In the Myth of Sisyphus1, writer Albert Camus2 reinvents the tale of the Greek trickster Sisyphus. The man who defied the gods, chaining Death itself, as to prevent human demise. To readers of mythology, the envisage of the story isn’t a surprise – Sisyphus is eventually captured. The flavor of punishment? Pushing a rock up a mountain and watching it roll down, only to start over again. The hero is condemned to the suffering of a meaningless task – except for Camus.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always findsThe Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus
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.
The Absurd Hero materializes via Sisyphus – revoking hope, embracing futility, and above all, content with the antithetical nature of existence. The Camusian worldview is simple, perhaps due to the lack of it. Existence merely remains an irrational, meaningless blob. Human condition demands rational meaning to existence, only to be denied by the unforgiving, cruel universe. The only choice is to accept the absurdity and advance – or suicide 3
Absurdism fails, in a tautological fashion, because it’s absurd. Rationalism is a fallen facade for Camus, leaving unfounded assertions and personal anecdotes packing his essays. Lacking any theoretical footing, the reader is compelled to search for hints about embracing the Absurd. Maybe the author has some idea? From an external viewer, piecing together Albert’s life and philosophy results in a morally-disengaged, superfluous hedonism. To experience everything, and more – thus goes the tale of the erratic Algerian writer. Although Camus wasn’t a hedonist, the former idea can easily digress into a pleasure-seeking parade unto death. Questionable moral behavior, if not more, is almost certain. Perhaps the obsessive womanizer4, connoisseur of infidelities, driving his wife5 to a complete mental breakdown knows something? Thus, reinventing Sisyphus becomes necessary.
The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a sacred Yes. For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred Yes is needed: the spirit now wills his own will; the world’s outcast now conquers his own world.Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
The blazing heat and bright, beaming light woke Sisyphus up. Time neither creeps by nor flies away; it holds no relevance to him. The boulder rose up the mountain once again, accompanied by the groans of a strained, diaphoretic man. As the sun don its effervescent, orange attire, he let out a sigh of relief. Almost there, he noticed. Distance, like time, was a lost concept. The endless repetition had coagulated into a constant rhythm – sunset meant the nearing of the peak.
Pushing the boulder over top, Sisyphus fell down on his back. A fleeting moment of exhilaration? Silence ensued, a bit longer than usual. Accustomed to hearing the rumbling fall per diem, he stood up to examine. It was still there. Puzzled by the unexpected circumstance, looking around left him with more revelations. A bigger boulder, at the feet of an even higher peak. Life confided the secret upon him: I am that which must always overcome itself 6
Mad laughter, of the Dionysian kind, took control of him. Wiping every last bit of sweat from his forehead, Sisyphus set out on his new adventure. Each step, each aching whimper added to the becoming of Sisyphus. He knew this wasn’t the end. For higher peaks remained. For larger boulders must be pushed.
- Camus, A., & O’Brien, J. (2018). The Myth of Sisyphus. Vintage International.
- Aronson, R. (2021, December 13). Albert Camus. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus
- “There is only one really serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus
- Guardian News and Media. (1997, October 15). Camus and his women. The Guardian. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/1997/oct/15/biography.albertcamus
- Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 9). Francine Faure. Wikipedia. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francine_Faure
- “And life confided the secret to me: behold, it said, l am that which must always overcome itself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra