Paul M. Willenberg
Discourse on the Consciousness of Fate
Sisyphus knows his fate. He to Because he has the opportunity and does rationalize his fate, he has consciousness. As the rock rolls back down, he is able to look back upon his life and analyze it. Nothing could be more existentialist. Sartre’s Garcin wants to meet his fate face to face. So, Sisyphus, embodies this desire of Garcin, and is thus a hero to him. Similarly, Charles Dickens’ scrooge has the unique opportunity to become an observer to his fate in the past, present and future. While Camus’ Meursault does not care about his past, he expresses the same feelings as scrooge and Garcin in their desire to confront their fate. Indeed, this is why they are every man and Sisyphus is our hero - he has and will always confront his fate. He has the conscious power to contemplate and control his fate. Therefore, if we know that everyone faces death as their fate, consciousness equals the ability to deal with ones fate.
If we know our fate, do our lives hold meaning? Meursault remarks, “Nothing, nothing mattered, and I know why.” He knows he will be executed by a society in which he cannot exist, but he resigns and thereby assures himself that the middle is meaningless. Before his arrest, he knew he would die. Perhaps this knowledge justifies his living moment to moment. His statement compares to Beckett’s Vladimir when he laments, “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it is awful!” Both Meursault and Vladimir understand their insurmountable fate, but Meursault desires to confront it. This reveals Meursault to have the heroic qualities of Sisyphus. So, what Vladimir recognizes, Meursault confronts, and Sisyphus transcends. Sisyphus conquers his fate in spite of his immortality.
Camus addresses the consciousness of Meursault and Sisyphus through their fate. By the ability to recognize his past, Sisyphus shows how Meursault lacks unhappiness. Meursault has nothing with which to compare the pleasure he feels instantly, so he is at the least continually content and possibly perpetually happy. Conversely, Sisyphus understands his past yet chooses not to compare his past to the present or his known future. When the priest asks Meursault if he would prefer a different life to his own, he remarks he wants a life “where I could remember this one.” Camus has defined supreme knowledge through consciousness. The binding solipsistic principle that fetters us to a limited consciousness is that we cannot experience anything from a perspective other than our own. If we could be sure of someone else’s present mental state as it related to our own, we could confirm not only existence, but find true knowledge. Meursault exists only in the present, and it is only the society in which he lives that forces him to have a connection to his past actions. Similarly, Sisyphus is condemned to roll the boulder because of his past actions. In Meursault’s relation to society, however, he would prefer to treat the past as unstable and society must hold him accountable for it. Everyone is, either by their own cognition, or by the society in which they live, responsible for their past actions. The frustration of Meursault and the solipsist is that we cannot truly know that these actions ever truly existed. So it is because we have a consciousness that we are held accountable for our past, but because we are conscious, we can confront death. Society, then, becomes an external force that holds us accountable for our actions.