Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wishful Thinking

I think that it is only wishful thinking that can imagine Sisyphus as happy. Imagine pushing the same rock up the same hill again and again and again. Enduring a perpetual punishment and never reaching the goal of a task. The Greeks specifically formulated Sisyphus’ situation to be one of eternal torture. I am a goal-oriented person, and the thought of pushing a rock up a hill for all of eternity only to have it fall back again is tormenting. There is no hope.

I think that there is absurdity and certainly absurd situations in life but I think that there are situations in which meaning and achievement are present. When someone close to us dies unexpectedly and unfairly, we experience what Camus’ describes as the absurd. There is no rule, order or meaning to what happened, and we realize how fragile our world is. The Holocaust would also be an instance of the absurd. However, there are also moments in life where true victory and happiness are achieved. Being with my family has given me experiences that I would never take to be meaningless. Even if I, for some reason, never see them again, I will still cherish the memories and take them as moments of true happiness and victory. There is nothing absurd about my relationship with my little sister, it is entirely good and meaningful. In addition, we as a society have made great social advancements in the past century. Gender and race issues have been brought to the surface and progress has been made on discrimination.

Although Camus is right to point out instances where we encounter the absurd, I think that he neglects the fact that there are also moments in life where things are achieved and goals are completed. Sisyphus is a dejected prisoner destined to a meaningless existence.

We are never a mere Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill for no reason; we instead are taking three steps forward, four steps back, three steps forward, and then one step back. I believe that each of us is working towards some meaning in our lives and that although there is absurdness in our lives, it is not the only thing we experience. Camus might reply by saying that the absurd will break everyone into abandoning all meaning in life. However, I believe if one expects the absurd, one can withstand the arbitrary events that set us back and hurt us.


  1. I liked your post. However, I do not think any aspect of life is inherently meaningful. The difference between the absurd and the ordered and meaningful is up for us to decide. Although Sisyphus' task seems like torture and absurd to us, would it really seem like torture to him, if he never realized he would not succeed? Our experiences with our families are meaningful to us, but because we make them so, not because they are intrinsically meaningful. Again, it is our perspectives that imbue life with meaning, regardless if an observer sees our lives as futilely pushing a rock up a hill.

  2. I think Camus would object to your characterization of Sisyphus enduring a punishment and never reaching the goal of a task. According to him, Sisyphus would merely recognize that there is no inherent goal of any task and that thinking of his task as a punishment is absurd, not because he will never get the rock to the top of the hill but because there is no meaning in pushing the rock regardless of whether it makes it the top or not. On the other hand, this is also his inspiration. Because there is no inherent point to his activity, Sisyphus is able to make it his own and do it happily. His work is meaningless, and yet he gives it meaning, and does it anyways, to rebel against this meaninglessness. While there is no objective hope to his toil, he creates his own happiness nonetheless.

    In the same way, Camus might disagree with your claim that “we are never a mere Sisyphus rolling a rock up a for no reason; we instead are taking three steps forward, four steps back, three steps forward, and then one step back.” I think he would instead argue that we are all Sisyphus as there is no objective goal guiding our lives. It is an illusion to think of our life like an adventure of striving towards a goal, of reaching the top of a mountain- in the end, it really doesn’t matter. On the other hand, I don’t think he would disagree with your characterization of moving back and forth in pursuit of our goals. If we are like Sisyphus in that we have no objective goals, then all our goals must be created and pursued by ourselves with the result being a continuous movement up and down, back and forth, in pursuit of the purposes we create. As a result, recognizing the absurd does not break everyone into abandoning meaning in their lives, but instead puts the responsibility on each individual to rebel against meaningless by creating their own subjective purposes and goals.

  3. Camus would definately object to your idea sysyphus could not enjoy the absurd. You said yourself that you are a goal oriented person. Camus point however is that in the grand scheme of things our lives do not have an objective purpose. In the end we all fail. While the act of pushing the rock up the hill is pointless in the grand scheme, Sysyphus may still enjoy trying to push it up the hill. He might say that his goal is to move it 2 feet up the hill, succeed, then try for more. It is like real life. In the end you will die, and everything you strived for will be lost, however you can still enjoy your path up the hill, and the progress you made until that point.

  4. Hugh, I guess I'm arguing that we are not like sisyphus in that we actually do succeed in something and it is not just a meaning that I have created but the idea of human relationships is objectively meaningful outside of whatever I ascribe to them.

    Brenden, like my response to Hugh, I believe that our lives really aren't like pushing a rock up a hill only to have it fall down. I think that if we look at our lives there is more meaning than just what we ascribe to a situation. If a mindless tragedy occurs, one would see it as absurd but that does not necessarily mean that we must create our own meaning. I think that looking to our relationships with others and looking to our ethical ideals points to a meaning that is undenyable and that we did not just create out of thin air.

    Jared, like my reponses to Hugh and Brenden, I am arguing against the idea that death destroys everything we strive for.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.