Feel the sunlight, the delicate touch of petals, the cold droplets of rain and the beauty of nature, and maybe even derive a meaning out of it (bearing in the mind that it’s absurd of course!). Live your life passionately, and above all, cherish every moment. Stay happy because, at the end of the day, that’s what matters the most!!!


Namya Tewari

Hi! I'm a student of philosophy who loves reading nerdy stuff and hoarding books. I'm greatly inspired by the works of Kahlil Gibran and aspire to write like him one day. And did I forget to mention, I daydream about the impossible. Yes that's it!

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