Albert Camus & The Myth of Sisyphus

Home / Case Studies / Albert Camus & The Myth of Sisyphus
Albert Camus &
The Myth of Sisyphus

 
Planets as Psychological States


By Glenn Perry

 

Image result for pictures of albert camusIn this essay, we will explore the life and birth chart of Albert Camus, celebrated French novelist, playwright, and philosopher from the mid-20th century who was recipient of the Nobel prize for Literature in 1957. Our purpose is to show how Camus’s predominant preoccupations―the themes, struggles, and convictions that reoccur in his works―express an intrapsychic conflict symbolized by a key planetary configuration. We will set the table by first examining planets as psychological states. Whereas every planet symbolizes a continuum of psychological states, aspects between planets signify core ideas that generate and sustain specific states. Our primary example will be Camus’s Yod from Saturn to Sun-Jupiter. It was this configuration that manifested through Camus’s most famous idea: his notion of the Absurd.

Planets As Psychological States
In a previous column, we explored how sign-planet systems refer to affects that are experienced on a range of intensity. Each sign-planet system has a target state, or preferred feeling, deviation from which is experienced as a varying reference signal. When events create a disturbance from the target state, resultant negative feelings signal the need for corrective action. For example, an insult is experienced by the Leo-Sun system as “wounded pride”. This, in turn, stimulates a behavioral sequence that is calculated to restore the desired solar state of self-esteem. A person might leap to defend his honor via a counter-attack, or respectfully confront the offender, or simply avoid the person.

Planets not only symbolize a range of affects that are evoked in response to specific events, they also represent enduring psychological states. States are more stable than momentary feelings (affects) that arise and quickly subside; they can be chronic, for good or ill. A psychological state is characterized by a recurrent pattern of experience as reflected in mood, attitude, internal dialogue, facial expression, posture, voice tone, and what a person says and does.1 In other words, a state is reflected in virtually every aspect of a person’s inner life and observable behavior.

States common to most persons entail emotions such as anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, shame, sexual excitement, surprise, and joy. However, a state is more complex than its emotional component. It also includes an underlying motive, associated beliefs, and self-talk (internal dialogue), all of which can be summarized by the term ‘attitude’. An attitude is a settled way of thinking, feeling, and acting vis-à-vis a particular topic such as politics, war, or religion. An individual may, for example, hate politicians, glorify war, or distrust religion. A person’s dominant attitudes, which are more-or-less synonymous with states, are manifestations of character structure and reflected in the way corollary planets are constellated in the birth chart.

Saturn as an Enduring State
In AstroPsychology, each sign-planet system is associated with a range of states. Remember, a state is characterized by a recurrent belief, mood, internal dialogue, and behavioral pattern. Of these, belief is primary, for it underlies and generates all the rest. Consider that wherever Saturn is in the chart, we find a drive to achieve an unrelenting high standard, which we might call perfection―Capricorn’s core motivation. Deriving from this are additional Capricornian needs for structure, order, and success. Depending upon how Saturn is constellated, as well as its degree of integration, the native will have some belief about his or her ability to fulfill Capricorn needs. And this belief will produce corresponding Saturnian states.

If Saturn is in the 3rd and under pressure from difficult aspects, a reporter may suffer writer’s block due to a belief that his writing skills are inferior. This, in turn, can generate a depressed mood and self-talk that is persistently negative, “I’m failing to meet journalistic standards”. Believing he lacks the necessary ability, he procrastinates in doing the requisite work. Note how his mood (depressed), internal dialogue (negative), and subsequent behavior (procrastination) all flow from a single underlying belief.

Saturnian perfectionism can manifest along a continuum of states from suicidally depressed to supremely successful. Moving from positive to negative, Saturn’s continuum of states includes: Successful, organized, focused, ambitious, determined, serious, grave, stressed, anxious, inferior, craving, inadequate, pessimistic, failure, gloomy, isolated, guilty, despairing. Since perfection represents an absolute that can never be attained, it can result in perpetual guilt if carried to an extreme. While there are two general types of guilt, Saturnian and Neptunian, the Saturnian variety results from the perception that one is failing to fulfill duties and meet obligations―in short, that one is inadequate to the task at hand. The resultant saturnine mood is gloomy, pessimistic, and despairing.

Sun-Saturn States
A negative Saturnian attitude is usually generated by a fear (belief) that one will never be good enough. Good enough for what, we ask? For anything with which Saturn happens to be involved. To determine the specifics, we would have to look at Saturn’s sign, house, and aspects. If it is connected to the Sun by aspect, then personal identity will be bound up with Saturn; thus, Saturnian states will strongly impact one’s capacity for intentionality, self-expression, play, creativity, performance, romance, and self-esteem. For these are the Sun’s primary functions.

Of course, the Sun has its own (Leo) needs to fulfill, among them validation, approval, and self-esteem. To the extent the Sun is functional, resultant states are positive; if the Sun is dysfunctional, states are negative. Just as with other planets, Solar states fall on a continuum: Proud, confident, self-assured, certain, happy, playful, worthy, romantic, willful, stubborn, defensive, disdainful, uncertain, unworthy, embarrassed, humiliated.

When Sun and Saturn are in aspect, they will combine in ways that reflect the nature of the angle and its degree of integration. One possibility with hard Sun-Saturn aspects (square, opposition, quincunx) is an inferiority complex, fears of inadequacy, expectations of failure, depressive tendencies, and the like – all related to core solar issues of personal identity and creative self-expression. I’m reminded of a famous quote by Camus, who had the quincunx, “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee”? Camus struggled with the question of whether life was worth living if human beings are doomed to perpetual despair in a meaningless universe.

With hard aspects, the internal dialogue tends to be self-deprecating and predictive of failure. “I don’t have what it takes. It’s too hard, I’m going to embarrass myself,” and so on. To the extent the person defends his solar identity against Saturn, there is apt to be a fear of authority, which might originate with a parent (usually father) and subsequently extend to fear of any Saturnian figure – bosses, superiors, the government, and so on. This might emerge as a cynical, hostile, or defeatist attitude: “They’re holding me down. What’s the point of trying?” The negative attitude underlies and reinforces the depressive mood.

Of course, this is but one way, albeit a common one, in which Sun-Saturn expresses itself. Just as often, the native goes to the other extreme by identifying with Saturn at the expense of the Sun, thus producing the chronic achiever. Through a combination of discipline, perseverance and hard work, the Saturn-dominated individual pushes himself to the top of his field. No matter how much status and honor is conferred, however, he will not be satisfied. Since perfection can never be attained, he can never stop striving to excel, to surpass himself, to be perfect. This Saturn mood is tense, stressed, driven; the attitude is ambitious and determined, “I must be the best.” Self-talk focuses on setting the next goal, formulating plans, and pressuring the self to improve: “You should have gotten the promotion; you can do better.”

While one can identify with Sun at the expense of Saturn, or vice versa, conflicting tendencies co-exist and vacillate within the same person. First one dominates, then the other. In both instances, Saturn is over-functioning and unintegrated. In the first scenario, a fear of failure produces a defeatist attitude; in the second, it produces a compensatory, driven attitude.

Although astrologers cannot be certain how an aspect will be expressed, the nature of the underlying belief will determine whether the corollary attitude is predominantly negative or positive. In both examples above, the underlying belief was the same: a sense of personal inadequacy and anticipation of imminent failure. Although the subjective mood and outward behavior differs, neither state – defeatist or driven – is conducive of enduring satisfaction.

Integration of Sun-Saturn
When Sun-Saturn is operating in a balanced, harmonious manner, the individual is more relaxed, patient, and flexible in pursuing aims. He or she respects limits, honors authority, is less driven, and more capable of achieving and enjoying success. Each planet enhances the other’s functionality. Work and play become coordinated; responsibility and creativity fuse. Underlying beliefs tend to be more positive, and the respective planetary functions are effectively utilized to achieve goal states of Saturnian mastery and Solarian self-esteem. All of this will be reflected in a person’s mood (serious but playful), attitude (confident and authoritative), internal dialogue (“I enjoy planning for and pursuing success”), facial expression (content/focused), and voice tone (coolly self-assured). Outward behavior is apt to be characterized by disciplined creativity applied to the achievement of long-term goals.

Such a state will be constant to the extent the person has integrated his or her Sun-Saturn aspect. Again, integration is not something that can be determined merely by looking at the chart, although soft aspects are suggestive of a relaxed, harmonious flow between the two faculties. While integration of hard aspects requires sustained effort, rewards tend to exceed those that accrue from soft aspects. Multi-billionaire Oprah Winfrey, who has Sun in exact square to Saturn, is a good example. Actress, director, producer, entertainer, media mogul, talk-show host, and philanthropist, Winfrey’s list of accomplishments is so long it would take several pages to list them all. Suffice to say she is one of the most successful, influential woman in the world.

Oprah Winfrey Birth Chart

Oprah Winfrey: January 29, 1954, 4:30 am, Kosciusko, MS

As befits an exact Sun-Saturn square, however, Oprah’s rise to the top was not without struggle. Born to an unwed teenage mother mired in poverty in the Deep South, she was raped at nine and suffered continuous sexual abuse from multiple relatives for the next five years. At age 14, she became pregnant and was shipped off to live with her estranged father. Her baby died two weeks after delivery from complications of being born premature. Oprah’s remaining teen years were characterized by constant humiliation and defiant rebellion. Unwanted, she was shuffled back and forth between her grandmother, mother, and father. Despite these hardships, Oprah Winfrey went on to achieve extraordinary success and is often praised for overcoming adversity to become a model and benefactor to others.

The Saturn Complex of Albert Camus
A more typical case involves the previously cited Albert Camus, who embodies both the depressive and success themes of Saturn. Living in war-torn France during the 1940’s and 50’s, Camus emerged as an internationally recognized novelist, dramatist, political journalist, philosophical essayist, and champion of freedom. His extensive writings provide a unique glimpse into Saturn as enduring state and psychological complex.

In the chart below, note that Camus has Saturn Gemini in the 9th forming an opening quincunx to Sun Scorpio in the 2nd.  It also forms a closing quincunx to Jupiter Capricorn in the 4th. Since Sun and Jupiter are sextile, this makes Saturn the focal point of a Yod with Sun-Jupiter. It is especially significant that Jupiter in Capricorn forms a hard aspect to its own dispositor, Saturn, which occupies Jupiter’s house (9th).2  Jupiter and Saturn are thus thrice entangled – by sign, house, and aspect – which underscores the importance of the contact as well as their difficulty in working together.

I will have more to say about Jupiter-Saturn momentarily. Suffice to say that Camus’s Sun-Jupiter sextile comprises a two-pronged attack against Saturn, which is their common nemesis. His Sun attacks through creative works (fictional novels and plays) that seek to resolve problems wrought by Saturn, whereas Jupiter attacks through non-fiction books, political journalism, and philosophical essays that expose the dark side of Saturnian abuses. We will first examine Jupiter’s relationship with Saturn.

 

Albert Camus: November 7, 1913, 2am, Mondovi Algeria

While often characterized as a philosopher in the existentialist tradition, Camus described himself as merely “a writer”. Given that Mercury signifies his 10th house of career and tenants his 3rd house of communications, it is noteworthy that David Simpson writing for the Encyclopedia of Philosophy suggests, “it may be best simply to take him at his own word and characterize him first and foremost as a writer—advisedly attaching the epithet ‘philosophical’ for sharper accuracy and definition.”3 Of course, this perfectly accords with his birth chart. Mercury not only signifies his career as a writer, its position in Sagittarius further qualifies the nature of his writing as philosophical.

But, we might ask, what kind of philosophy? As Mercury’s dispositor, Jupiter provides information as to the nature of Camus’s philosophical, political, and religious convictions. Camus was never comfortable identifying himself as a philosopher. He was not inclined to abstract theorizing, nor did he develop a coherent, carefully defined doctrine. According to Simpson, Camus’s thought was focused on current events and was “consistently grounded in down-to-earth moral and political reality”.4 This certainly fits Jupiter in earthy Capricorn, which suggests a morality focused on practical concerns rather than intangible, metaphysical speculation. Moreover, its placement in the 4th inclined Camus to seek political and economic justice for the nations to which he belonged―his country of birth, Algeria, and his adoptive homeland, France.

As mentioned, Jupiter in Capricorn forms a closing quincunx to its own dispositor, Saturn. This means Jupiter must depend on Saturn to further its aims; yet, the closing quincunx suggests such dependency is likely to backfire. In AstroPsychology, we would say Jupiter is “ill-disposed”. For rather than support Jupiter’s aims, Saturn actively resists them and even poses a danger. The nature of the danger is apt to derive from an extreme, destructive expression of Saturn, at least from Jupiter’s perspective. Objectively, this took the form of Camus’s preoccupation with totalitarian political ideologies like Fascism and Communism that he regarded as a threat to truth, justice, and morality.

Subjectively and thus behaviorally, Saturnian states of pessimism and despair impinged on Jupiter’s core values of hope and faith, which made Camus’s writings a threat to prevailing views―religious, philosophical, and ideological. An unremitting tension between Saturn and Jupiter is abundantly evident in all of Camus’s work, examples of which I will provide momentarily.

Since an aspect derives its meaning from the zodiacal sign that comprises that angle, a closing quincunx is Scorpionic; the two planets―Jupiter and Saturn―regard each other with mutual distrust and animosity, even while engaged in mutual influence. One or the other is likely to be projected and cast into shadow, and thus the entire aspect will erupt in ways consistent with Scorpio―passionate, extreme, and potentially destructive until and unless the crisis is resolved. In effect, a closing quincunx is a kind of wound that requires healing. And because the wound is projected, it manifests as an alarming situation or predicament.

Of additional significance is Saturn’s placement in the 9th house, which Jupiter naturally rules. Again, this underscores how tightly Saturn and Jupiter are bound together despite the unease of their relationship. Saturn not only symbolizes Camus’s approach to the affairs of the 9th, but also manifests as the concrete outcomes―things, people, and events―Camus experienced in that locale. The 9th house pertains to the search for truth (philosophy, ideology, religion) and the pursuit of justice (law, ethics, morality).

Saturn in Gemini in the 9th suggests that Camus would like to achieve perfect, factual knowledge of the metaphysical realm. Yet, the very nature of the realm is abstract, concerned with speculative ideas and inferences. Accordingly, Saturn in Gemini is likely to conclude in frustration that certain, indubitable truths are nowhere to be found. Simpson writes that Camus’s mature philosophy was not merely a naïve atheism,

but a very reflective and critical brand of unbelief. It is proudly and inconsolably pessimistic, but not in a polemical or overbearing way. It is unbending, hardheaded, determinedly skeptical. It is tolerant and respectful of world religious creeds, but at the same time wholly unsympathetic to them. In the end, it is an affirmative philosophy that accepts and approves, and in its own way blesses, our dreadful mortality and our fundamental isolation in the world.5

No astrologer could write a better summary of Saturn Gemini in the 9th, at least as Camus experienced it. It cannot be overstated that an aspect can be expressed in multiple ways. At higher levels of integration, no matter how difficult the aspect, it will be expressed in a manner that allows for satisfaction of the respective needs the planets are obligated to fulfill. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that Camus was unable to fulfill Sagittarian-Jupiter needs for faith, hope, and meaning during the course of his short life. In fact, he went in the opposite direction.

In lieu of any genuine religious faith, and given that Saturn rules government, Camus’s focus on political ideology was virtually certain. Again, he was preoccupied with the obstruction of justice (Jupiter) by oppressive government control (Saturn). When the Nazi’s conquered France in WWII, he was morally outraged by their imposition of a brutal, harsh system of laws. Yet, it is equally true that Camus’s own Saturnian skepticism dampened his capacity for faith and, as I will argue, limited his ability to see broader, more encompassing truths. Shortly, we will examine how Camus’s gloomy atheism was charged with having exactly that effect.

When two planets conflict by hard aspect, generally the slower predominates.  Renown for its hard-core realism and persistent doubt, Saturn is likely to frustrate Jupiter’s quest for truth, meaning, and justice―or, at least make Jupiter work assiduously for even a scrap of satisfaction. This was most immediately apparent in Camus’s political convictions. Distrustful of Saturnian authority and potential abuses of power, Camus joined the French anarchist movement in his 30’s, wrote for their publications, and remained supportive of anarchist movements throughout his life. As a political ideology, anarchism is the antithesis of Saturn, for it advocates self-governed, hierarchically-free, stateless societies, and regards external, hierarchical forms of government to be largely undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.

Camus’s cynical distrust of bureaucracy is consistent with Jupiter being ill-disposed, for he feared that the collective impulse for government, however high-minded and well-intentioned, would likely backfire and turn against the people. This was exemplified in Camus’s direct experience with Nazis while living in occupied France. In addition to his anarchist views, he became active in the Resistance and from 1944-47 served as editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Combat. His yod to Saturn was never more evident than when he wrote: “We are suffering a reign of terror because human values have been replaced by contempt for others and the worship of efficiency, the desire for freedom by the desire for domination. It is no longer being just and generous that makes us right; it is being successful.”6 

In 1947, at age 34, he published an allegorical novel, The Plague, which depicted Fascism as converting formerly free, independent-minded human beings into soulless, oppressive bureaucrats who, like rats, afflict humankind with death and contagion. In fact, Fascism did turn against its own people as well as the inhabitants of conquered nations via its evil racial policies, death camps, cruel eugenics, forced sterilization, and involuntary euthanasia.

Again, consistent with the Scorpionic/closing quincunx between Jupiter-Saturn, one of his plays, State of Siege, depicts the officious, clip-board wielding Secretary of a fascist dictator as a modern, bureaucratic incarnation of the medieval figure Death. As if giving a nod to Saturn’s sign position of Gemini, a prominent concern of the play is the appropriation of language (Gemini) in the service of totalitarian ends, with words twisted and redefined to serve the machinations of power, or silenced altogether through state control of the press.

Although Camus had a brief flirtation with communism in his early 20’s, he was quickly disenchanted. Living in his native Algeria at the time, he initially saw communism as a means to combat inequalities between European and Algerian natives, but he was soon denounced as a Trotskyite-traitor and expelled from the party by age 24. He wrote, “We might see communism as a springboard and asceticism that prepares the ground for more spiritual activities.”7 Given that Camus was an avowed atheist, it is noteworthy that he saw communism as a spiritual springboard. Again, in the absence of an authentic faith, his religious impulse was sublimated into politics-as-religion. This is certainly consistent with Saturn in the 9th.

However, Saturn’s quincunx to Jupiter assured disillusionment with even this compromise. In his 1951 non-fiction book, The Rebel, Camus (now 38) condemned totalitarian ideologies like Marxism-Leninism for their system of pervasive control, micro-management, violent coercive methods, and suppression of human freedom. If Camus was looking for an exemplar upon which he could hang his fear of Saturnian authority, Fascism and Communism provided ready and easy targets.

Sun-Saturn and the Absurd
Camus’s Sun Scorpio in the 2nd house, which forms an opening quincunx to Saturn, provided a second front in his life-long war with the grim reaper. An opening quincunx has a Virgonian connotation, for the respective planets have a problem with one another to which they are compelled to seek a solution. With Sun sextile Jupiter, Camus was personally identified with the pursuit of truth, justice, and meaning. No problem there; yet, as the other leg in the Yod to Saturn, the Sun was destined to perpetual battle with Saturn in the 9th.

 

It should be noted that the only aspects Camus’s Sun and Jupiter make are to Saturn (quincunx) and each other (sextile). While the Jupiter-Saturn quincunx reflects Camus’s general philosophy, the solar quincunx pertains more to his identity and creative works, especially his freedom (free-will) to make something of himself. The Sun-Jupiter sextile confirms that Camus saw himself as an individual capable of creating a bountiful life, but the two quincunxes to Saturn in the 9th suggest that perception of meaning in a larger, philosophical sense would remain extremely difficult. 

This difficulty manifested most notably in his landmark 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus, an extended contemplation on the search for meaning in a meaningless world. That he wrote and published his signature work precisely on his Saturn return at age 29, highlights its significance as an attempt to resolve his own fated struggle. With Myth of Sisyphus, Camus formally introduced and fully articulated his most famous idea―the concept of the Absurd. The ‘absurd’ results from the fatal collision of two realities: man’s desire for meaning and clarity on the one hand, and the silent, cold universe on the other. In other words, the absurd entails a futile search for meaning in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Man’s very capacity for reason leaves him feeling estranged and alone in the blank, indifferent “silence of the universe”.

Camus offered three responses to the absurd: suicide, religion, or acceptance. He begins his treatise with a provocative sentence: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” To give this much weight to the impulse for self-annihilation suggests that either people in war-torn France were desperately unhappy, or Camus himself was depressed. Since he was having his Saturn return when he wrote the book, I’m guessing the latter, though perhaps it was both. Camus reasoned that if we decide that life without inherent purpose or meaning is not worth living, then we can simply kill ourselves. He dryly observes, “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living.” In the end, he rejects suicide as a viable solution to the problem, calling it a cowardly evasion of life and itself absurd. Surely this was a relief to his readers for it virtually guaranteed they would get to read the full four chapters. However, that he advised readers not to kill themselves suggests he himself took the option serious enough to warrant an argument against it.

Camus’s second response to the absurd is religion, which he called “a leap of faith”. A leap of faith entails blind belief in intangibles, such as God, transcendence, redemption, and immortality. But this, too, he rejected, for a leap of faith goes beyond the evidence of life and favors abstraction (Jupiter) over concrete, personal experience (Saturn Gemini). As the principle of reality, Saturn trumps Camus’s Jupiterian capacity to believe in the supernatural. Using a phrase in keeping with the closing/Scorpionic quincunx, he regards religious faith as “philosophical suicide” in that it evades the problem of the absurd by substituting fantasy for grim reality. Doing so, thought Camus, constitutes the annihilation of reason―hence, philosophical suicide.

Albert Camus

Over and again Camus cautions the reader to eschew hope, as if hope can only lead away from the cold, somber truth of existence. His utter negation of faith is like a defiant scream into a void that refuses to accede to his demand for definitive answers. He judges other philosophers as having failed to achieve truth by their very willingness to hope―that God exists, that the supernatural is real―as if Camus’s personal negation of faith is the final and ultimate standard by which other philosophers are to be judged.

Camus’s atheism reflects his belief there can be no meaning or purpose in the universe beyond what he can rationally understand on the basis of evidence, and that for him to believe otherwise would be tantamount to self-annihilation. It also exposes the extent to which his Sun-Jupiter sextile is dead set against granting any validity to Saturn’s formulations in the 9th; hence, those formulations remained profoundly negative, lopsided, and out-of-balance, as exemplified in totalitarian ideologies like communism and Fascism, and the more rigid, dogmatic, and irrational excesses of formal religions like Christianity and Islam.

Planets in quincunx occupy signs that share nothing in common―neither polarity, modality, element, nor perspective. Their fundamental incongruity is precisely why they pose a problem/crisis for one another, the solution to which often involves paradoxical logic. In a celebrated display of circular reasoning that is testament to Saturn’s quincunxes to Sun and Jupiter, Camus asserted his third choice and what he believed was the only valid solution to the problem of the absurd: full, unflinching, courageous acceptance. Paradoxically, “life can be lived all the better if it has no meaning,” for then mankind is truly free, liberated from imprisonment to religious decrees and their strict, moral codes. “He enjoys a freedom with regard to common rules”. By living without hope, man is no longer in anxious pursuit of eternal life. By accepting there is no purpose to life, he can embrace all that life has to offer. And since life has no meaning, there is no scale of values, no intrinsic morality. “What counts is not the best living but the most living.”

In short, Camus’s solution to the meaningless of life is a passionate, amoral hedonism (Sun Scorpio 2nd). The self is free to do whatever it wants, can passionately pursue earthly pleasures, and can rebel against the rules of morality constructed by traditional faith. Camus’s primary exemplar in this regard was Don Juan, the serial seducer who lives through his sexual conquests and who recognizes, “There is no noble love but that which recognizes itself to be both short-lived and exceptional.”

In effect, Camus’s final solution to the problem of the Absurd entails Sun and Jupiter teaming up in common revolt against Saturnian restraint, as might befit an unintegrated Yod. Camus made much of the concept of revolt. The contradiction of man’s search for meaning in a meaningless world requires constant confrontation, constant revolt, said Camus. Individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence by defiantly continuing to explore and search for meaning even while accepting there is no inherent meaning to life. Camus asserted that he believed not in God, but in Man; that Man can create his own meaning. And if this is all starting to sound confusing and logically inconsistent, welcome to the world of the quincunx.

Rather than find a way to embrace Saturn in the 9th, which might ultimately have yielded a solid, sensible philosophy that did not exclude hope and meaning, Camus chose instead to rebel and to live without “false hope”. He advised others do the same. For then humankind would be free to pursue earthly pleasures and revel in a kind of orgiastic primitivism, to worship only what is immediately real to the senses­. As the 2nd house is the sensory realm of the body, of tangible, physical comforts (possessions, resources), as well as the natural domain of the earth itself (agriculture, gardens), it is not surprising that Camus overvalued this realm as an escape from Saturnian despair. One imagines Sun Scorpio pushing Saturn away in dread and by doing so rebounding into the 2nd with a voracious intensity.

Echoing this view, Simpson writes that Camus was a natural-born pagan, more of a sun-worshipper and nature lover than one notable for his piety or religious faith. “There is no salvation, [Camus] argues, no transcendence; there is only the enjoyment of consciousness and natural being. One life, this life, is enough. Sky and sea, mountain and desert, have their own beauty and magnificence and constitute a sufficient heaven.”8 Clearly, Camus’s God (if one could call it that) lived not in the 9th, but in the 2nd and 4th houses wherein Sun and Jupiter happily and passionately resided, mutually rejecting any requirement to believe in a higher Saturnian power. The “best” living may be Saturn in the 9th, but the “most” living was Jupiter augmenting Sun Scorpio in the 2nd.

Lest one think that Saturn in the 9th under hard aspect virtually assures an atheistic worldview, we have only to examine other philosophers and religious leaders who had the same position. Hard aspects to Saturn in the 9th may suggest struggles in relation to faith, but do not automatically result in rejection of religion. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who had Saturn in the 9th square to Sun Leo, is a good example. Despite early doubts, he ultimately professed a sincere and devoted relationship with Christianity. Likewise, John Muir, the American naturalist and philosopher, had a 9th house Saturn in quincunx to the Sun, but unlike Camus saw in Nature the handiwork of God. The list goes on – the Dali Lama (Buddhism), Jerry Falwell (Christianity), and Martin Heidegger (Taoist leanings) all had Saturn in the 9th under stress from hard aspects, yet all professed faith in a divine reality.

We must conclude, therefore, that Camus’s solution to what he called the Absurd was not much of a solution at all. Rather, it was what psychologists call a compromise formation―an attempt to ward off dreaded states by maintaining a compromised level of experience and style of behavior. A conflict between competing needs tends to produce fear that any attempt to fulfill one need could have negative repercussions for the other. If Camus pursues his Capricorn-Saturn needs for perfect factual knowledge (Gemini) of metaphysical truths (9th), his conclusion – life is meaningless – virtually assures a state of solar despair. However, if he pursues his Leo-Sun needs for passionate enjoyment (Scorpio) of momentary pleasures (2nd), he forfeits his Saturnian duty to achieve clarity as to the higher meaning and purpose of life. His compromise, therefore, is to concoct a philosophy that states there is no inherent meaning and purpose to life, but that humans are free to revolt against the absurdity of their own condition; they can construct their own, private meanings and pursue happiness and live passionately in open defiance of the Absurd. It is a brilliant rationalization, but one suspects any happiness it affords is limited at best.

Camus himself said as much. “There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.”9 He continually stresses that joy is necessarily intertwined with despair, and that the inevitability of death confers a premium on intense experience and the ecstatic celebration of the pleasures this one life can give.

His ultimate absurd hero was Sisyphus, the king of Corinth and a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again before reaching the summit. Sisyphus’s eternal punishment was due to having disrespected and defied the gods, specifically Thanatos, the god of Death. For when Death came for him, the king tricked him and put him in shackles so that he, Sisyphus, need never die. Of course, with Death in chains languishing in Sisyphus’s closet, this meant that no one else could die, too. Pluto took offense at this, as it knocked Nature seriously out of whack, and so dispatched the god of war to liberate Death from the chains of Sisyphus.

That Sisyphus was a king establishes him as a solar (egoic) figure. The king’s crime speaks volumes, for it establishes from the outset that he denied any purpose, meaning, or value to death, and favored his carnal desires over and above all other considerations, both spiritual and moral. Homer tells us that Sisyphus had a reputation for being a swindler, liar and fraud, willing even to cheat Death and betray the gods. Notorious as the most cunning knave on earth, Sisyphus lived a dissolute life in endless pursuit of whatever pleasures the moment provided. In effect, the king was corrupt. Eventually his indiscretions caught up with him, and he was hauled down to Hades to face his punishment.

But Camus sees Sisyphus as the ultimate absurd hero. “His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”10 Just as humans are condemned to the meaningless task of living, so Camus saw in Sisyphus the essence of the human condition. But Camus went further, attributing to Sisyphus a heroic quality.

He sees Sisyphus as heroic in the sense that he performs his task in full, conscious awareness of his eternal torment, or at least Camus assumes he does. Sisyphus has no illusions. He is lucid. But! says Camus, “The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”11  This reference to “scorn” is telling, for it reveals an underlying bitterness, not in Sisyphus, but in Camus for whom Sisyphus is merely a convenient screen on whom to project. Clearly, Camus’s scorn of the gods reflects his solar fear of Saturnian authority, and more specifically religious (9th house) authority. What better image of Sun Scorpio quincunx Saturn in the 9th than a dead king condemned by the gods to the interminable task of pushing a boulder up a mountain and never successfully achieving his goal? 

Camus imagines Sisyphus capable of returning to his rock not merely in sorrow, but in joy, a joy that can come to him when he fully accepts the meaninglessness of his plight. For Camus, this is to scorn the gods, for “it drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings.”12 Camus is saying that there is no reason or purpose to suffering―at least none with a divine origin. For all that we experience is of wholly human origin with no transcendent meaning. But if we bear our suffering heroically, if we revolt against the despair of life, if we eschew hope that by our efforts we may someday be redeemed, then and only then we may have some small chance at moderate happiness. Imagining Sisyphus once more at the foot of the mountain in Tartarus, Camus concludes his work by saying, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”13

But this conclusion rings hollow. Camus makes clear that happiness for him is a solar act of revolt against what would otherwise be interminable despair―a despair that ironically is a consequence of Camus’s own failure to integrate Saturn. In other words, such happiness is compensatory, a reaction formation that serves as a defense against a dysphoric state of mind that is the unavoidable concomitant of his own worldview. Recall that ill-disposed Jupiter seeks meaning from Saturn in the 9th, but Saturn is in a sign (Gemini) opposed to meaning and quincunx the sign in which Jupiter resides (Capricorn). Hence, Saturn deprives Jupiter of the meaning it seeks. It says, “All your striving for meaning leads to the conclusion that human existence is meaningless.” Knowing this, one can have sympathy for Camus’s predicament, but it does not change the fact that his philosophy is less a statement about the human condition than it is a statement about him.

When Camus describes Sisyphus’s return down the slope, he admires the stony, saturnine attitude he imagines Sisyphus to have. Stony, without self-pity, hardened to the grim realities of meaningless, pointless exertion. “At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.”14] This is Camus’s formula for happiness: a heroic choice (Sun) to revolt. But it strikes me as a denial of legitimate suffering, like someone who laughs hysterically to ward off unbearable pain. It defies common sense to imagine Sisyphus as anything but unhappy, miserable in recognition of the hopelessness of his plight. That is the whole point of the myth.

Camus writes beautifully, but we should not conflate the elegance of his prose with the quality of his thought. His interpretation of the myth of Sisyphus is not a “manual of happiness”, as he tries to suggest. Rather, Sisyphus’s story is a morality tale whose lesson is simple: violate the laws of nature at your own peril. What could be clearer? Sisyphus locks Death in a closet; that is, avoids the transformation that death inevitably requires of us all. It is a profound dishonoring of Pluto for whom Death is an ally and servant. Death, the grim reaper, is a stand-in for Saturn who reminds us that our time is limited and that we should strive to live responsibly within the rule of law, exercising appropriate self-restraint and recognizing that when our time comes we will be judged by a higher power and appropriate consequences follow.

Our modern sensibility may scoff at such a notion; it is not scientific, it cannot be empirically proven. Camus, of course, would agree. Yet, the intuition that earthly sins generate celestial consequences is archetypal, showing up in virtually all faiths in one form or another. It is implicit in the meaning of Saturn. Since Camus did not believe in God (or gods), he saw no significance in Sisyphus’s crime beyond it mirroring his own religious scorn. But I see Sisyphus’s rock as symbolic of Saturn itself, of the responsible and patient toil toward perfection of heart and mind that Sisyphus avoided in life. And so he was bound to Saturn in death.

The question naturally arises as to whether Camus saw something of himself in Sisyphus’s profligate crimes. One might assume he did. On the one hand, Camus was inordinately responsible and morally serious, so much so that he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for his persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time.” He was honored for exemplifying in both his personal and creative life “an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings.”15 While battles with Saturn surely inspired his greatest accomplishments, they had other consequences, too.

For example, Camus was renowned for his dalliances with women. His first marriage ended as a consequence of infidelities on both sides, and his second marriage was likewise marred by public scandal and affairs. Although Camus insisted he loved his wife, he also argued passionately against the institution of marriage, dismissing it as unnatural, “a constrictive and outmoded institution.”16 Saturn again. Even after his wife gave birth to twins, Camus continued to joke to friends that he was not cut out for marriage.17 He persisted with his numerous affairs, including a public affair with the Spanish-born actress Maria Casares.

Given the customs of the French, perhaps we should not make too much of this. Camus enjoyed life in the fast lane with the Parisian elite, so what? In 1960, he was killed when his friend and publisher, Michel Gallimard, lost control of his fast, expensive sports car and crashed it into a tree. It was a horrendous crash. Photos show the car devoured right up to its rear axle. Camus was accelerated through the window, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. He was forty-six years old. In his pocket was a train ticket. After their Christmas holiday, Camus had planned to take the train back to Paris with his wife and kids, but at the last moment decided to travel instead with Gallimard. No one knows exactly why.

    Death Scene

Can such a death have any meaning? Camus would say no, neither life nor death has any meaning. But as astrologers, we are not so quick to dismiss. We know that Camus rejected suicide as a solution to the despair of life. He believed that man must stay alive for no better reason than to rebel against the absurd. Live life to the fullest and hate death! And yet, his life was stolen from him at the peak of his powers. Death came for him sooner than expected. Saturn rules control, and we know that Camus resisted Saturnian control, seeing it as oppressive and constrictive. Saturn also rules obstacles. Gallimard lost control and crashed his car into an obstacle. Of course, Camus was not the driver so it may seem unkind to suggest he was in any way responsible for his own death. But in the archetypal world, responsibility does not have such limited meaning. Parts of ourselves we avoid can boomerang in infinitely creative ways. It is tempting to surmise, as Sisyphus found his rock, so Camus found his tree. Saturn and Camus, together at last in deathly embrace.

Summary & Conclusion
We have seen that enduring psychological states are manifestations of character, which is symbolized by the birth chart and the degree to which it is integrated. Chronic states emerge from deep, core beliefs represented by dominant planetary configurations. Unresolved psychic conflict tends to produce pathogenic beliefs and accompanying dysphoric states; conversely, to the extent planetary aspects are integrated, constructive beliefs result. These, in turn, produce positive states that will be evidenced in virtually every aspect of the person’s life: mood, attitude, self-talk, body language, facial expression, outward behavior and life experiences.  

An example was provided of Albert Camus’s Yod, which entails a sextile between Sun and Jupiter with both planets quincunxing Saturn. While Camus’s extraordinary accomplishments suggest a high degree of integration of the Yod, it is also likely they were, at least in part, a product of his unresolved struggle with Saturn. A sense of meaninglessness and depression plagued Camus. His atheism was the equivalent to his anarchism, for both entailed a revolt against Saturnian authority in the 9th; both entailed scornful disbelief, the one in religion, the other in government―or, at least in conventional forms of hierarchical government. And both were responses to despair.

Perhaps the most significant lesson we can take from analysis of Camus’s life and birthchart is this: His ideas about the human condition, his philosophy and its influence on the world, teaches us less about the meaning of life than it does about one man’s attempt to exorcise his demons. Camus’s atheistic worldview as articulated in The Myth of Sisyphus was a self-portrait of his psychic structure and its level of integration.

This, no doubt, is true for all of us who endeavor to say something about the world. Each of us views life through a personal lens, as symbolized by the birth chart, and like Camus we see but through a glass darkly. If astrology has value, it’s that it enables us to become conscious of the stories we construct and gain insight into their underlying psychic matrix. Astrology is the light that illumines our darkness. And from that, if he were still alive, I suspect even Camus could draw hope

* * * * *

Notes

1 Horowitz, M.J. (1987). States of mind: Configurational analysis of individual psychology. New York: Plenum Medical Book Company.

2 A dispositor is a planet that rules the sign that another planet occupies. Since Jupiter is in Capricorn, Saturn disposes Jupiter. A dispositor is thought to carry forward the actions of the planet(s) it disposes. However, if the disposed planet is in hard aspect to its dispositor, then it is “ill-disposed,” for the dispositor is against the objectives of the planet it disposes. See: Perry, Glenn (2012) Introduction to AstroPsychology. East Hampton, CT: APA Press, pp. 349-358

3 Simpson, David. “Albert Camus (1913-1960)”, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/camus/, accessed 8/3/2017

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Naylor, Thomas. “Albert Camus: Life is Absurd, Rebél, Live, and Try To Die Happy” accessed 8/9/17.

7 Todd, Oliver (2000). Albert Camus: A Life. Carrol & Graf, pp. 249–250

8] Simpson, David. Ibid

9 Camus, Albert (1955). The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays (translated from the French by Justin O’Brien). New York: Alfred E. Knopf, Inc., p. 123

10 Ibid, p. 120

11 Ibid, p. 121

12 Ibid, p. 122

13 Ibid, p. 123

14 Ibid, p. 121

15 Simpson, Ibid.

16 Small, Stephen. “Albert Camus (1913-1960)” Retrieved 8/9/2017.

17 Ibid.

2 thoughts on “Albert Camus & The Myth of Sisyphus

  1. This is an excellent, thorough thesis on Albert Camus. As a mediocre astrologer I don’t feel very competent in commenting. However, with 5 quncunxes and 3 yods in my own chart, and a direct genetic-line to holocaust victims, your well constructed descriptions woke me up. . . First, as a good part of Albert Camus’s existence took place in WWII, a time when human suffering, oppression, unconscienable injustice, brutal prejudice and fatal death around the corner, how could any of us–astrologers or others–estimate the extent of fear that those who were living at the epicenter of the Nazi influence could experience? Didn’t this have to do with Saturn and Pluto archetypes? Which were in a square of Pluto at the beginning degrees of Leo with Saturn at the beginning degrees of Taurus; and Mars not too far from a midpoint from both at the later degrees of Capricorn? If we experienced what the Nazis were putting these people through today (which really isn’t so remote), with the way we have been dumbed down, media victims of hogwash; if we had the aspects that Albert Camus had, and today’s chart, would we react the same way? Well, that question is not realistic, of course, but worth a thought. . . Thanks for letting me share. Brilliant, Glenn! You are truly amazing.

  2. Great essay, Glenn. I found an explanation of the Yod of particular interest because I have 2 in my natal astrology and am always looking to explain it further. Your example was helpful. Thanks Toni

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This