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Written by Mason Tabor
If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this.
Camus argues that having knowledge and practicing robbery are not mutually exclusive. This indicates that he believes knowledge acquisition is primarily a question of theft. He warrants this by his latter sentence, "To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets." To understand Sisyphus correctly, one should understand the traditional story offered by the Greek writers. However, it is clear that Sisyphus as Camus understands him is a character marred by his inquisitive nature, by his thirst for a better, more informed understanding of nature. This is essential to understanding Camus' argument about futility and knowledge.
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture.
Driven by his desires for knowledge and also for the pleasures of living, Sisyphus is compelled to survive, though he is bound to an existence rid of progress, of hope and of validation. This is absurdity as Camus argues it, that man's life is governed not by his progress and achievements, but rather by the promise of death offered by his own mortality. Camus argues through Sisyphus' example how we ought to carry on in spite of our own futility. The understanding of ourselves as futile, futureless and meaningless is what Camus describes as awareness. Carrying on in spite of this awareness is heroic.
All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols.
Sisyphus' burden of rolling a stone up to the top of a mountain, just to be forced to watch it roll back down to the bottom, resetting his progress to naught, is noble to Camus. The gods have instituted this punishment to torment Sisyphus with futility, yet, Sisyphus persists in the task and finds joy in the fruitless toil. The curse of man is his futility, and according to Camus, he who can find peace in the task at hand thwarts the capricious punishment of the gods.
There is no sun without the shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing.
Day and night is a complementary symbol to the symbol of the rocks rising and falling, connoting a cyclical nature to life, not a linear one. It also indicates Sisyphus' contentment with the discomforts of life. He does not seek the daylight. He instead chooses to be at peace in the night's dark, knowing it as he persisted to know the secrets of the gods. This ensures his "unceasing" status as a hero, regardless of his lack of meaning or achievement.
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again.... One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Though the natural understandings in the traditional narrative of human worth would argue that meaning and progress are inherent to a meaningful life, Camus asserts that it is in fact the very opposite that leads to happiness. If one can find peace in his meaninglessness, like Sisyphus, and continue to live life despite the knowledge that it isn't worth it and in the end it's all meaningless, then one can transcend the consequences of that knowledge. He can transcend the negativity that comes with the truth of his existence and find joy and peace despite his own futility and absurdity. Therein is herocisim and life.
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