What is man, other than an individual, an isolated being thrown into an alien universe totally devoid of any inherent meaning where contingency and failure seem to be the only organizing principles?
Our species have been expelled here and prohibited forever from knowing why. Therefore, “there is but only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide… All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has 9 or 12 categories – come afterwards.”
The majority of people who become cognizant of their absurd situation lack the courage for suicide, however, and instead opt for some form of self-deception to make the world and their place in it agreeable. Camus spent a lifetime contemplating the few who have had the “absurd epiphany” but cannot lie to themselves. It is possible to live in the face of the horrific truth? Camus thought it was possible – in the absence of hope, life is possible within the painfully narrow boundaries of what we know.
Although Camus argued passionately that we could survive our absurdity, his greatest works betray the extraordinary difficulty he had trying to build a convincing case. In The Stranger, Merusault rejects all the presumptions that the naive and cowardly depend on to justify existence and, just moments before his execution for a pointless murder, discovers that life alone is reason enough for living, a raison d’etre, however, that is only marginally convincing. In Caligula, the mad emperor tries to escape the human imbroglio by dehumanizing himself with acts of libertine & pointless violence; he fails and secretly arranges his own assassination. The Plague demonstrates the futility of doing one’s best in an absurd world. In his final novel, the short and bitter The Fall, Camus posits that everyone has bloody hands, that we are all responsible for making a dreadful state worse by our stupid action and inaction alike, and suggests that it is ultimately impossible to live with the inescapable senselessness of life.