Since Part IV was really short, I decided to do Parts IV and V together on this blog.
Part IV: Rebellion and Art
“Art is the activity that exalts and denies simultaneously” (p. 253). What does this mean? The artist rejects what reality is, but demands for a certain unity about reality. What have previous philosophers and thinkers said about art? Art and beauty is a last priority, or it should be rejected from society. There’s a notion of censorship always around art. Thus, art is always revolutionary. It transforms history into absolute beauty. The artistic rebel makes aesthetic demands and forms the world into his plans. Admittedly, this is the portion where I was lost because Camus is talking about aesthetics and beauty and this really isn’t my specialty in philosophy. He talks about how the true artist is the rebel and how the rebel creates his own style. But true creation leaves the categories of the master and the slave. I would assume this would also leave the foundations of history like Hegel and Marx pointed out. Again, Camus points out the that artist is the best example of the rebel, but his arguments is where I got lost.
Part V: Thought at the Meridian
This last bit was the climax of the book. It’s probably the best way to end this book.
The twentieth century is a century where man has shackled off religion, but he’s replaced those chains with something intolerable. In this last century, mankind has gotten use to the tragedies of death, genocides and destruction. Rebellion, therefore, has been seen as unworthiness. However, giving up the rebel is leading to a conforming society: a society where justice prevails by having a police state. The rebel is now seen as a tyrant, someone should we should see with repulsion instead is seeing that the rebel makes us realize that it could be us that is wrong. The rebel creates the value whereas the rest of society is living off of the values from the previous rebel. From the first move, the rebel cuts the world into two. Why does he do it? He does it in the name of mankind and he sacrifices this identity. His existence was contained in this identity.
Rebellion doesn’t demand total freedom. It actually puts total freedom on trial by showing that it has limits: the limit that we have the power to rebel. The rebel exists because falsehood, injustice, and violence exist. Because of this, rebels will always exist. If the rebel is fighting for God or for history, he is surrendering his rebelliousness because it falls under the same patterns as before. It is the same with freedom and justice. Camus states (which has taken me a while to think about):
Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom. The revolution to achieve justice, through freedom, ends by aligning them against each other.
In other words, freedom needs contradiction. But these contradictions are in the realm of absolutes. Why? And how? Absolute freedom mocks at justice. Indeed, absolute justice denies freedom. The rebel fights for unity and order, but he must also remain aware that this unity and order is impossible. His revolt is without hope for resolution. But it is through revolting where we see Camus give us his view of ethics. Remember, Camus can’t give us ethics with some standard because a standard is always giving us a purpose or a reason behind it all. So for Camus, there are no standards in ethics. But what you can do is revolt. It’s a negative form. Explain the taste of salt, you can’t do it. But if you describe it in a negative way, it makes more sense. This is Camus’ version of ethics: we do it negatively by rebelling. If we see something that’s unjust, we rebel and say that that’s oppressive. But to say it’s for humanity or for historical progression, that’s applying a standard, and the question faces us: why do it for humanity? Why do it for history? Doing it for those reasons is purely nihilistic. In fact, doing it for history keeps power to the State. And once it does that, it destroys the creative aspect of humanity.
Again, what is a rebel? It’s “a man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion” (13). What is he saying yes to? He’s saying “no” of some intrusion in his life that he finds intolerable because he feels that “he has the right to. . .” Rebellion must have that aspect. He’s saying “yes” to a borderline and that one is affirming some borderline. It’s just that the oppressor has stepped over it. The rebel has a revulsion at infringements of his rights and a complete and spontaneous loyalty to certain aspects of himself. When you rebel, a certain awareness comes out. The rebel says “this is how things are. Let’s change it so that that is how it should be.”
But here’s the thing with ethics: people who act on something do it because they know it’s the right thing to do. However, the rebel acts because he believes it’s the right thing to do, but he also recognizes that he might be wrong. The person with the moral standards are actually ruthless because they won’t even think about him/her being wrong. People with moral standards are actually more destructive because they’re dogmatic. Man however cannot live without values. When you revolt, you’re revolting against exploitation, oppression, injustice and violence. But by that revolting, you’re asserting values on which you’re revolting. Thus, revolting has a moral basis. With every rebellion, the rebel always thinks of an ideal beyond himself so that he can act. The rebel identifies himself with others and thus he surpasses himself. With this, the rebel tries to be someone other than who he is. Resentment – it means to resent yourself because of what’s happening in society. The rebel, on the other hand, refuses to allow anyone to define himself. He fights for no one but himself, it’s part of his being. He’ll even accept pain, as long as his integrity is intact. The only hope for a society is an open future where revolting and moderation are constantly in tension. To be totally free, you must give up the idea of purpose. Thus, the ideas of freedom and justice find their limits in each other. The revolutionaries don’t understand or don’t know about these limits. The rebel does. What limits are these? The irrational limits the rational, which gives it its moderation. This is our meaning.
Camus supports trade-unionism because it has improved the workers conditions. By doing that, it has created limits and what should and should not happen. The same could be said with other institutions.
Moderation is not the opposite of rebellion. Rebellion in itself is moderation, and it demands, defends, and re-creates it throughout history and its eternal disturbances. . . Moderation, born of rebellion, can only live by rebellion. It is a perpetual conflict, continually created and mastered by the intelligence. It does not triumph either in the impossible or in the abyss. It finds its equilibrium through them. Whatever we may do, excess will always keep its place in the heart of man, in the place where solitude is found. We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others. (p. 301)
We do it for the present, not for the future and certainly not for history. Dedicating your life to history or to the future is back to the problem of nihilism. Dedicate yourself to yourself! “Then we understand that rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love” (p. 304). It’s a love and exuberance of life. “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present” (p. 304). It’s either love or nothing at all. Dedicating your life to Man instead of a man is back to resentment instead of love. This denies life. This is the problem: no one loves life! People have this assumption that to love life is to ignore the past and future. But to love life is to make a better future.
We shall live and let live instead of bending the forces into a particular order. Camus finishes the book with a nice flourish that gives a nice segue into his next book, The Myth of Sisyphus. In ways, I thought The Rebel was the sequel. This book is great for those who want to know more about Camus’ philosophy of rebellion and how to live life. I consider The Myth of Sisyphus as a better outline and The Rebel as minor details of what the rebel does. In short, read the The Myth of Sisyphus, and if you have a chance, read The Rebel. I’ll finish by letting Camus having the last word:
They [the rebels] choose, and give us as an example the only original rule of life today: to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a man, to refuse to be god. At this meridian of thought, the rebel thus rejects divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of all men. (p. 306)