Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Pusher Man

In Camus' The Myth of Sisphus, Camus comments on the story of Sisphus having to spend the rest of his life pushing a rock up a hill. Though he seems to be suffering and though having to spend the rest of one's life in such a state would be miserable, he is in the end fact happy. Since the task is so absurd and ridiculous, every time Sisyphus pushes the rock up the hill, he is rebelling against the absurd and does not let the absurd get in the way of his life, even if it is a life spent doing such a task.

Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill everyday can be seen from the outside as a sort of torture. Towards the beginning of the semester we talked about how even if you were bound and tortured with your arms tied around your back, not able to move, that you still have a choice of sinking into darkness and sorrow, or still moving on in your mind. No matter how physically impaired you are you still have the ability to think and even feel anxiety about possibilities. You do not have to think how miserable your life is that you are imprisoned--you always have the choice to think of something else and not succumb to sorrow. In East of Eden, to bring this book up again, the character Lee lives by one word: timshel, which means 'thou mayest.' In the story of Sisyphus, this word is applicable in that it says basically that you are allowed, you can chose your own destiny--there are always possibilities, which are left up to you. Sisyphus is happy to be pushing up the rock, to be revolting against the absurd, because he is allowed to; he is free to think and feel what he chooses, and he chooses to keep pushing and never give up.

However, though Sisyphus is going against the absurd task, how does he know he is happy? Could he be merely lying to himself like Sartre's "bad faith?" He could almost be compared to the overzealous waiter in the restaurant: Sisyphus could be simply acting or faking his happiness--maybe he is just "a little too excited" to be pushing the rock up the hill. Could his happiness objectify him, just as "a table is a table" and thus put him in "bad faith?"


  1. I would say that in the sense in which Sisyphus is defining himself disingenuously and not being what he is in the mode of being it, he is in bad faith. But like we talked about last time, is it still bad faith if you choose wholeheartedly to embrace acting in bad faith as that which you are? I think that as long as he freely chooses to live his life in the way he desires, namely, happily pushing the rock, he satisfies any existentialist we've read.

  2. I would say that Sisyphus is merely convincing himself he is happy, when he is not. He is acting in bad faith by pretending to be that which he is not. If given the opportunity, Sisyphus would escape his punishment which means that he is not doing that which he truly wants. Sure he may feel better convincing himself he is happy, but that is merely a defense mechanism.

  3. I have to disagree. I think Sisyphus could be happy going against the absurd and although his task seems meaningless, he is making the best of his situation. I feel like there is a difference in disliking your task and still doing it, which would be the example of the waiter and that of choosing to do something and enjoy the process of doing it. There hasn't been much discussion in class about one's mentality and the importance of choosing to feel a certain way even though it may not be your first choice. I may not always wake up in the best mood or want to write a paper, but I choose to be happy anyway. I continue to smile and work through the process and eventually I am glad I didn't just mope around feeling sorry for myself.

  4. I agree with Kip about this blog. Sisyphus could be seen to be in bad faith through merely acting like he is happy. I think that Sisyphus's story shows that people can not escape the absurdity of life even if they try to. Sisyphus may be seen to defy his absurd fate by putting on a happy face about pushing the rock up without any end to the task; this causes him to lie to himself about his happiness. However, like Kip stated, this mask of being happy is Sisyphus's defense mechanism. He is trying to escape the absurdity of life through attempting to challenge how he is supposed to react to his own fate. As long as people are bound to fate then the absurdity of life will not be overcome which might in turn cause people such as Sisyphus to be in "bad faith."

  5. I agree when you say that Sisyphus is in fact happy for being able to go against the absurb, which, becomes the norm for him. If the Gods have cursed him to push a rock up the hill for all eternity and he is supposed to view his task as punishment...what better way to make the Gods mad than to find enjoyment and happiness in the task....and I think that maybe at first he might be lying to himself but, after lying to yourself for such a long period of time you begin to believe things or actually find things to justify your thinking. He might have been trying to convince himself that he was happy pushing the rock and eventually did just that.


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