Suicide and the Absurd

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus implores his readers to acknowledge and accept the “Absurdity” of the contradiction between human rationality and the irrationality of the world. In his attempt to explain why we shouldn’t just kill ourselves once becoming conscious of the Absurd, Camus’ comes up with a seemingly unsatisfactory response: if we are to embrace the Absurdity of our existence, then we cannot commit suicide, because to do so would take a fundamental and necessary component of the paradox of the Absurd out of the equation: namely, ourselves. One must remember that for Camus, it is not existence itself that is Absurd, but the contradiction between the demands of human rationality, including its exceeding demand for conceptual ordering and structure, in a fundamentally and primordially irrational, chaotic world. Thus, if one is to truly confront the Absurd, the paradox of Absurdity must be lived but without the imposition of our false expectations and rational ordering.

While I certainly can appreciate Camus’ analysis of Absurdity, as well as his originality, I cannot share his conclusions with respect to physical suicide. It seems as though the only way to authentically embrace and confront Absurdity would be to retreat into what is, insofar as the rational-conscious component of our being is concerned, most irrational of all: the voluntary taking of one’s own life. Thus, rather than representing an attempt to escape absurdity, suicide would appear to take absurdity to its penultimate gloomy conclusion.

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One comment

  1. coastaltowns

    Hi! I think your analysis of the Absurd is very trenchant, and I appreciate that! However, seeing as your specific concern is whether or not “fully” embracing the Absurd would lead to suicide, I feel it would be fair, for the sake of understanding the situation better, to imagine the opposite: it would be equally absurd to resist suicide and continue to live this absurd life that we have. It could be argued – and this is, in fact, what I’m convinced of – that in the face of our absurd life the most logical thing to do would be to commit suicide. However, I can also concede that, in its discernible correlation to violent emotions or absence thereof, suicide has a very irrational element to it. All that to say, both could very easily embrace the Absurd in their own way. But perhaps that’s the point: if we commit suicide it is absurd, and if we continue to live it is absurd. I think this is reasonable, but this isn’t sufficient for the absurd situation – Camus does indeed depict suicide as an evasion. I think a good explanation for this would be that Camus calls suicide an “acceptance at its extreme.” He doesn’t like this; it’s too easy, and I think he wants a solution, which he will later allude to as that inveterate struggle or revolt so famously clarified and epitomized by Sisyphus. Moreover, Camus also describes suicide as “settling the absurd”. So, if this is true, then it is not that suicide is an act that embraces less of the absurd, but an act that obliterates the paradoxical nature of the absurd, for at the heart of the absurd everything is “unresolved”.

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