Book Review: The Rebel by Albert Camus, Part IV and V: Art and the Meridian

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)

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Camus, Ethics, Existentialism, History, Values. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Book Review: The Rebel by Albert Camus, Part IV and V: Art and the Meridian

  1. Sanjeev says:

    i want to study existentialism but dont know where to start from? which book should i read first? Should i start from martin heiddger’s ‘being and time’ or jean paul sarte’s ‘being and nothingness’ ?? What do u think of ‘ the myth of sisyphus’ ??

    • shaunmiller says:

      I would start with Camus’ The Stranger. It’s a nice way into this type of thinking. From there, go to his other novels like The Fall and The Plague. After that, I would go to Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions for a nice intro on what existentialism is all about. After that, you can get to the harder stuff like Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, Heidegger’s Being and Time and stuff from Simone De Beauvoir. Good luck!

  2. Sanjeev says:

    Shaun..According to existentialists we are alone and we have no purpose of is meaningless..but it is so.then why do we live? Why dont we go for suicide?? What kind of force put a pressure on us to live?? I think most of people believe in two kinds..idealism and materialism..a materialist live for materials and an idealist live for emotions,and feelings.. When Both are alone they become hopless of theire lives..they come to know the absurdity of life..but they both are slavers of mind and matter..they can never be free

    • shaunmiller says:

      Hello Sanjeev, both Sartre and Camus have replies to the suicide question. For Sartre, it’s in his novel Nausea and for Camus, it’s The Myth of Sisyphus. For both of them, suicide isn’t the answer because an unpassionate, committed life. Indeed, Camus questions the connection between the meaninglessness of life and suicide.

      I’m not sure I understand between living the life of reason and living the life of emotion as a form of hopelessness. Hope is an emotion and I could imagine living a very hopeful life, but without reason. I could also imagine a person living a full rational life without (by definition) having no hope. But neither of them need to admit the absurdity of life because absurdity is a combination of reason and emotion. Therefore, it seems that absurdity comes to the fore when reason and emotion are together, not apart.

      Both Sartre and Camus are neither materialists or idealists as you put it. So I guess based on your definitions, we can be free because we are neither.

  3. Sanjeev says: you put that you can live a hopeful life but without any reason,and can live a rational life without any kind of hope..How can it be possible?? I think hope is also a reason to live and no one can live a rational life without means hope and reason are together and give your life an meaning,worth,..but why did you put that absurdity comes to the fore when reason and emotin are together,not apart??

    • shaunmiller says:

      If the life is pure reason, one can simply live with any notion of hope. Animals, children, infants do it all the time. In fact, Camus makes a striking notion that we never think about the meaning of life until it’s brought up. In other words, we just simply live out our lives without thinking about the meaning of life. Isn’t it odd that the meaning of life is never brought up unless it’s through a philosophical context? That’s what Camus is getting at. Absurdity comes about when reason reveals there is no meaning, but our emotions don’t like that. Thus, the absurd can only come about when both reason and emotion are together. Absurdity cannot come about through pure reason or pure emotion.

  4. Praiffs says:

    What are the differences between communism and existentialism?? Both believe freedom of human.and dont believe in spiritualism .then what’s wrong with them?

    • shaunmiller says:

      These aren’t the only differences. Kierkegaard is considered an existentialist but he was extremely spiritual. Could you be more specific with your questions? You’re making the claim. So if you find something at fault with them, tell me what is it and we can discuss it.

  5. Reality says:

    Shaun, thanks a lot, I’ve learned from your review. Actually, I’m studying Politics.. that’s why I’m reading your work…

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