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Extra resources for Camus and the Challenge of Political Thought: Between Despair and Hope

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Prometheus: I caused blind hopes to dwell within their breasts. On the one hand, by stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind, Prometheus rebelled against Zeus in the name of human empowerment and the ‘noble promise’ of human emancipation (Camus 1956: 22).

The scenario transforms in the second part of the novel, however, after Meursault, impulsively and without premeditation, kills an unknown Arab on the beach, under an overpowering sun that was ‘the same as it had been the day [he’d] buried Maman’ (Camus 1989: 58). Meursault spends months in prison, with little other than memories to occupy his time. As the days pass monotonously, the impression slowly forms that Meursault’s life before the murder – when each day resembled the one before and the one after, seemingly without any conscious choice – closely parallels his life in prison: ‘For me, it was one and the same unending day that was unfolding in my cell’ (Camus 1989: 80).

These are key elements of Camus’s thought as a whole, and the reading of The Myth of Sisyphus offered here aims to open up the central pathways into his moral and political thought that will be followed in subsequent chapters. It also provides a first point of contact with Camus’s use of literary and dramatic texts, including The Strangerr and Caligula, alongside philosophical essays to elucidate his ideas about modern society, morality and politics. The dominant theme of Camus’s account of the absurd is expressed, I posit, as critical thought regarding the disorienting limits or boundary-situations of human existence.

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