An Animated Introduction to Albert Camus’ Existentialism, a Philosophy Making a Comeback in Our Dysfunctional Times


“When next you meet an existentialist, ask him what kind of existentialist s/he is. There are at least as many varieties of existentialism as there have been high-profile thinkers propounding it. Several major strains ran through postwar France alone, most famously those championed by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus — who explicitly rejected existentialism, in part due to a philosophical split with Sartre, but who nevertheless gets categorized among the existentialists today. We could, perhaps, more accurately describe Camus as an absurdist, a thinker who starts with the inherent meaningless and futility of life and proceeds, not necessarily in an obvious direction, from there. The animated TED-Ed lesson above sheds light on the historical events and personal experiences that brought Camus to this worldview. Beginning in the troubled colonial Algeria of the early 20th-century in which he was born and raised, educator Nina Medvinskaya goes on to tell of his periods as a resistance journalist in France and as a novelist, in which capacity he would write such enduring works as The Stranger and The Plague. Medvinskaya illuminates Camus’ central insight with a well-known image from his earlier essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus,’ on the Greek king condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity. … Many existentialists ‘advocated for violent revolution to upend systems they believed were depriving people of agency and purpose.’ Such calls haven’t gone silent in 2020, just as The Plague — one of Camus’ writings in response to revolutionary existentialism — has only gained relevance in a time of global pandemic. Last month the Boston Review‘s Carmen Lea Dege considered the recent comeback of the thought, exemplified in different ways by Camus, Sartre, and others, that ‘rejected religious and political dogma, expressed scorn for academic abstraction, and focused on the finitude and absurdity of human existence.’ … Today ‘we define ourselves and others on the basis of class, religion, race, and nationality, or even childhood influences and subconscious drives, to gain control over the contingencies of the world and insert ourselves in the myriad ways people have failed and succeeded in human history.’ …”
Open Cuture (Video)
Jacobin: Albert Camus and the Fantasies of Empire
Why Camus Was Not An Existentialist

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