The Myth of Sisyphus and The Meaning of Life

Dear Diary,

The other day I was listening to a JRE Podcast with Duncan Trussell and Ari Shaffir, and Duncan brought up the myth of Sisyphus (Origin of Convo 23:55 | Myth of Sisyphus 25:40-27ish).

Long story short, Sisyphus defied the Gods, was sentenced to death, sent to Hades, and decided, fuck that, so he split, chilled on earth, but then the Gods found out, got pissed, and sent his ass back to Hades, only this time with an eternal punishment: to forever roll a heavy-ass rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down as soon as he reached the top. Fucked up? Sucks for him, right? Can I get an I Know Right?

I know, riiiyyt? – Diary

ego envy superiority

You know, I recognized that myth as soon as Duncan mentioned it, and the nerd in me rejoiced that I knew something I fantasized other people didn’t – I’m a nerdy asshole that way. People love the fact that I know my Jeopardy, but instead of receiving their compliments wholeheartedly and without ego, I’ve begun showboating, lol, half-listening to Jeopardy and answering the questions just to show off what kind of a bad ass I am, answering the questions mid-Trebek even, just so everyone knows w’sup. You show off your muscles, another shows off his clothes, yet another shows off their car…I show off my dome. My synapses be firing like two sticks and kindle in this bitch…lol, we all have our ego games, eh?

True I got more fans than the average man but not enough food to last me – to the end of the week I live by the beat like you live cheque to cheque – if you don’t move your feet than I don’t eat so we like neck to neck. – Andre 3000, circa 1995

But back to Sisyphus. I knew the myth, but I never considered it’s philosophical implications. I mean, I thought Seneca was a genius when he came up with the line, ‘To what end do we toil?’ but it turns out that even Seneca was standing on someone’s shoulders (which he readily admits in each letter, so give him a break, Mike, Gawwd you’re such as an asshole sometimes…). This also relates to another one of my favourite Seneca musings, ‘If anything could have satisfied us, we would’ve been satisfied a long time ago.’

albert camus - nobody realizes that some people expend a tremendous amount of energy just to be normal

Sooooo…yeah. Why? If the rock forever falls to the ground, and we have to haul ass back down just to push it back up, KNOWING that it’s going to just roll back down again, why do any of it? Yes, to what end do we toil, but why toil if there is no end? No destination?

I’m no philosophy major, but I think I’m just discovering what the unemployed’s call absurdity. If there is no rhyme nor reason, no end in sight, this life is absurd.

Fuck me. So…now what?

At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.

Ugh. Such poetry. You ever experience something that just fills your heart with joy and sadness at the same time? I think when man ascends to the heights of Mount Olympus by following his passion, as Camus is doing in this essay, or as my boy Dujean is doing in the video, we can’t help but stop – arrested (no pun intended black friend) – and stare slack-jawed at man’s spirit, unfiltered. BTW – how crazy is it that Camus realizes that he’s rolling his OWN rock up his OWN hill as he writes about the human paradox of perpetual rock rolling??

sisyphus at the top of the hill optimistic

But back to Sisyphus, watching the rock roll back down another goddamn time. Now, you, like me, feel sorry for Sisyphus. Aw man, this poor dude, all he ever wanted to do was to taste life for just one more time, and for THAT these Gods are torturing this guy for eternity?? Assholes, man!

Camus doesn’t see it that way, and this is where he reveals his genius. As Sisyphus walks down the hill for the nth time, Camus looks into his eyes and sees…optimism??

I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

Wowzers. So he’s saying that yeah, he has to go back down, and start fresh, but it’s in that moment where he renews his effort that he becomes, ‘…superior to his fate.’ But really!? How is he superior to his fate when he continues to labour, KNOWING full well that the labour is pointless?

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent.

Yeah fuckin’ right it’s tragic! Goddamn it, man…

But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. – Camus

Aiite. Cool. I get that. But now that we’re with the truth, that we can stand outside of ourselves and look at our dumb-asses rolling a rock up the hill with no end in sight, now what? Hey Genius, you realize that I was taught the success ethic, that I will be happy once I become successful?? That’s all I’ve ever been looking for, all I’ve ever been striving towards!

So if there is no success, and the…but perhaps, hey maybe…maybe there is success in pushing up as well as there is success in walking back down.

Yeahhhh, kiiiind of, I mean, I get that persistence is admirable, but you can try to chop down a tree with your forehead, and be successful, but I don’t rate that kind of persistence. No ratings from me, my yute…you are bereft of ratings in my book, sonny boy.

oedipus - all is well

One does not discover the absurd without attempting to write a manual of happiness. – Camus

Fuck me, Camus knew that everyone discovering this crushing truth would do exactly as I’m doing right now, trying to figure out how to be happy in a world of absurdity. Aiite, aiite, you good, Camus, you good…

“I conclude that all is well,” says Oedipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile sufferings. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men. – Camus

OK, okayyyyy…so now instead of looking to the heavens, let us look within. No matter how many times we roll the rock upwards, all has not been exhausted. There’s still more left. Each time we roll the rock up the hill, we are getting something new out of the equation, discovering something we didn’t see before, exploring new things we never fathomed.

All Sisyphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. – Camus

You know, I walked away from the computer to reheat my French-pressed Starbucks French Roast I did at home and Awwwww yeeyyuuhhh!! Whatchu know about FRENCH PRESS, hah?! Man, pushing that strainer down is one of the most ego-filled, pompous things I’ve ever done in my ENTIRE LIFE, and I LOVED every second of it. Oh, you’re buying Timmies stirred by a chick with a PhD in nursing? Well, I frank-roasted the fuck out of Starbucks’ DARKEST ROAST. Ugh, all these people bragging about how they like the Timmie’s Dark Roast. IT AIN’T DARK, you losers! I’ve seen chinese supermodels darker than the Tim Horton’s mean mug. *drops teaspoon*

Oops. Got carried away there. Yeah, but I got up from the computer, but the problem was still nagging me…if we know that the rock is gonna keep rolling down…why roll it up in the first place?

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. – Camus

REALLY? … …yeah – I feel you. To what end do we toil? The end is in the doing. It’s that idea of karma yoga, ‘…the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is said to be the most effective way to progress in spiritual life [per the Bhagavad Gita].’ The Yoga of chopping wood and carrying water.

ram dass karma yoga chopping wood and carrying water 2

ram dass karma yoga chopping wood and carrying water

Yeah right, Mike, or the other way you can interpret it is like van Pelt who gave another point of view,

Sisyphus also personifies humanity and its disastrous pursuit of perfection by any means necessary, in which the great rock repeatedly rushing down the mount symbolizes the accelerating pace of unsustainable civilization toward cataclysmic collapse and cultural oblivion that ends each historical age and restarts the sisyphean cycle. – Wikipedia

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About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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2 Responses to The Myth of Sisyphus and The Meaning of Life

  1. Cindy Allingham says:

    I loved it! I loved it! Being funny onstage is one thing, being funny AND sparking some ideas in your audience is another. And there seems to be a real link to Sisyphus and the unemployed. And that is funny, man.

    • Ha! Thanks!! You think – a link between Sisyphus and the unemployed? I was referring to the philosophy grads that would’ve understood absurdism without needing an explanation, but now that you mention it, it’s true enough in my life!!

      Really glad you liked it. But I gotta ask: faced with the Sisyphean problem/endless cycle, what motivates you to get out the door in the morning? What keeps you going?

      Jagdeo

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