Camus' famous essay, the Myth of Sisyphus, tackles what Camus termed the most important philosophical question: the question of suicide. When man is confronted with an absurd and uncaring universe where all struggle is ultimately fruitless, what should he do? Continue in defiance, because suicide is escapist. You cannot escape a problem; you can only confront it.

Apparently, Sisyphus has never heard of the concept of a metastable state.

/msg sisyphus If you're tired of pushing that rock up the hill, how about making an indentation in the top of the hill, and then pushing the rock into the indentation?

In reference to yerricde's suggestion as to how Sisyphus can end his punishment, Albert Camus would argue that Sisyphus would precisely refuse to do such a thing, because he does not wish to end his futile task.

The absurdity in Sisyphus lies in his continued defiance of the gods. Even in his punishment, he is defiant, because he refuses to accept this as a punishment; the gods want him to feel repentful for his actions through this futile labour, but Sisyphus does not repent. They want him to hope for an end to it, and each time the boulder rolls back down he feels despair as that bit of hope in him dies once more.

Sisyphus does not harbour hope; he knows that against the all-powerful immortals, he doesn't stand a chance. So maybe he can place the rock atop the hill without it falling back down, but what would that accomplish? To hope that the gods would then allow him respite would be silly, since Zeus isn't really a guy into that whole forgiveness thing. No, he knows that he will be punished for eternity, so ending this roll-rock-up-hill thing is just as meaningless as continuing through his labour.

That is what makes Sisyphus the Absurd Hero; he sees that everything is meaningless, yet in spite of that continues to roll his rock, loving his eternal struggle as his lack of remorse is an eternal revolt against the immortals; his lack of regret affirms the love of life he had and still has.

I saw Sisyphus die on the street today. The gods, who ceased to exist long ago due to lack of interest, cleaned out all offices and liquidated their assets quite thoroughly, for the most part – with one exception. Through some flaw in bookkeeping, they had lost all records of the Sisyphus Project. Perhaps accounting had thrown them out, as the sheets always seemed to be balanced already.

Millennia later, there he stood, gawking and grinning, on the sidewalk. Perhaps, in some happy accident, an ExxonMobil accountant came across this "Sisyphus Project" that had somehow ended up in their books, investigated, and reported this minor, undue drain on the bottom line.

ExxonMobil rewarded his vigilance with a $25 bonus.

Sisyphus set forth with all intent to cross the busy street, I gathered. Being, I infer, from another time newly come, he seemed unsure of how one goes about this. He looked left to begin, and – seeing no hunks of metal hurtling toward him – stepped forward. The funny thing is this: his eyes were locked to his left for his entire journey to the center of the street. Only upon arriving at the yellow paint did Sisyphus turn his head right, where an automobile – denizen of the leftmost lane of travel it perceived to be available to it – expressed its annoyance, its anger, its fear by making a discordant shout at him. Once it sped past, Sisyphus spun full around in place and fell to the ground.

As I watched his crumpled body twitch on the asphalt, I swear to you, his visage bore a smile still.

"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

- Albert Camus

If one must imagine Sisyphus happy, how else might we imagine him? Who else might we imagine happy in their repetitive struggles up a hill? Maybe the gods’ assignment is not exclusively a punishment for Sisyphus, but a challenge giving him the option of punishing or rewarding himself.

  • Why do cyclists huff and puff up impossibly steep hills just to roll back down? Why do they risk getting kicked out by security guards, run over by motorists or colliding with concrete pillars, just to pedal up and roll back down inside of parking structures?
  • Why do thousands of hikers take extended leave from careers and relationships to hike the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails, hoping that their jobs and loved ones will accept them back when they return?
  • Why do kids look forwards to frigid snowy afternoons to haul sleds and inflatable tubes for a few seconds of descent, all while risking severe bodily injury?
  • Why do gourmet chefs pay such close attention to the taste, color and texture of the dishes they prepare, fully hoping for them to be entirely devoured by guests?
  • Why do tens of thousands of travelers, artists, and the generally groovy gather each year to erect an effigy of mankind which is eventually burned down?
  • Why do travelers spend thousands of dollars on vacations, hoping to land back exactly from where they started from?

Sisyphus was free to begin with, and remains free now. His choice has only been clarified and simplified. The gods have placed immediately before him the choice of whether to make himself happy or miserable. Each run up his hill gives him an opportunity of being pleasantly engaged or miserably occupied. He chooses his own degree of elation or dejection. Each transit offers a simple choice between delight and drudgery.

Rock on, Sisyphus. See you on the hill.

Sysyphus Dancing


In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus wrote: "There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn." He may be right, though I found this approach to fate far more appealing as a younger man. Back then my scornful poses struck a note of rebellion, and may even have contributed once to my getting laid by a beautiful and nihilistic young trust fund baby I met on a cruise ship in the Bahamas. But in the end scorn--however admirable it may seem to the angry heart--is not fun. Not when carried on well into middle age, and certainly not for an eternity.

Camus also argued that the struggle toward the heights is by itself enough to fill a man's heart. Again, perhaps true. Scorn and struggle are no doubt fine things and I try to set aside quality time for them, at least on the weekends.

But as an alternate strategy, what if Sisyphus danced?

The intended agony of Sisyphus's punishment lies in the absence of any ultimate achievement, in its abject purposelessness. He succeeds, after strenuous effort, in rolling the rock up the hill. It rolls back down again. His work has been undone, will always be undone, and yet he's damned to do it again and again. Nothing changes. In the end his work is aimless, but so is much dancing. Clearly that in itself needn't be a problem.

Dancing--particularly the kind you do alone in your living room--has no utilitarian goal, no practical purpose, no functional telos. And dancing can consist of strenuous effort. Just ask any out of shape man who has stepped onto the floor of a club with a partner ten years his junior. But dancing is joyous, and liberating. And also far more rhythmic than scorn.

And when I imagine, as Camus did, Sisyphus heading back to the valley--or rather when I imagine myself as Sisyphus heading back to the valley--I like to think of the rage I might inspire in the gods. When they watch me literally boogie down to my own beat, and then rock and roll myself back up the hill once more.

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