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Struggling with Sisyphian thought.

Does anyone else find 'Sisyphian struggle' not just hard to say, but also ironic?

Sisyphus's tale, as metaphor, isn't really a lesson in what will happen to you if you piss off the gods multiple times (say, by skipping out of Hell and chaining Death up), though there is that element.  It's more about how daily tasks and the cyclical, repetitious aspects of life can be crushing.  They may require something heroic in us, and yet remain mundane (because everyone faces them in some form, and no one can shirk them all).  Worse, if we accept the metaphor fully (or are taken with arguments for a universal viewpoint, where we are but specks in the big scheme of things), our labours are ultimately futile and fruitless.

Camus thought this especially pertinent to modern living--though I suspect the ancients faced challenges not too removed from our own.  His answer, that we must imagine Sisyphus happy at times, seems to require a leap.  After all, how can a man cursed to toil on, pointlessly and endlessly,  be happy?

But, of course, we know we can be happy.  We have been before, and will be again. And, however small or ephemeral, accomplishment is also achievable.  Sisyphus always makes the top of his hill, and the boulder always leaves him as it tumbles down, and we, too, have our moments of triumph.  So it's not all dim, is it?

Still, the thought nags, why must we 'imagine Sisyphus happy'?  If, in this thing, I am he, as you are he, as you are me, and we are all together, wherefore this doubt?


  1. I'm not sure how applicable the Sisyphus tale is to my life (perhaps most peoples'?). It's not like I'm, metaphorically, rolling a rock up a hill and actually getting to the top, no matter how ephemerally. The reason accomplishment is always ultimately so dissatisfying for me is because once I reach what I thought was a peak,I realize that it was all along simply a small hump on a much larger mountain so that it doesn't even feel like much of an accomplishment at all when I reflect on it.

  2. It's a matter of perspective, sure.

    The metaphor isn't total and perfect, especially if you don't feel its pull. The worry that it may ultimately be impossible to accomplish anything because, even after resolving an issue, similar problems will almost inevitably crop up; because solving such problems can be like taking a cup of water out of the ocean; because an inhumanly long (yet popular) view of things holds we shall all return to dust, to be followed, sooner or later, by our achievements; or because you can never reach any goal lofty enough to be worth having...this sort of concern is only convincing to those already sensitive to it. I think those underlying causes for the worry are tough to sum up in a single image, but that the feeling they share is fairly expressed in the punishment Sisyphus endures.

    This is perhaps why it is so important for us to imagine him happy from time to time. If we allow for happiness under the most grueling and lasting of pointless tasks, then we can admit and acknowledge the good in our own lives. For those sensitive to the worry I spoke of, for those who feel the weight of this metaphor, this is perhaps a road to changing one's perspective, such that it feels like less of an issue, and becomes less of a worry.

    Perhaps this is true for those on a continual ascent, as well as those who seem to constantly be climbing and reclimbing the same mountain.

  3. Both the perspectives seem to share a sense of hopelessness and despair.

    I think that a person is going wrong as soon as he allows it to enter his head that what he's doing is grueling and pointless, that that is the basic condition of his life. Then everything he thinks and feels is a reaction against that grueling-ness and pointlessness, and not a spontaneous, creative happiness. I mean, his happy moments are tainted by his simultaneous self-consciousness that they will end. And perhaps he'll even feel an anxiety (or worry as you say) about his life, as in, he'll think that he's wasting his life by not being happy and this fear of waste will generate another cycle of unhappiness, etc. etc. etc.


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