Is absurdism just existentialism with good vibes?

3 min read



Absurdism emerged from the 20th century currents of existentialism and nihilism and has some important starting points in common with both, but also leads to conclusions that are quite different from these other schools of thought. All three emerged from the human experience of anxiety and confusion arising from existence: the apparent meaninglessness of a world in which man is nevertheless compelled to find or create meaning. From here, the three schools of thought diverge.

Nihilists claim that it is futile to seek or affirm meaning where none is to be found. Absurdists, following Camus' formulation, tentatively allow for the possibility of some meaning or value in life, but are neither as certain as existentialists about the value of their own constructed meaning nor as nihilists about the utter inability to create meaning. They create a kind of mediating centrism. Perhaps this is one reason why absurdism enjoys particular popularity these days.

The meme now denotes how Camus himself passionately opposed nihilism, explaining this in his essay "The Rebel." At the same time, he also categorically rejected the label "existentialist" in his writing "Enigma," although he is often blanketly referred to as an existentialist by others. Both existentialism and absurdism involve considerations of the practical applications of becoming aware of the truth of existential nihilism: i.e., how a driven seeker of meaning should act when suddenly confronted with the apparent hiddenness or total absence of meaning in the universe. Camus's own understanding of the world (e.g., "a benevolent indifference" in The Stranger) and any vision he had for its progress, however, sets him apart from the general existentialist tendency. It may also be possible to act as a passive rebel, to continually reinvent oneself, even to assume different identities – as discussed in „The Myth of Sisyphus“ – in order to recharge life itself, even if it ultimately lacks meaning.

Absurdists who follow Camus merely encourage the individual to live defiantly and authentically despite the psychological tension of the absurd. In the cartoon shown in the meme, which, after all, generated great interest not only among children, it is Spongebob who stands for this absurdist courage to live, while Squidward exemplifies the curmudgeonly existentialist who apparently fails to construct a meaning to life, even if he tries to do so through art. He is caught up again and again by the childlike absurdism of Spongebob. So is absurdism existentialism with good vibes? Yes, quite, because one saves oneself from inventing and maintaining meaning.

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