Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sisyphus and College Part 2

In my previous installment, I discussed the myth of Sisyphus and the relation that it has had to my college experience thus far. I talked about how Sisyphus was doomed to perform the same task over and over again for eternity, and my own personal fear of falling into the same fate as him. The thought of having no tasks, obligations, or goals in life is one of the worst things that I can imagine for myself, and I personally could think of nothing worse for myself. However, since I wrote my last essay, I started to toy with the idea of myself being doomed to the same fate as him, and how I would cope if I was in the same situation as Sisyphus.

In the myth of Sisyphus as written by Albert Camus, he talks about Sisyphus as being the "absurd hero". His passions on the earth and his scorn and disobedience toward the gods is what secured his spot in the underworld. His own reckless actions on earth and below it in the underworld are to blame for his fate for eternity, and while nothing is said about Sisyphus in the underworld one can imagine his thoughts while he rolls the stone, when it stops and begins rolling down the hill again, and when he goes back again towards it. Camus says that the part of the myth that interests him the most is the decent of Sisyphus to the bottom of the hill. He writes "I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end... 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". I find this a very interesting viewpoint, as this is where his absurdist viewpoint is prominent. He believes that instead of dreading the descent toward the rock, that Sisyphus actually enjoys the descent. But why? Well, he imposes his absurdist point of view onto Sisyphus, and states that even though he is not free to do what he wants, he is superior to his task, and therefore free in a certain way. After reading this passage a couple of times, it began to creep in my brain that he may have found a sort of newfound freedom in his eternal punishment. He also writes, "One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness". This is a line that particularly stood out to me, as it put into words thoughts that have been in my mind for some time. Accepting the absurdity of life and it's ridiculousness is not exclusive to being happy; for if Sisyphus accepts his fate, as Camus suggests, and what comes with it, he could become liberated by his life and duty of rolling the rock. He has one job, and there is a certain peacefulness that must come with accepting his fate and finding a certain tranquility in it.

This is not the only time that Camus talks about absurdity and happiness. Later in the myth he says
that, "happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth", which is another way of saying that the two go together, like apples and oranges. Absurdity is all about accepting that we, as humans, will never be able to comprehend the complexities of this world or all the information in it; and if or when we accept this fact, we are liberated in ways thats that are second to none. Soren Kierkegaard wrote extensively on the subject of absurdity a century before Camus, and greatly influenced his thinking. Sisyphus must have realized at some point durning his punishment that there is no other reality for him, no other opportunities; the rock is his only reality and the only thing that exists for him. And as he pushes this rock and watches it roll back toward the dark abyss from which he had come, he has two choices of what to think about, two mindsets to adopt. He could dwell on the negatives of his situation, the eternal pain that he has to endure and the monotonous struggle of pushing the rock up to never achieve anything. Or, he could choose to find joy in his struggle, as he is the master of his rock and the master of his days. He is superior to his fate. If he accepts his eternal struggle as his fate, is it really that bad? Or is it simply something he has to do?

Again, this brings us full circle to his fate; as I stated in the other installment, where would the punishment be if he had a goal to achieve and success to look forward to and work for? His work is futile and unfulfilling, thus eternal turmoil ensues. He is conscious of his punishment and the actions that led him there, as it is the only thing that he can think about when he pushes that rock up the hill. That is the main source of his pain according to Camus; the fact that he is forever concious of his task. However, what overshadows this fact is that when he reaches the end of the mountain and watches that stone roll away, there is nothing but him and his own universe, the one that he created and is that master of. As Camus says, "the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart" and Sisyphus is just that, a man whose decisions led him to the reality that he faces. And Sisyphus is just that; a man that is faced with a task he must endure.

We are more similar to Sisiphyus than we may realize. Well, obviously nobody reading this post is going to have to push a boulder up the side of a mountain for eternity, but we each have our own individual struggles that we have to deal with. Just like Sisyphus, we are all humans, and we are all the products of our choices. The present is an accumulation of all of your previous choices and decisions in your life up to this point. And, just like Sisyphus, we all have the opportunity to look at our life in one of two ways. If we choose to let our past control us then we are doomed to never excel and go forward in life as we could. Living in the past is a surefire way to never change. Unless you allow yourself to free your mind from the past and realize that life is what you make it, you will be caught in a cycle that will be hard to break. We are the masters of our own fates. "Captain of my fate master of my soul," as said by William Henley in his poem Invictus, and I must say that I think Camus would agree with the quote. At the end of the myth, Camus says that "one must imagine Sisyphus happy", and I have to say that while I may not agree, I can see where Camus believes that he could find a sort of peacefulness in his eternal punishment, as stated earlier. However, I do believe that everything and every situation is what YOU make it; nobody else is going to live your life for you. So my question to you is how are you going to live your life; are you going to accept it or create it?


Word count - 2,003


  1. "One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness" - that's a very French sensibility, ironic and droll, a bit funny, a bit deconstructive.

    "He has one job" - that suggests a cartoon image & caption, doesn't it? "You had ONE job!..."

    Our particular historical moment, right now, will definitely be more endurable if we can see its absurdity as the flip-side of happiness. We must not forget to smile and laugh and "accept" the parts we cannot change or re-create.

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