Text and Meaning in Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus
Do I agree with everything in Camus' Myth of Sisyphus? No. But I have been contemplating his me
Text and Meaning in Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus
Do I agree with everything in Camus' Myth of Sisyphus? No. But I have been contemplating his meanings for quite some time and what follows is adapted from of a longer essay on the book:
“For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them.” ––Albert Camus, 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature Acceptance Speech.
When contemporary authors talk about addressing a subject in three different literary works, they generally mean a fictional or nonfictional trilogy, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,or Toni Morrison’s series of novels (Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise) linked by the author’s meditation on different eras of African-American history.
For Albert Camus, the term triptych is more appropriate than trilogy because he launched his literary career by tackling the same subject simultaneously through three different genres: a novel, a play, and a collection of essays. The novel was The Stranger, the play was Caligula, and the essay collection was The Myth of Sisyphus.Possibly even more impressive than his ability to complete this triptych was his ability to actually get the novel and essays published in the same year, 1942 (the play would have to wait two more years).
By that time, Nazi Germans had occupied Paris and Camus found himself basically trapped in a French mountain village known as Le Panelier. Unable to travel about freely or to use the country’s regular postal service, he had to rely on friends and allies to place his work safely in the hands of Gallimard Publishing (who are also publishers of work by France’s Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature). The company itself had remained active during the invasion and published Camus’ work with the consent of German officials. One noteworthy alteration to the original edition of Le Mythe de Sisyphe was the removal of his brilliant essay on Franz Kafka.
Bestsellers and Classics
Readers will not find Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus competing on lists of bestselling books of 2013 with titles such as 50 Shades of Gray by E.L. James or Thomas Pynchon’s latest comeback installment, Bleeding Edge. Any book which takes on suicide as a philosophical conundrum cannot be described as light reading and the average person is unlikely to consider such a volume entertaining. Yet even though the book is a serious work of philosophy in which Camus takes to task a number of fellow thinkers inclined more towards nihilism and existentialism, it also contains passages of inspired insight that transcend the category of philosophy per se. The following are two short examples:
“I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules.”
“In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s and the body shrinks from annihilation.”
And then there are the stunning bursts of lyrical poetry like this:
“At the hour when the sun overflows from every corner of the sky at once, the orange canoe loaded with brown bodies brings us home in a mad race. And when, having suddenly interrupted the cadenced beat of the double paddle’s bright-colored wings, we glide slowly in the calm water of the inner harbor, how can I fail to feel that I am piloting through the smooth waters a savage cargo of gods in whom I recognize my brothers?”
There is in Albert Camus’ literary craftsmanship a seductive intelligence that could almost make a reader dismiss his philosophical intentions if he had not insisted on making them so clear.
This is a condensed version of the 4-part article recently published in Examiner:
COUNSELOR CALLS FOR BIG CHANGES IN BOLD NEW BOOK: TALKING BACK TO DR.This is a condensed version of the 4-part article recently published in Examiner:
COUNSELOR CALLS FOR BIG CHANGES IN BOLD NEW BOOK: TALKING BACK TO DR. PHIL
“We each have lessons to learn and to teach, and healing is something we all do together.”—David Bedrick (Talking Back to Dr. Phil)
The task David Bedrick undertakes in the book Talking Back to Dr. Phil is not a small one by any means. The mission, which he clearly has accepted, is to infuse modern psychology with “new blood” by taking mainstream psychology and its current golden-boy television representative, Dr. Phil McGraw, to task.
Is such a thing as flipping the switch of critical thinking and automatic acceptance in regard to Dr. Phil’s celebrated “get real” approach to problem-solving––so frequently endorsed by media queen Oprah Winfrey herself––really possible? If it is, then the strategy employed––respectfully so–– in Talking Back to Dr. Phil is perhaps the best one to accomplish such a formidable job.
The 206-page book is comprised of 6 parts containing a total of 17 short essay chapters and a foreword by Dr. Arnold Mindell, who in the 1970s pioneered the development of process-oriented psychology. The major sections address these critical issues:
Labeling, Lies, Judgment, and Anger Relationships Diets and Body Image Addictions and Obsessions Diversity Domestic Violence
The basic difference between Dr. Phil’s approach to psychology, as articulated by Bedrick, and his own approach to it is also fundamental to his discussions of the above topics. In short, the mainstream approach to psychology is one more designed to help people viewed as out of synch with dominant modes of conduct or thinking adjust their behavior to accommodate the expectations and emotional comfort of others. Among its primary failures, Bedrick maintains, is that it “ignores the role psychology can play in helping people find meaning and power in their difficulties…”
By contrast: utilizing principles of process-oriented psychology and his extensive work as a counselor, educator, and attorney for a springboard, Bedrick presents his Jungian-influenced alternative in the form of a “love-based psychology.” Does this mean he’s suggesting his compassion for the sufferings of humanity are greater than the esteemed Dr. Phil’s? No. But it does mean he is suggesting his approach to psychological healing takes into account serious factors that mainstream psychology generally does not.
Principles of Love and Healing
Bedrick in fact provides a set of 7 principles that define a love-based psychology. Many undoubtedly will consider each of them controversial to one extent or another.
Among these principles is the author’s contention that the dominant culture within society––in the form of social prejudice and/or injustices––often plays a contributing but unacknowledged role in debilitating personal anguish. This particular observation may be a big part of the reason Americans seem less than eager to confront head-on the current epidemic of murders stemming from a lack of effective gun control measures. It is well known that a tremendous problem behind the more ostensible disgrace of murdered human beings is the lack of resources committed to mental health; yet relatively little has been done to correct this.
Another principle derived from David Bedrick’s meditations on process-oriented psychology suggests treating “the powers behind difficulties or disturbances as allies instead of enemies.” That could be a tough sell for people dealing with issues such as spouse abuse or drug addiction, but the author makes his case well enough. Moreover, the debatable nature of his love-based manifesto in its entirety is not lost on Bedrick. In his own defense and that of those he would help to heal themselves and their communities, he notes the following:
“Like the US Constitution, I do not adhere to majoritarianism, but rather protect marginalized people and forms of expression from being seen as ‘problems’ and subjected to the shame of psychological labeling and cultural prejudice, and I explore people’s difficulties to seek the seeds of their positive transformation.”
Each section of Talking Back to Dr. Phil describes an episode of the popular Dr. Phil Show that goes a long way toward helping Bedrick make some vital points. Just as importantly, these episodes are followed by precise explanations of how they represent applications of mainstream psychology, and, how love-based principles could have taken those who were in distress a step or two further toward resolving their problems. Crisis and Bias
In truth, there is any number of episode examples where, although Bedrick politely declines to describe it as such, the Oklahoma- and Texas-raised Dr. Phil seems to allow personal cultural bias more than objective professional assessment to inform his counsel. That may very well be part of the reason for his popularity and success.
The question is what does this “cut-the-BS” tough-love strategy actually do for those who turn to him for help when genuinely in crisis? Very possibly not as much as needed, and the solution to that dilemma just might reside in the pages of Talking Back to Dr. Phil.
This book gets 5 stars for its priceless historical value alone but there is in fact even much more to it. Nothing else in American/African-American hThis book gets 5 stars for its priceless historical value alone but there is in fact even much more to it. Nothing else in American/African-American history and literature comes even close to this volume because to date it represents the only comprehensive collected correspondence between two giants of African-American literature. That by itself is notable but possibly even more so is the span of time, as indicated in the title, covered. Bontemps and Hughes were both stars of the Harlem Renaissance but these collected letters only begin there and take readers through the writers' first-hand experiences of, and reports on, the Great Depression, life during World War II, and the thunderous rumblings of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
They also contain the kind of shared literary intimacies and insights you hope to find in such books. For example, Hughes writes the following to Bontemps on Feb 18, 1953: "If you'll tell me what Dick Wright's book is like (since I haven't it) I'll tell you about James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain which I've just finished: If it were written by Zora Hurston with her feeling for the folk idiom, it would probably be a quite wonderful book. Baldwin over-writes and over-poeticizes in images way over the heads of the folks supposedly thinking them--although it might be as the people would think if they could think that way..."
Whether or not you agree with Hughes' or Bontemps' assessments in such instances, the thrill comes from getting their uncensored straight-from-the-gut responses. This is the case whether they are dealing with literature, politics, race relations, mutual acquaintances, the development of various cultural movements, or their everyday struggles to survive and thrive as literary artists. Their voices as presented through these letters are beautifully undiluted but powerfully informed, and therefore an invaluable treasure for anyone who appreciates the idea of literary camaraderie, loves the Harlem Renaissance, or simply enjoys checking out writers at their unscripted best.