Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Myth of Sisyphus - Wow what a piece of writing

I had this book for a long time but somehow I used to find it a daunting task to start reading it. I had made up my mind that I wouldn't understand it. But one day I turned a page. And that was it. I think there is a specific time that you are meant to read a book and books are magical that way, until you are ready somehow or the other you won't read it. I read it and Camus' writing took my breath away.

Sisphyus was a greek hero who was punished by the Gods to ceaselessly roll a rock up a slope and just when he had reached the top after hours and hours of labour the rock would slide down. Imagine pushing up a heavy rock knowing that as soon as you got to the top it would roll down and you would have to start pushing it all over again. And you will have to do do this over and over.

We know the rock will inevitably roll down, and that when we come down after it, we will come to the moment of decision and consciousness when we have to make a choice... give in to the Absurd and let the rock rest or strive for our human dignity and begin rolling the rock up the hill again. So long as we are rolling the rock we are not defeated, and there is human dignity in the world.

Camus relates this to the struggle we face in life but what makes this struggle different is the hero's total acceptance of his fate, his rebellion of his very fate. The central conclusion is that just because life is meaningless does not mean that it is bad. Our salvation lies in our attitude.

"You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. 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." [excerpt]


The Myth of Sisyphus expounds Albert Camus's notion of the absurd and of its acceptance with "the total absence of hope, which has nothing to do with despair, a continual refusal, which must not be confused with renouncement - and a conscious dissatisfaction". This is where Camus introduces the Absurd, and his equally famous image of life as a Sisyphean struggle.

"At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. 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". [excerpt]

To know that what one is doing will result in eventual failure yet to keep doing it because of the acceptance of one's fate and one's punishment, to be conscious of impending failure yet continue - and thats Sisyphus' crowning moment - his exultant defiance in the face of all odds. He is in control, he's been handed his punishment but he's not asked for mercy he's accepted and goes on, on the path of his destiny. The only master of his fate!

All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days". [excerpt]

Ultimately whether you agree with the writer or not the essence of it lies in the total rebellious acceptance of life and all its toil and sadness and burdens. As Camus ends this particular essay...

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again.
But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He
too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy". [excerpt]


No matter how tough life gets the beauty and nobility of life lies in how we face it. It is possible to find joy and find God... everything lies in the struggle and how much truth and meaning we bring to it.

Myth of Sisyphus is written by Albert Camus. Albert Camus was a French-Algerian journalist, playwright, novelist, writer of philosophical essays, and Nobel laureate. Through his literary works and in numerous reviews, articles, essays, and speeches Camus made important, forceful contributions to a wide range of issues in moral philosophy – from terrorism and political violence to suicide and the death penalty. In awarding him its prize for literature in 1957, the Nobel committee cited the author’s persistent efforts to “illuminate the problem of the human conscience in our time,” and it is pre-eminently as a writer of conscience and as a champion of imaginative literature as a vehicle of philosophical insight and moral truth that Camus was honored by his own generation and is still admired today

1 comment:

Gregory A. Becerra said...

Camus stretches this myth to fit his philosophical outlook. He over emphasizes points that work and foregoes aspects that are problematic.

Sisyphus is rolling this rock in the afterlife, not in life. So if we follow Camus we would have to call death absurd, not life. Or we might just question why he chose letting the rock rest as absurd when it seems more absurd to keep pushing the rock. As far as dignity, Sisyphus lost all his dignity with his tricks. Camus overlooks that this whole cyclic pushing of the rock is a punishment.

I like some of Camus’s work, but his logic is very flawed.