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Review- Albert Camus: The Myth of Sisyphus
This philosophical tract was first published in 1942 and underlined the myth of meaning as the groundwork for man’s existence. The philosophy of the absurd, the innate ennui, the sterility, the hopelessness in the face of numerous overarching summits are what Camus’ essay seeks to uncover beneath the veil of human life. And the diabolical suicide or an untiring death-in-life would come to mankind’s rescue for a man who himself died in a quite uneventful car accident, but talked of the happy, heroic tragedies of life, and how!
Camus reduces the entire corpus of philosophy into one burning paradox of life- death, or shall we say, in Camus’ perception, suicide. And yet, arriving at a meaning or the chaos of life is not all that easy or self-controlled. The undermining realisation of the futility of all endeavours and all human attachments may come unexpectedly and untimely. And Camus would unabashedly view the act of suicide as analogous to an artistic conception of one’s masterpiece in the endless corridors of silence.
And then, there are those, the likes of the mighty Sisyphus, who are condemned to much harsher fates. The Kierkegaardian ‘leap of faith’, the final leap of death is not accessible to them. They are made the hallmark of the absurdist nature of life. Their transgressions are limited to the circumference of a devious mountain, and transcendence becomes the ever-elusive finish line. They become treacherous by the very fact that their rocks, which gradually transform into Christ’s cross, become both their saviours as well as their delusional slow poisons.
Human life, as per Camus, is impregnated with a number of reasons for living, but why count on the multiplicities when they fall unbidden on our familiar world to suddenly turn it into an overtly ‘melodramatic’, fatally impotent one, “divested of illusions and light”, of memories (even sorrowful ones at that) that hold you fast to the ceaselessly yet fruitlessly turning world around you; it is then that the bolt of conscious realizations poison the multiplicities making these reasons for living turn also into “excellent reasons for dying”.
And, all this while we thought the society would gift us with authentic beginnings. But no, all it offers is the abysmal starting point in the lower hellish world to the Sisyphian mountain, the cliff pulling you towards “futile labour” and fruitless summits. All one is left with to beat down to submission is one’s individual ponderings of the heart. All one is privileged with is a perilous zone of silence, the pause that Sisyphus gets between the top of his fate- the mountain- and his inevitable descent back down to the plains. Conscious of his torture, Sisyphus, not unlike the modern man, sinks yet again into the trap of the underworld. Still, he is happy, we are told. He is Nietzche’s ‘Superman’, who valiantly bears the curse of “eternal recurrence” and turns his terror of inescapable destiny into Dionysian delights.
Camus would suggest in his 120-page essay that it is between suicide, the zenith of the mountain where Sisyphus would throw his hands up in the air and refuse to slide down to the enslaving “lair of the gods” and an absurd existence, that “night-filled mountain” on whose surface the toil on an immutable boulder seems so much worth it. If nothing else, it at least “passed the time”, as Beckett’s Estragon would say in Waiting for Godot. So, Camus’ arguments would lull us into accepting the rock, the night, “the infernal darkness” as our invincible lot, and the more lucidly we accept it, the more likely are we to turn our individual tragedies into fragmented farces.
It comes as no surprise then that Cervantes’ Don Quixote serves as the perfect example for Camus for validating the ludicrous, the profane, the insane yet sustainable. Just like Cervantes’ hero, Camus’ existential hero too concocts fabrics of fiction to keep himself from stumbling upon the trails of his own blood on the way up to the mountain. Sisyphus (and of course, the modern man) is way too ‘stoned’ both literally and medically to be realising any of the pain that the exerting effort of pushing up with the “two earth-clotted hands” might give him. And just like Quixote’s heart-rending, shattering realisation of his hostile webs of stories would immediately be followed by his tragic doom, similarly snatching away of the rock from Sisyphus, taking away of the joys of absurd victory from the modern man would result in his contemplation of suicide as a glorious, and the only one, exit.
Well, Camus definitely seems to be getting a high in delineating for mankind the uphill path of perverse happiness and obsessive struggle, and the downhill path of self-inflicted sorrow and lost pride. The occasional bouts of conscious pathos in one’s unredeemable situation soon are stirred away with the incoming winds of the world. The forces of the world are then too overwhelming and the conscious of man too fragile. As Beckett would say in Waiting for Godot, “Habit is a great deadener”, a rhetoric Camus would reiterate here with the kind of fine conviction one would have about a butcher’s ability to silence a fluttering victim.
And thus, Camus’ Sisyphus is happy (or, at least, imagines himself to be ‘happy’), the suicidal predicament of modern man is shoved behind the evanescent rocks, the artist is refused the pleasure of fabricating a beautiful suicide, and we, as readers, are fed the ever-disconcerting dope of absurd meanings, but meanings nevertheless, in a post-modern Derridean world of uncertain liabilities, shifting fidelities and the facade of obscure rationalities.