In Albert Camus's philosophical and literary works the recognition of the absurdity of human existence is a central principle. The realization of the absurdity of human existence is a necessary condition for accomplishing anything in life. The absurdity of existence is best exemplified in the myth of Sisyphus, in which the gods have condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the mountain peak. Every time Sisyphus pushes the rock up the slopes it falls back; nevertheless, he goes back to push it uphill. In spite of failing to reach his objective, he is resolutely committed to keep striving. The condition of Sisyphus dramatizes the perpetual meaninglessness, futility, and absurdity of human existence. This emptiness of life's actions and endeavors poignantly reveals the absurd.
In a world stripped of its illusions and false pretensions, the human being is an outside, who lives without any meaning. The human being is placed in a hopeless and void situation. This limiting reality leads the human being to encounter the absurd in every aspect of being, ranging from routine activities in life to unusual and unconventional circumstances. The consequent problem of suicide, arising from the absurd, is the core question in Camus' philosophy.
All human actions and thoughts develop in the void, in the midst of weariness and frustrations, irrelevancies, the bizarre, unconformities, illusions, and evasions, which make those actions and thoughts absurd. The human attempt to grasp the mechanism and the dynamics of the universe also turns into an absurd confrontation between the human being and his surroundings. Ironically the human being can only realize the absurdity of the universe in his attempt to comprehend it. This contradiction and this paradox of existence seem to be the sole reality that develops as a result of the universe's indifference to human existence.
Camus does not suggest that the universe is in itself hostile toward the human being. Rather the absurdity lies in the underlying discord in the relationship between the human being and the universe. The silence of the universe creates an eerie feeling in the human being which brings about a disappointing awareness that there can be no salvation from the external world, that the human being is alone and has been thrust into a universe where self-realization is the only road to freedom. The absurdity of the universe is not a given phenomenon; the human being realizes the sweeping absurdity of his being in the universe only when he perceives the nature of his existence. Thus, the human being discovers the absurdity of existence when he correctly perceives the universe.
Absurdity is a process which develops in the human being. It becomes a concrete attitude towards the universe in which the human being recognizes that there is no scope for transcendence and the objective structure of the universe does not accommodate an optimistic outlook. The human being encounters absurd walls that limit and trap him. Life always remains incomplete. This incompleteness of life makes it purposeless. In the routines and drills of life the human being is drowned by the mundane and morbid repetition of living day in, day out. The human being is totally estranged from everything else in the universe. This estrangement expresses itself in the physiological nausea and the subjective passion to be free. He is divorced from nature. He allows the flow of time, over which he has no control, to determine his life. Death appears as a seal in this unintelligible universe. Yet, he yearns for a distant tomorrow because he is unable to realize any value in his current mode of existence, in which everything has been reduced to mechanical functions that reproduce themselves. The universe is indifferent to the human efforts to be at home in the world.
Human life consists of its own absurdity and profound sickness. For the human being there is neither a promised land nor a utopia where all problems are resolved and the contradictions are harmonized. The human being is in a permanent exile and can never overcome his separation from the universe, and even from his own life, personal events, and society.
According to Camus, the human being has to directly and readily encounter the absurdity of the universe in all its aspects. For the human being the absurd is the real relationship arising from the dialectic unity of his nostalgia and the irrationality inherent in the universe. The absurdity of the human existence lies in its insecurity, its rejections, its agony, and its disappointments. There cannot be any escape to a transcendental level once the human being has realized the absurd. He cannot "leap" into the unknown, for there is nothing to rely and depend upon. He cannot transform the absurdity to eliminate its cardinal human dimension. He has no room for renunciations. For him any attempt to retreat from the absurd is but philosophical suicide because it seeks to impose a false purpose into the world that has no inherent meaning. Thus, the absurd may make the human being vulnerable, but this does not provide a justification for denying, or disguising, the abysmal life. His authentic consciousness of the presence of the absurd provides him with a lucid way to absorb and understand the despair of the universe. Hence, it is the solitary ability to heroically face the universe that entitle the human being, in spite of the absurdity of existence, to embrace life, instead of committing suicide.
For Camus, the consequences of the absurdity of human existence are clear. The human being is capable of knowing his situation. This self-knowledge does not mean that he can overcome the contradictions of the human situations. Rather his revolt does not seek to contradict or deny what he knows because he cannot escape from the paradox of the absence of meaning. Ironically, life thus becomes fruitful and dynamic. In the final analysis, life itself is the source of his freedom of being. Life's innumerable experiences provide the human being with fulfillment because he learns to live without pleas, hopes, or codes of behavior. By acknowledging the absurd, the human being virtually defines the constraints that threaten and entrap him. His admission of the absurdity of both particular and universal existence prepares him for assimilating, embracing, and envisioning life.
Camus argues that the revolt against the absurdity of the universe provides the creative tension and serves as the fountainhead of the human being's pride, renewal, and the capacity to struggle. The human being's consciousness enables him to cope with the despondency of existence, not through denial but through understanding. Nevertheless, the nature of the universe remains as absurd and enigmatic as ever because, for the human being, there are no rules, certainties, or rigid implications in life. The absurdity of existence does not provide the human being with a predetermined set of values and beliefs; it compels him to come to terms with the wide array of possibilities, and the conflicting demands that life makes on him. The absurdity of the universe allows the human being to affirm his knowledge and to gain control of his destiny. Like Sisyphus, the human being, due to his self-realization and conscious, does not stop his efforts because he faces an insurmountable challenge. According to the myth, Sisyphus invalidates the fate condemned for him by the gods because he is content to continue on with his eternal and exalted uphill situation, because he knows that his actions proceed from his own directions and freedom. Thus, his actions and thoughts, in the midst of the limiting and engulfing human situation, show his heroism, defiance, and courage.