Saturday, July 10, 2010

One Rock

This was the second post that I promised to do yesterday, obviously I am a big, fat, liar and should be ashamed of myself. However, we are going to engage in the "myth" that this post was written yesterday, and since the post itself concerns a myth, I think that is only fair. Also, in reality, this post was in fact "written" yesterday just not written down. It was written (mostly all the way ) in my head, and all it took was me not being a lazy slob long enough to physically type it out. However, I am a lazy slob and therefore here we are, a day late, and a blog post short.

The boulder pushing fellow above is Sisyphus, and I am not sure he even ever existed, so today (or yesterday) is very unlikely to be (or have been) his birthday. Since I had M. Camus as yesterday's hero I thought to complete the circle (so to speak) by having Sisyphus as well. Our boy Sisyphus (according to the myth) was not an overly heroic fellow, he was the son of a king, and used his power to enrich his kingdom by abrogating all common decency. He also seduced his niece, stole his brother's throne, and gave away Zeus' secrets. He was banished to Tartartus where he was to be chained forever by death personified, but Sisyphus was a bright boy, and asked Death to show him how the chains worked, then used that knowledge to chain Death in his place. That is just part of the myth of Sisyphus, feel free to peruse the rest on your own, since this is not some sort of history lesson.

Eventually, Sisyphus is brought to heel, and forced to pay the piper (as we all have to do eventually). His task, his eternal task, was to push a rather large rock up a rather large hill, but before he reaches the top the boulder slides ever so slowly back down to the base of the hill. Sisyphus must then start all over again, until he completes his task, which is of course impossible. Which is the point, the gods were punishing him for his hubris by forcing him to be forever just "pushing a rock."

This is where our other hero, Camus, takes over. He wrote his "Myth of Sisyphus" to espouse his idea that Sisyphus is the prototypical absurd hero. The rock, the eternal task of pushing that rock, to no avail, up the hill is, to Camus, symbolic of modern man's condition. The pointless labour of Sisyphus is a metaphor for the endless drudgery that factory workers, grocery store clerks, bank tellers, lawyers, and ditch diggers endure on a daily basis. Quoting Camus "The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious." Once you become conscious of the absurdity of your task, at least in Camus' theory, you become free to accept your condition. It is a tragic moment, but Sisyphus is deemed by Camus to be happy. Realizing the absurdity of his fate, he heaps scorn upon it, and there is no (again Camus' thinking) fate that cannot be overcome by scorn.

It is in that moment when Sisyphus turns to go back to the bottom of the hill to start his hopeless task over that Camus sees him as happy. Perhaps a wry grin comes to his face as he turns around knowing that he must start over, but there is a bit of the "so be it" attitude about Sisyphus. A kind of "it was worth it" or a "if I had to do it all over again I would" attitude about him. And it is that fleeting moment of turning back to his futile task that he finds happiness.

I love this reasoning, and I also hate it. The idea that we are all condemned to some pointless task, is one that I truly embrace. The everydayness of modern life, and the ever increasing realization that tomorrow it all starts again, is one that makes me want to run off and join a circus. Even as I know that a circus, eventually, is going to take on the same mundane feeling to me. However, I have yet to get fully on board that realization leads to contentment, and then to happiness. Perhaps I am not yet mature enough in my thinking (which is highly likely) to make that next logical step. Or perhaps, I am just a miserable bastard (also highly likely) that just needs to be miserable in order to function. I certainly hope that is not the case, but do concede that there is a streak of that attitude marking my personality. I truly hope that Sisyphus is happy, even if it only for that one, fleeting, moment. Because if he can be happy, then there is a hope that happiness is on the menu for the rest of us.

Our lad Sisyphus is a tragic, flawed, absurd, and yet still somehow inspiring hero, and that is quite an accomplishment. He is continually paying a very steep price for failing to memento mori. It is this lack of memory, this hubris that, while making him quite the bastard, also makes him my (320th) hero of the day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

oh yey... the stone rolling... have you thought about Prometheus by the way? As in people who messed with the gods I mean.