Sisyphus, and why your life is absurd…

Sisyphus

BY DAWID CIELOSZCZYK, LAW I

(Specially dedicated to all us struggling to survive law school)

A famous Greek myth, illustrated by Camus, depicts a cursed being named Sisyphus rolling his boulder up to the top of a summit, only for it to plummet to the bottom again, where the cycle resets. Yet we don’t need to have our existential fancy-pants on whilst lighting a cigar to appreciate how each of us have our own Sisyphean stone to push.

The stone represents the glaring absurdity of the fact of life itself; the burning and toiling that you undergo throughout the course of your existence does not somehow conclude with a celebratory event like your graduation ceremony with welcome signs reading, “You did it!” Instead, all of your accomplishments, your resume, your friends, will blow away in the dust.

Although we could consider this the ultimate absurdity, that of human life in general, there are ones lurking in the very moments of our day-to-day life, which can be either the cause of distress or empowerment.

You’re working on improving your health, eating well, catching some extra sleep, and so on, and your body protests and rejects your hardest work with one fell-swoop – perhaps thanks to some illness, or emotional distress. You are working diligently on what you think is a brilliant idea for your boss, s/he examines it for a moment, scoffs, and pretends you don’t exist. You try to open up your formerly tender heart to a new lover, and they demolish you for the risk you took. You happily proclaim that you are riding your bike to work to reduce emissions, despite its inconvenience, but China acquires more coal-powered energy…

Upon reality contradicting your will, your perseverance, in such a mundane but truly arbitrary fashion, the first reaction is often decided angst. This is where the existentialist sits in their cafe sobbing and realizing that they are like Sisyphus, no matter how intelligent, beautiful, popular, or powerful they are.

Camus

This is however certainly not the end. While it is possible for us to pound our fist on the stone that we must hurl to the bottom and roll back up again, we might wish to seek empowerment through the absurdity of these day-to-day events.

There is a famous Latin expression known as amor fati, which means love of one’s fate or life. You don’t have to be a believer in a mystical thing like fate to appreciate the use of this though. If you can imagine the universe reproducing our lives, exactly the way they are right now, again, and again, do you wish to be breaking the bones in your fist against the Sisyphean stone thanks to the absurdities of life? Or perhaps you might collect your emotion and realize that this is going to be a long journey. Perhaps the only thing that makes sense here is to love your contradictory burden and feed off of it, so as to overcome the contempt that only adds to the weight of the stone.

This time Sisyphus lets out a satisfied laugh. The stone now smells fresh; the rough edges of the rock feel good against his tormented and tattered hands, because he now notices the things that he allowed to escape from his mind while despairing about the future. And so he sings ‘amor fati!’ on the trek up the mountain, as if he knew nothing else.

3 thoughts on “Sisyphus, and why your life is absurd…

  1. Could it also be that when an individual is enlightened, she no longer feels it necessary to mess with the rolling the rock anywhere, and just sits at the bottom of the hill with it and enjoy the clouds (or plants a garden)? Does life have to be an endless repetition of absurd behavior, the outcome of which is already known? Perhaps the story of Sisyphus is to warn us not to love any “fate” we do not ourselves author. Just a thought.

    • I appreciate your input! That is a thought that would be warmly welcomed as well, but there is one thing that is sort of left out of this short version of the myth.. In the actual story, Sisyphus is required, or rather, sentenced to this fate of rolling the rock up the hill for something he/she has done. That is, there is no alternative as you present.. otherwise I’m sure it would be prudent for her/him to do so! Now that you mention it, it might’ve been a good idea to touch on that. I suppose my point is this: are we capable of finding something to appreciate in the insanity that life often presents to us? And how? What value is there in that? etc.

      • Of course you’re right–and it’s the “requirement” part that seems to me the most worthy of inquiry. I know it moves beyond the intent of the myth, and I guess I also chafe against “authorial intent.” Personally, I guess the myth of Sisyphus is something I simply reject as an accurate allegory for the life I’m living. Thank Zeus.

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