Sisyphus, the Sacred & the Infinite Suffering

October 26, 2019

The world of the dead is one of fruitless labors. That's the moral behind the myth of Sisyphus, where a cunning man cheats death but is punished by being forced to push a rock up a hill only to push it again once it reaches the peak and rolls downhill. For eternity. Weekends included. No workers comp.


All groovy until then, right? Myths are a rock solid source of knowledge because they take much more ancient oral tales of a people and portray their morals. Unable as humans are to grasp with their objective tools the invisible, slippery stuff that thoughts are made of, it is through myth that they grapple with the deeper questions about the fabric of reality, the essence of Being, and the values that make them tick. The morals of the Sisyphus myth are, first, that no matter how much cunning you use death cannot be cheated forever, and, second, that hell (a.k.a. meaninglessness) is to do something that bears no fruit. Conversely, it can be said that for Greeks, as indicated by their myths, a life well lived had at least one element, i.e. to do things that bear fruit.

 

Up to this point, it's all kool & the gang. Greek fellas had wisdom to them and left for posterity a learning to more than one snowflake should bear in mind. But life isn't perfect. Actually, life's a bloody mess. And so it came a dude called Albert Camus who, obviating the fact that he was a damn good writer, had read too much Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. And so he penned The Myth of Sisyphus, a book where he basically dives into an orgy of nihilism. For Albert, although life is meaningless humans persist on trying to impose order on existence make sense of unknowns. Like Sisyphus, Camus says all humans struggle against the absurdity of life. Jolly as the man was, he wrote that if suicide wasn't an option, all humans could so was to rejoice in the act of pushing the rock up the hill again and again. He said, in a nutshell, that laughing your ass off at such a punishment would give the individual identity.

 

Now, don't get me wrong. Viktor Frankl said once that if life had any meaning at all it was to be found in suffering. Do you see the difference between the Greeks and these proto-beatniks? The mythical stream is trying to tell you "yes, it sucks, but at least do something that gives fruit" while, on the other hand, you're told "embrace the absurdity of jerking off forever without anything coming out of it." I don't know about you but I don't find much solace in giving up for the quest for meaning. In the Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz writes about the breaking point, the before and after, when time ceased to be aperpetual source of a fixed present in which all times, past and future, were contained --and so it became a chronometric time with yesterday, today and tomorrow, with hours, minutes and seconds. This was the moment, Paz dixit, when man stopped being one with time, i.e. dislodged itself from the flow of reality. Unlike chronometric time, which is homogeneous and a mere succession without color and texture, mythological time is forever pregnant with all the particulars of a life, hence a celebration is not an anniversary but a faithful, actual reproduction of the event itself.

 

This is the cliff where the sacred ends and one takes a dive into a dark and sterile profane. Devoid of everythingness, the ritual loses its roots in the mythological time that is eternally flowing through the individual throughout one instant blossoming with everything that that unit contains: the past, the present, the future, and everything around it at all those times. For the nihilist Sisyphus there's a point in time where an old fart is just pushing a rock up a hill forever. For the Greek Sisyphus, in the contrary, there is the cunning man overflowing with experiences, good and bad decisions, love, hatred, and a history crammed into the very act of pushing the rock up a hill, again and again. Is there "a point" pushing a rock up the hill? It depends. If the one pushing is a mere automaton, then no. The subject becomes a toy in the window of a shop for intellectual sadomasochists. But if the one pushing the rock is Sisyphus, with all his backstory, delights and peeves, regrets and joys, attachments and feelings, then the punishment is less relevant than the fact that there is a why to this absurdity. And so the transient presence in this world gifts the opportunity of, sometimes, bearing fruit. Mind you, not always, but at least sometimes.

 

Do not be fooled. Both Sisyphus are going to push uphill forever, as we are all going to die. Do not be fooled, life is suffering to the point of absurd. The difference is: what do you do with the absurdity? Do you roll up in fetal position and suck on your thumb, crying like a whiny little bitch? Or do you incorporate the suffering into something that bears fruit? Now, what type of fruit that could be? --you ask. And it's a good question. I have no clue. But I'm searching for it.

 

 

 

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