[Note: First question on this site - I've used other StackExchange sites but this is a first for me. Be gentle.]

I recently began reading Albert Camus' "The Rebel" because it was referenced extensively in another book I'd recently read ("Terror and Liberalism" by Paul Berman.) However, I'm somewhat stumped by "The Rebel." It reads like the second book in a series - like the continuation of some other work. It seems to pick up the story "in the middle," so to speak. For example, Camus by page 5 is indulging in an extensive discussion of his view of the "absurd" nature of existence:

But, for the moment, this train of thought yields only one 
concept: that of the absurd.  And the concept of the absurd 
leads only to a contradiction as far as the problem of murder
is concerned.  Awareness of the absurd, when we first claim to 
deduce a rule of behavior from it [...]

But he never bothers to define what he means by the concept of "the absurd." This omission renders the rest of his argument somewhat mysterious to someone coming to it cold, without preparation.

I'm not sure if it's the French-to-English translation, or the fact that Camus' book is now almost 60 years old, but I'm finding some of it pretty impenetrable. I'd really like to make some sense of it, but I wonder if there's such a thing as an "Annotated Rebel" for those of us that need it, or is there another book that I need to read first?

  • 1
    Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus" is an introduction to his concept of the absurd. And "The Stranger" is a novel that explores the concept.
    – obelia
    Nov 17, 2013 at 7:31

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia entry on the rebel is a good place to start.

Starting in 'media res' - in the middle of things is a literary technique which subverts the idea that a story should have a beginning, it also invokes the feeling that we are in the middle of things without knowing what is going on, and we must spend effort to discover this, that is establish coherence. One might think of here of Heidegger's notion of throwness, that is being thrown into the world.

The absurd is one reaction when the world loses meaning. There is a well-known theatre of the absurd which takes off from Camus's work.

As you point out, Camus's work is over 60 years old; to get a grasp of what he is saying one has to immerse oneself or at least have a nodding acquaintance of the intellectual currents and preoccupations of that time. And one of those themes is taking the Nietzschean 'Death of God' seriously by the intellectual elite - which probably gave serious impetus after two devastating world wars (which was also what propelled the absurdism of the dadaist avant-garde art group). What could be more absurd than the trench warfare of the first world war, the use of men as cannon-fodder? Of course, this intellectual climate is normative now (I don't mean absurdism here but atheism).

Camus points out the idea of the absurd cannot be possibly self-consistent, for even if one declares that one lacks faith in the world, or has lost belief in any transcendental meanings, one retains belief in oneself and in one's own perceptions, feelings and intellects. This then allows the beginning of an intellectual current - existentialism - as propounded by Sartre. (Even if Kierkegaard, the Nordic philosopher who predated him and was resiliently a Christian is seen by some as its founder of existentialism - perhaps because he grasped we must live as though God did not exist).

Following on from Nietzsche's 'Death of God', Camus points out that the French revolutionaries (the rebels) killed 'God' too. That is they killed the French king, who embodied the divine right of Kings. That Marxists tried to kill history (another divine agency - think of fate or karma) by bringing utopian values into the world.

The death and resurrection of gods, according to some histories of myths, is an old and reoccurring story; one might think Nietzsche slayed God, only for others to resurrect it as economic-political theologies which assumed transcendental values, ie Marxism & Capitalism.

  • Thank you for the information - I've checked out the Wikipedia entry for "The Rebel" and am making some good progress. It looks as though reading his earlier work "The Myth of Sysiphus" may help as well. I shall press on. Nov 17, 2013 at 0:44

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