Home » Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus

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‘It is necessary to state this to begin with. For an absurd work of art to be possible, thought in its most lucid form must be involved in it. But at the same time thought must not be apparent except as the regulating intelligence. This paradox can be explained according to the absurd. The work of art is born of the intelligence’s refusal to reason the concrete. It marks the triumph of the carnal. It is lucid thought that provokes it, but in that very act that thought repudiates itself. It will not yield to the temptation of adding to what is described a deeper meaning that it knows to be illegitimate. The work of art embodies a drama of the intelligence, but it proves this only indirectly. The absurd work requires an artist conscious of these limitations and an art in which the concrete signifies nothing more than itself. It cannot be the end, the meaning, and the consolation of a life. Creating or not creating changes nothing. The absurd creator does not prize his work. He could repudiate it. He does sometimes repudiate it. An Abyssinia suffices for this, as in the case of Rimbaud.

At the same time a rule of aesthetics can be seen in this. The true work of art is always on the human scale. It is essentially the one that says “less.” There is a certain relationship between the global experience of the artist and the work that reflects that experience, between Wilhelm Meister and Goethe’s maturity. That relationship is bad when the work aims to give the whole experience in the lace-paper of an explanatory literature. That relationship is good when the work is but a piece cut out of experience, a facet of the diamond in which the inner luster is epitomized without being limited. In the first case there is overloading and pretension to the eternal. In the second, a fecund work because of a whole implied experience, the wealth of which is suspected. The problem for the absurd artist is to acquire this savoir-vivre which transcends savoir-faire. And in the end, the great artist under this climate is, above all, a great living being, it being understood that living in this case is just as much experiencing as reflecting. The work then embodies an intellectual drama. The absurd work illustrates thought’s renouncing of its prestige and its resignation to being no more than the intelligence that works up appearances and covers with images what has no reason. If the world were clear, art would not exist.

I am not speaking here of the arts of form or color in which description alone prevails in its splendid modesty*. Expression begins where thought ends. Those adolescents with empty eyesockets who people temples and museums—their philosophy has been expressed in gestures. For an absurd man it is more educative than all libraries.’

*It is curious to note that the most intellectual kind of painting, the one that tries to reduce reality to its essential elements, is ultimately but a visual delight. All it has kept of the world is its color. (This is apparent particularly in Leger.)


Bron:  Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, Penguin Books, 2005