Give an explanation to the introduction to The Myth of Sisyphus: "One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness."

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the introduction to "The Myth of Sisyphus," Camus begins his argument by discussing literal suicide or the general sense of giving up on life. Having discarded all transcendental ideas that there is an inherent or cosmic meaning to life, one is faced with living in an absurd/indifferent world or declaring that such a world is not worth living in. But then Camus asks if the Absurd dictates death. Camus notes that this question has historically come down to a hope that there is meaning in life or that the universe is indifferent and there is therefore no hope. But Camus does not accept the limit of these two choices in opposition. Rather, he considers facing the absurdity. Then the question becomes: How does one face an absurd existence and still choose to live in it? 

"We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking." Even those who acknowledge that life is absurd might continue to live in it simply out of habit, out of an instinctual habit of survival or simply out of the daily habits of life: work, wake, sleep, eat, etc. These people have not fully faced the question of a meaningful or an absurd life. Camus writes that the real moment of questioning life begins with questioning habits. 

It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. 

Do we choose suicide, do we return to our habits of life (thoughtlessly and without conscious questioning) or do we embrace our conscious weariness and do something with it? Camus notes that this weariness is sickening but this weariness is also good. This is because that weariness or anxiety means that one is awake, conscious, and thinking about the meaning of life. 

If existence is like an impenetrable rock, we can not hope to get to the heart of it, the meaning of it. We are left with nothing more than an object. Camus writes that it is absurd to look into an indifferent world and expect some unifying, transcendental meaning. "But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and the wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart." 

For Camus, literal or figurative suicide is not the escape or revolt from an indifferent world. To truly revolt is to face that struggle of living when things seem to have no meaning. "By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death—and I refuse suicide." Finding no meaning in his punishment, in the rock and his limited world, Camus imagines Sisyphus is happy. Why? Camus imagines Sisyphus as an absurd hero. Rather than giving up on meaning or begrudgingly pushing his rock up the hill with the thoughtless habit that so many people go through their daily lives without thinking about life and work, Sisyphus embraces his life. 

Sisyphus does not think about tomorrow or some afterlife; he does not think of something better. He concentrates on his present existence. If there is no essential or transcendental meaning in his world, Sisyphus, by embracing rather than lamenting this world, is freed from seeking such an elusive meaning. The conscious awakening occurs when he walks down the mountain to pick up the rock again. In those moments, Camus imagines Sisyphus free in creating meaning himself; Sisyphus does not look for meaning beyond his present experience. He is a rebel continuing to struggle by confronting an absurd world.