My Existentialism

Discuss a book or academic subject which has aroused your interest in the past year.

My French teacher, a die-hard fan of existentialism, assigned Camus’ L’etranger last year. I went into the book apprehensively, but came out enthralled. It was not the story linea man condemned for refusing to live by society’s rules–nor the dark existentialist mantra that “life is meaningless” which left such an impression on me, but instead the lighter message which I found hidden between the lines: the notion that one should rejoice in life for life itself. Although Camus did believe that life is without meaning, he also stressed the importance of life’s redeeming qualities (such as friendship and the beauty of nature) as the things which make happiness possible and life worth living.My teacher drew a useful analogy to explain Camus’ philosophy on enjoying life: he compared Meursault, the main character in L’etranger, to Sisyphus in Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay, The Myth of Sisyphus. Sartre’s essay, which relates the “revolt” of a man who suffers from a pointless existence, parallels the struggles of Meursault and, accordingly, all of humankind. It is a twist on the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the mortal who displeased the gods and as a consequence was condemned to eternally roll a stone up a hill and then run after it as it rolled back down. Sisyphus’ senseless life sounds miserable, but Sartre claims that “il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux”one must think of Sisyphus as happy. This is only possible if Sisyphus (and every other human being) chooses to embrace life despite its seemingly senseless nature. By doing this, he is free and even the gods have failed to punish him.Whenever I am bogged down by a an analysis of Hamlet or ten-page biology lab–due the next day–and start to wonder if life really is as bad as the existentialists make it out to be, I remember that life really is what one makes of it. I could either be the Sisyphus who is shackled to his never-ending task in Hell, or I could be Sartre’s Sisyphus, who takes pleasure in life for life itself: the choice is mine.

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