I am presenting at the pre-conference session for graduate students, poets/writers, and emerging scholars.
Paper Title: “The Liturgical Absurdity of Albert Camus and Saint Athanasius: An Interpretation of Unbelief in the Cycles of Catholic Time.”
The Roman Catholic liturgy challenges modernity’s duality between sacred and secular life. Indeed, its liminality is expressed in a cycle and runs on a calendar that memorializes the saintly dead. Such mythic cycles have been the focus of human culture for millennia, and Albert Camus’ re-interpretation of classical thought in the Myth of Sisyphus (1942) offers similar possibilities for the Catholic imagination. Camus was raised in the Catholic Church and eventually doubted its claims, committing himself to the philosophy of the absurd and sharing his convictions through novels like The Plague (1947). Looking back to the geniuses of the Catholic imagination, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, the author of On the Incarnation (318), serves as a pivotal example of how theology can narrate our struggle with nothingness. Both Camus and Athanasius grapple with our absurdity and narrate two responses to the mythic cycle, straddling the edges of transcendence, immanence, and absence.
With Athanasius as a comparative guide, I will discuss how unbelief can recover critical notions of Catholic theology and resist the practical atheism that diminishes our distinctive imaginations. Camus’ secular imagery of the absurd is fruitful because Sisyphus can name our struggle with the tradition in the work of the eucharistic assembly. Sisyphus’ endless struggle with the boulder notes an embrace of this world amid the absurdity of being. Descending down Camus’ literary unbelief, we can rise with a potent image of the mythic cycle and the work necessary to fight humanity’s commodification. Athanasius, in his narration of the Incarnation’s union of divinity and humanity, makes the liturgy’s narrative expression a re-imagination of secular life, but Camus’ imagery offers the language of absence that helps us bring secularity into this work. In this interchange, we discover a creative cycle that narrates our secular age with the possibility of Catholic time.