The Rock Still Rolls: Personal Reflections on Camus's Myth of Sisyphus
by Bruce Sarbit
January 1, 2002
The personal reflections of this essay, raised by my repeated reading and translation of Camus's mini-essay on Sisyphus, are embedded in attempts to answer the following questions: Of what use is this ancient myth in today's world? Does Sisyphus's story hold any significance for us? What might we learn from this man, from the enormous rock, from "stone itself," from Sisyphus's futile labors? Can I make the myth relevant to my own life, and might I, like Sisyphus, be able to foster my own "higher devotion"? How was Camus able to imagine Sisyphus, in the midst of his hellish labours, happy? My response to Camus's thoughts, particularly his notions of "The Absurd," the "path of sympathy" and exile, are explored in relation to the mini-essay.
Camus was right. He believed that myths may "delight" our thoughts when they are formed in human sadness. He thought that to be especially true when the sadness results from passion frustrated by lack of prospects.
I was certainly delighted by my reading of his mini-essay, "Le mythe de Sisyphe," a contemplation of the profoundly sad tale of a man whose possibilities had been entirely negated. My repeated reading of the myth inspired a long series of personal explorations and reflections on several existentially important life issues.
This process began in earnest when I took my first art class, an introductory mixed-media course at our local arts centre. The class was a radical departure from the usual routines of my life. It promised to develop new skills and to open me to new perspectives. And, it appeared to be safer than some other ways --- driving expensive cars, cavorting with a mistress --- of resolving the issues of mid-life.
When asked to choose a theme for my art projects, where my classmates chose to portray such topics as "prairie winter," I proposed to tackle existential themes --- death, meaning and absurdity, community and isolation, freedom and limitation. Issues related to these themes had been affecting my life with increasing frequency and vigour. Some times more than others, I felt that I lacked choice and that I had to abide by arbitrary, often binding, rules. I also felt, more and more as the years flew by, as our children grew up and left home, as friends moved on and as friends and family passed away, divorced from any sense of an abiding or secure community. I noticed, too, my increased attempt to create meaning, precipitated by the daunting realization that, for me, none is given. And, I frequently worried that I might accomplish too little before death, increasingly experienced as imminent.
More specifically, I decided on the Sisyphus myth as my theme because, after reading Camus's eloquent essay on it, I knew it to be a powerful reflection on existential issues. When the art instructor asked us to brainstorm a list of ways to depict our themes in art, I answered that I would draw Sisyphus in charcoal and sculpt him in clay. I added that I might translate Camus's essay from the French and, then, grapple with the issues raised during the translation.
Understandably, translation was not one of the media the art instructor had expected me to use. However, we speculated that the translation effort might further my art project if, in promoting a deeper consideration of its ideas, it strengthened my grasp of the existential issues. That grasp might, in turn, generate fresh perspective for the art.
Of course, I was familiar with the English translation by Justin O'Brien --- in fact, I had only read Camus's essay in that translation. So, my impressions of the essay were entirely due to O'Brien's work.
I had no idea when I chose to do the project how, or even if, my translation would differ from O'Brien's. Now, as I look at them side-by-side, I find it interesting how close we are in some respects. Naturally, I like mine better, but not because Camus's philosophy and Sisyphus are more accurately reflected in it. It's rather that when I read mine, I recall my deep search for words and for ways to express both the existential issues and the marvellous prose in which they are embedded.
What follows, then, is my translation of Camus's mini-essay, "Le mythe de Sisyphe," and as important, its implications for both my grasp of existential issues and my art. I have divided the translation into four sections, each of which serves a different function in the essay, each of which, in its own way, brings us closer to understanding Sisyphus's story and Camus's philosophy in relation to it.
Camus begins with a brief summary of Sisyphus's story, of the events that led to his punishment. In this section of the essay, translation was comparatively easy, perhaps because facts are facts and there isn't much of Camus in them. Readers do, however, get a strong sense of the significant variability in Sisyphus's make-up, there being in his exploits both wisdom and rash action, principle and self-serving behaviour. Yet, Camus didn't seem to want the variability to colour our view of Sisyphus too greatly. While Sisyphus, in Camus's view, may have been a man of great contradictions, he was, at the same time, like us, a mortal, flawed human being confusedly trying to make something worthwhile out of this existence.
As I read this section, I experienced vicarious excitement at Sisyphus's heroically rebellious effort, particularly his chaining of Death. I experienced a delight at his having escaped the god's grasp and then, his bliss during stolen time along the sea. Finally, I experienced the pangs of disappointment that Sisyphus must have felt as he was transported to the dens of the gods. All great grist for the artist's mill!
The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock up a mountain to the summit where, because of its weight, it had to fall back down. They had reasoned that there is no sentence more terrible than meaningless and hopeless work.
If we take Homer's word for it, Sisyphus was the wisest and most sensible of the mortals. Another legend, however, portrays him as a professional highwayman. I don't see any contradiction in these accounts. Opinions vary as to why he deserved to be the underworld's futile worker. First of all, the gods reprimanded him for being frivolous with them. He divulged their secrets. Jupiter had abducted Egina. Alarmed by her disappearance, Esopus, her father, complained to Sisyphus. Sisyphus knew about the abduction and proposed to tell him of it if Esopus offered water at the citadel of Corinth. He preferred the benediction of water to celestial lightning. For this, he was punished in the underworld. Homer also tells us that Sisyphus shackled Death. Pluto couldn't bear to see his empire uninhabited and silent, so he sent the god of war who liberated Death from her conqueror's hands.
They also say that, when he was near death, Sisyphus foolishly wanted to verify that his wife loved him. He ordered her to throw his cadaver into the middle of the public plaza. He found himself back in the underworld. Outraged by his wife's obedience, her behaviour being so opposed to human love, he received Pluto's permission to return to earth to punish her. But when he had once again seen this earth's face, tasted the water and the sun, felt the warm stones and the sea, he did not want to return to the hellish shadows. All the gods' reminders, their fits of anger and their reprimands did nothing to sway him. For several more years, he lived facing the bend of the gulf, the dazzling sea and the smiles of the earth. The gods had to put a stop to it. Mercury collared the insolent Sisyphus, hauled him away from his bliss and forced him back to the underworld where his rock was waiting for him.
Having summarized the events preceding Sisyphus's sentence, Camus now wants us to experience what Sisyphus had to go through as he struggled with the rock and futile task. Here now, there was more opportunity for variability in translation, for the essay has moved beyond biographical facts to Camus's interest in Sisyphus as futile labourer.
One portion caught my attention and demanded accuracy of translation more than most others. Camus's description of Sisyphus pushing the rock is palpably visual. So, translation required that I empathize with Sisyphus's incredible physical effort. Just when we might be convinced that Sisyphus's burden was all about the push upward, Camus tells us that what interests him most is how Sisyphus managed his return to the fallen rock. In relation to that, Camus introduces his main thesis: Sisyphus is "superior to his destiny;" he is "stronger than his rock." Readers, at this point, are often compelled to ask, perhaps incredulously, "How can that be?"
As one might expect, Sisyphus's upward shoving is the act most often depicted in art, mine and others'. But, I have also deeply striven to find how best to portray Sisyphus in the terrible moment that the rock begins to fall and as he makes the slow, sad walk back down to the plain.
We have already learned that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He qualifies as much by way of his passions as by his torment. His contempt for the gods, his hatred of death and his love of life had gained him this horrible punishment where all of his being was employed to achieve nothing. That is the price he had to pay for his passions on earth. We are told nothing of Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for imagination to inspire them. As for this myth, we imagine all the effort of a body stretched to lift the enormous rock, roll it and help it up a slope begun one hundred times before; we see the determined face, the cheek pressed against the stone, the help of a shoulder that receives the mass covered in clay, a foot that wedges it, the new beginning with outstretched arms, the very human security of two hands full of earth. At the conclusion of a prolonged effort, measured by space without sky and time without depth, the aim is realized. Sisyphus observes the stone racing for several moments down toward the lower world from which he will have to raise it again toward the summit. He heads back down to the plain.
It is during this return, this interval, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that labours so near stones is already stone itself. I see him go back down, his step heavy yet equal to torment he knows will never end. This hour is like breath that recurs as certainly as his misfortune; this hour is that of consciousness. At each of these moments, when he leaves the summit and goes down to the dens of the gods, he is superior to his destiny. He is stronger than his rock.
Having imagined Sisyphus's response to his task, Camus now wants us to understand it. He wants us to grasp how it is possible that Sisyphus can be stronger than his rock, how he can escape the tragedy of the condition imposed on him by unforgiving gods. Camus believes, it seems, that suffering can be mediated by attitude and choice, that in spite of gods and their powers, it is possible to make one's own destiny, even in circumstances as bleak as Oedipus's and Sisyphus's.
Here my translation suffered the difficulty in grasping Camus's philosophic position. No longer a series of factual details, no longer vivid descriptions, it was, for this section, abstract explanation with which I had to contend.
Art relevant to this section was particularly hard to come by, at least in relation to Sisyphus. However, it was not so difficult to imagine art in response to Camus's powerful description of Oedipus, blind and without hope.
If this myth is tragic, it is because its hero is conscious. Where would his distress be if, at each step, hope of success encouraged him? Today's worker toils all the days of his life at the same tasks and his destiny is no less absurd. Still, it is tragic only at those special instants when he becomes aware. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, impotent yet rebellious, knows the full extent of his miserable condition: it is what he thinks about during his descent. The clear-sightedness that was to be his torment at the same time consummates his victory. There is no destiny that cannot be overcome by contempt.
If some days the descent is made in suffering, it can also be made in joy. The word "joy" is not too strong. I imagine Sisyphus coming back toward his rock; as he begins, he is suffering. When the images of the earth are held too strongly in memory, when the call of happiness is too compelling, sadness grows in the heart of the man: it is the victory of the rock; it is the rock itself. The immense distress is too heavy to carry. These are our nights of Gethsemane. However, crushing truths die from being recognized. So it is that, at first, Oedipus obeys destiny without knowing it. His tragedy begins the moment he grasps the nature of his destiny. But in the same instant, blind and hopeless, he recognizes that his only link to the world is the cool hand of a young girl. Then, a mighty speech resounds: "In spite of so many misfortunes, my advanced age and the excellence of my soul enable me to judge that all is well." Sophocles's Oedipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus proclaims the formula for the absurd victory. Old-fashioned wisdom merges with modern heroism.
We do not perceive the absurd without being tempted to write some sort of happiness manual. "But, why must we proceed by such confined routes . . . ?" Well, there is only one world. Happiness and absurdity are its two offspring. They are inseparable. To say that happiness is the inevitable result of absurdity's discovery would be an error. It also happens that the experience of absurdity arises from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Oedipus, and these words are sacred. They resonate in the world of man that is, at once, both wild and restricted. They prove that all is not, has not been, exhausted. They banish from this world a god who entered it with dissatisfaction and a taste for futile suffering. They make destiny man's business, a business that men must themselves manage.
All the silent joy of Sisyphus is there. His destiny is his own. His rock is his thing.
Having set the philosophic base, Camus, here, applies it to Sisyphus. He confidently takes on the difficult task of imagining what went on within the latter's mind. He projects himself into Sisyphus's subjectivity; he attempts to grasp how it is possible that Sisyphus not only endured but, even more strangely, found happiness, in the task. Camus, here, also subtly attempts to bring Sisyphus's solution home to our lives. If we feel that we have some spiritual kinship or affiliation with Sisyphus, perhaps we will be ready for the incredible conclusion: "We must imagine that Sisyphus is happy." And, we understand that we, too, are absurd men. If Camus is right, we will take Sisyphus's story, his response to his rock and futile task, to heart for purposes of our own lives.
Translation of the following paragraphs requires great sensitivity, for we are trying to capture what Camus imagines with respect to Sisyphus's subjectivity. It's not surprising to me, as we work such difficult terrain, that translations vary significantly. Not so much variation in objective meaning as in the depth with which we are made relate to Sisyphus's subjectivity. The subjective domain lacks vocabulary. But, it cries out for attention. This section, to the extent that it explores Sisyphus's subjectivity, was what I most wanted to understand and to depict in art. Nothing would satisfy me more than to be able to portray, in a way to which many would relate, the subjective landscape of existential man.
In the same way, when he contemplates his torment, the absurd man silences all the gods. In the suddenly quieted world, thousands of doubting little voices rise up from the earth. Unconscious and secret appeals, invitations from all sides, they are the necessary antithesis and price of triumph. There is no sun without shadow, and it is necessary to know the night. The absurd man says "yes" and his effort will never again cease. Even if there is a personal destiny, there isn't a superior one, or at least there isn't just one that he judges to be inevitable and detestable.
Moreover, he knows that he is the master of his days. At this subtly critical instant, when the man examines his life, Sisyphus, coming back to his rock, contemplates this sequence of endless actions that is becoming his destiny, created by him, united under his memory's purview and soon guaranteed by his death. Thus, assured of the wholly human origin of all that is human, like a blind man who wants to see even though he knows that the night has no end, he is always pushing forward. The rock still rolls.
I leave Sisyphus at the base of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But, Sisyphus teaches the higher devotion, a devotion that repudiates the gods and that elevates rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This world, from now on without master, appears neither sterile nor futile to him. Each grain of the stone, each mineral chip of the night-saturated mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle toward the summit, in itself, is enough to fill a man's heart. We must imagine that Sisyphus is happy.
The Myth of Sisyphus
The mini-essay above was included in the similarly named book which had adopted the problem of suicide as its principal issue: "There is only one truly serious philosophical problem: suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth the trouble of being lived is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy." (Mythe, 15)
Much as Descartes had done, Camus used doubt and refutation to get at what he could clearly discern: "What I know, what is certain, what I cannot dismiss, what I cannot reject, that's what matters." (Mythe, 73) He refuted what could not stand tests of certainty and accepted what remained as knowledge of his self: "I can completely deny the part of me which thrives on uncertain sentiments, except this longing for unity, this appetite for resolution, this need for clarity and for coherence." (Mythe, 73) Camus, next, applied an identical subtractive process to the world outside himself: "I can refute everything in this world which surrounds, collides with, or transports me, except this chaos, this reigning chance and this divine balance bred by anarchy." (Mythe, 73) In the end, Camus knew, with certainty, that his self longed for meaning and reason in a world that offered him only tumult and disorder. He neither held out hope nor conjectured as to his ability to find a meaning; nor did he presume to know whether there was any to be found. "I do not know if this world has a meaning which goes beyond it. However, I know that I do not know this meaning and that it is impossible at the moment for me to know it." (Mythe, 73)
Lacking knowledge of the meaning, of course, he could not embrace belief in God or any other certainty-promising principle. Pursuing this negative premise, Camus asked: " . . . of whom and about what can I truly say: 'I know that!'" (Mythe, 34) His answer: "I can feel this heart within me and I determine that it exists. I can touch this world and conclude that it is still there." (Mythe, 34) That's as far as he could take his pursuit of irrefutable ground. "There all my science stops, the rest is construction." (Mythe, 34) His attempts to define and to describe himself by way of characteristics, traits of personality, and details of biography were all for naught; such information was too tenuous, too indefinite: "because if I try to grasp this me about which I assure myself, if I try to define it and to describe it, it's like water running through my fingers." (Mythe, 34) Camus judged that his essence would be everlastingly unknown to him, that he would, forever, be a mystery to himself. The various psychologies springing from Socrates' pronouncement "Know yourself" were all "futile games on grand subjects, . . . only legitimate insofar as they are approximate." (Mythe, 34)
Camus held that, no matter how much we crave certainty and absolute meaning in life, none is given by an ever-silent universe. We desire happiness and reason, but, instead, find ourselves facing irrationality. The result is what he named "The Absurd," born of the "confrontation between the human call and the unreasonable silence of the world." (Mythe, 44) The Absurd is rational man looking for meaning in a discouragingly dumb world that cannot give it to him. One side of the Absurd is the human desire for meaning. The indifferent, silent and unknowable world is the other side. Camus deliberately avoided any suggestion that life itself is absurd or meaningless. Instead, he offered that living without furnished meaning, such as might be provided by a belief in God, makes each individual responsible for meaning's creation or discovery.
What does this myth mean to a person in today's world?
This question, asked by Camus at the start of an essay (Essais, 839) on another mythological character, Prometheus, is germane here as well. The story of Sisyphus is, after all, from an era long past and from a culture with which people today have little in common.
Mythologists, such as Joseph Campbell, tell us that stories and myths may contain important lessons for us. That sounds right. Stories I read in childhood continue to have profound effects on the way I conduct my life, and ones I read now inspire and shape my character and actions. I would be remiss, the way I see things, if I failed to consider the enduring life issues that are addressed in, or stimulated by, Camus's essay. The broad issues of freedom and limitation, meaning and absurdity, life and death, are embedded in my thoughts about aging and the value of work, the death of friends and family, all these brought to mind as I read Camus's essay.
Perhaps the usefulness of the myth will have to do with resolving the challenge of the concluding line: "We must imagine that Sisyphus is happy." The words defy my intuition. In spite of what preceded them, they carry an encouraging message along these lines: "Don't become too despondent in the midst of your suffering for you may still end up happy." A part of me, considering Sisyphus's deep suffering, rebels against cheerful outcomes. It's not that I don't want him to be happy. It's rather that I cannot easily reconcile myself to that ending.
Recalling that Camus had me think of the Sisyphus story as comprised of endless human sadness, I see a happy conclusion as strange, perhaps hypocritical. Camus explicitly wanted me to avoid reading it as either a fairy tale or an entertaining religious fable. And, yet, on first glance, that is precisely what his work seems to make of it.
The challenge sends me back to the essay for a fuller reading and more extensive analysis. Did I miss something the first time through? Did Sisyphus complete his task? Did he escape the gods' sentence? The answer is no, for as we leave him, Sisyphus was still at his futile labours. That's not it, then. Rather, his happiness, as imagined by Camus, arises out of the way in which he considered and dealt with his situation. If I am going to fathom Camus's conclusion, I will need to get inside Sisyphus's heart and mind, Camus's as well. I will need to grapple with gods and mountains, with fates and freedom. I must leave no stone unturned.
Does Sisyphus's story hold any significance for us?
Notice that Camus said we must "imagine" that Sisyphus is happy, not that he actually is. This is an important distinction. Whether or not Sisyphus is actually happy may, very well, be beside the point. In fact, what Camus thought Sisyphus is or isn't may also be of little consequence to me. Such things are bound to tell me more about the discussants, Camus in this case, than they do about Sisyphus. And, that is the way it should be. If you say: "No, he's not happy." or "Yes and no, depending . . ." I won't, I cannot, dispute your answer. I will, rather, attempt to learn how you experienced and imagined Sisyphus, how you constructed his response to his rock and to the gods. I will do that even if your answer is consistent with my own. The critically important questions are not about the metaphysical facts of "absurdity" and "happiness." They are not about whether such matters are true or actual or factual. They are about what you and I do with our experience. They are about how we imagine or construe circumstances presented to us.
My task might be defined in this way: In observing Sisyphus, doomed to suffer for all eternity, I experience the totality of his despair. Yet, I also feel responsible to seek justification for Camus's conclusion that imagines him happy.
I am convinced that this kind of probing, imagining and construing is exactly what Camus hoped would happen in and through an encounter with the myth. He may even have intended that we come to terms with Sisyphus's happiness by way of trying on in our own lives his ways of replacing the answer of despair with the one of imagined happiness. My hunch is that Camus wanted us to see that, despite Sisyphus's futile existence, it was possible, through our acts of imagination, construction and choice, to develop a picture of him happy. He wanted us to understand that he had been able to imagine, in his own working of the myth, a way for his Sisyphus to reclaim some meaning and a measure of happiness in life. I like to think that Camus wanted us as readers, not just to condone his argument, but, rather, to assume for ourselves the challenge that he had, himself, tackled in his little essay. He wanted us to see if Sisyphus's struggle held any meaning for us.
What might I learn from this man?
What I know of Sisyphus begins with Homer's The Odyssey. What Ulysses reported from his ship is, here, superbly rendered into English by Robert Fagles:
"And I saw Sisyphus too, bound to his own torture,
grappling his monstrous boulder with both arms working,
heaving, hands struggling, legs driving, he kept on
thrusting the rock uphill toward the brink, but just
as it teetered, set to topple over ---
time and again
the immense weight of the thing would wheel it back and
the ruthless boulder would bound and tumble down to the plain again ---
so once again he would heave, would struggle to thrust it up,
sweat drenching his body, dust swirling above his head." (269)
In other passages of The Odyssey, we learn of Sisyphus that he was, curiously, both a highwayman and a king. Camus didn't see any discrepancy in this fact. But, I learn from it that Sisyphus is complex. From the same fact, I also surmise that he lives at the extremes of life and, what's more, that he resists acquiescence and conformity. There is no docility here, no timid cowering in this man. We know from his devious negotiations with Esopus and the gods that he is cunning. Because he tested his wife's fidelity, having her throw his cadaver into the square, and because he actually arrested and shackled the god of death, we gather that Sisyphus has a strong sense of justice. We also know that he is an incorrigible rebel: he refused to offer tribute to the gods by way of the usual celestial benediction. What's more, he disregarded gods' commands that he return to the underworld from a coastal paradise.
I have sought to merge, no matter how temporarily, with this other human being, to fuse enough that I can share his consciousness and fate. I look out and see Sisyphus there on his mountain, on the margin of my own life. Sometimes, I feel, as I do with other acquaintances, some mixture of diffidence and distance. But, sometimes I feel a compassionate urge to experience his life as though it were my own. I want to be with Sisyphus, in a sense to be him, to know what it is to rebel against the gods' wishes, to savour the thrill of besting them, to grasp the delights of a coastal paradise. I want to feel his despair and joys as though they are my own.
Perhaps it's his intractably rebellious spirit that most impresses me. It leads me to feel a solidarity with him, and then, to cheer him on. I see in Sisyphus's rebellion a common ground with those who dare to live choicefully. I recognize in Sisyphus, as I do in say, Nelson Mandela or Vaclav Havel, that individuals can realize their humanity when they contend with all of their being against oppressor-imposed obstacles. When Camus's Sisyphus, despite acute awareness of the futility of so doing, chooses to be contemptuous of the gods, I feel an affinity with him. Perhaps contempt is not the way in which I would choose to deal with things; it's certainly not the way Mandela and Havel have contended with their oppressors. But, contempt is just one statement of the rebellious response. It's possible, as Camus demonstrated, to imagine Sisyphus rebelling in other ways.
I cannot be more awed by any act of rebellion than I am by his chaining of Death; for that reason, it may be Sisyphus's hatred of mortality that most fascinates me. But, surely, his victory over death would be hollow if his life wasn't enhanced as a consequence. Thus, I am cheered to note Sisyphus's great love of what life has to offer: "When he had once again seen this earth's face, tasted the water and the sun, felt the warm stones and the sea, he did not want to return to the hellish shadows." (Mythe, 162) There are times when, like Sisyphus, I want nothing more than to love what the world offers as experience.
Because grit and determination are valued capacities when the going gets rough, I am genuinely awed by Sisyphus's efforts to raise the rock. I see his arm and leg muscles straining under the weight; I see the resolve on his face; I see him securing his position, gaining leverage, then striving with every fibre of his body to gain the momentum necessary to raise the rock up the mountain; I see him drenched in sweat, covered in clay. And then, I see him flinch in profound heartache each time the rock rumbles back down; I see him, eyes fixed on his burden, trudging down to the plain, steeling himself for the next attempt. I don't suppose that my rocks are as large or my tasks as futile as his; still, I identify with Sisyphus's obstinate tenacity. I am especially impressed, recognizing that until he was brought to his task, he had been lying around on the Greek beaches: he knew how to have a great vacation, and then, when it was over, how to get to work.
I consider Sisyphus tragically heroic. What is it about him that might make it so for me? Is it his rebellion, his hatred of death, his grit and determination? Yes, all of these contribute, but it has as much or more to do with factors that Camus dealt with in other contexts. In La peste, he had Dr. Rieux speak of Grand, whose absurd aim was to revise a sentence until it was made "ideal": " . . . the narrator would like to nominate this insignificant, unobtrusive hero who had nothing to his credit but a little goodness of heart and an apparently ridiculous ideal." (Peste, 136) We don't know much about Sisyphus's "goodness of heart," but we can readily agree that his efforts serve, as do Grand's, a "ridiculous ideal." Attempts to shackle Death and to accomplish the impossible with his rock, measured against Rieux's criteria, are thoroughly heroic. Yet, the notion of heroism has limits, as Camus here declared: "I do not believe in heroism, I know it is superficial and I have discovered that it is deadly. What interests me is that we live and kill for what we love." (Peste, 137)
Sisyphus's monumental sense of justice may serve that very purpose: his actions frequently speak to his passion or love of principle. When he shackles Death, I am reminded that I have experienced, with similar exhilaration, if only momentarily, small, but significant moves toward balance in the world when evil has been successfully sentenced. I experience the balm of justice similarly when people who have suffered deep injustice are able to forgive and reconcile. I know that suffering continues, that the unjust acts of Death persist. Still, because of such occasions, I am disposed to open myself, once again, to the heartening possibility that the human being may redeem himself. Camus agreed, offering us this unusually affirmative statement: " . . . what we discover in the midst of pestilence, that there are more things in men to admire than to scorn." (Peste, 254)
What might I learn from the enormous rock?
The gods were in a particularly foul mood the day they designed and made ready Sisyphus's disturbing punishment. I imagine them, exasperated by his rebellious behaviour, furious that he had, for years, managed to avoid their summons. They may even have been jealous that he savoured the breathtaking Greek coast when he should have been ensconced in their restrictive and desolate underworld domain. In any case, they were upset enough to send Mercury to bring him back. And, they were sufficiently angry to plan and make ready his punishment.
As they awaited Sisyphus's arrival, I imagine that they gathered on Olympus to figure out what to do with him. What punishment, they wondered, would suffice? One of the gods proposed that, for all the trouble he had caused them, Sisyphus be sentenced to spend eternity in the fires of Gehenna. Another, recalling that Sisyphus had been a highwayman who took from others whatever pleased him, suggested that he be compelled to desire everything, but to achieve and to have nothing. A third recommended that because Sisyphus had enchained Death, he should suffer the same fate of captivity; he should be chained to a rock. Finally, one of the gods introduced the idea of the rock and the everlastingly meaningless labour. I imagine that the others were unanimously impressed, and so arranged to have the mountain and the rock prepared for Sisyphus's arrival.
The rock is the consummate instrument of the gods' sentence. Consider that, in the first place, it carries near-infinite time. It reminds Sisyphus that, like his task, it began in unfathomable times past and will last through an inconceivable future duration. Aware that he must push the rock until his death, Sisyphus cannot help but be deeply anguished by the sight and feel of its endlessly obdurate ruggedness.
A second reason is that a rock's heaviness is more than just weight. It is, as Camus tells us, its sadness as well: "When the images of the earth are held too strongly in memory, when the call of happiness is too compelling, sadness grows in the heart of the man: it is the victory of the rock; it is the rock itself. The immense distress is too heavy to carry." (Mythe, 164) When I watch him in my mind's eye, I experience such depths of sorrow in him that I am obliged to look away; I cannot bear to witness the man's soul crumbling before my eyes. Having to push the massive rock in futile repetition up the mountain is not just physically difficult, it is such an incredibly sad task that neither complaint nor outcry can express, much less ease, Sisyphus's awful anguish. Sometimes silence says more. He says nothing and, instead, marshals all of his energy to shove his mass of rock-sorrow up the mountain.
What might I learn from "stone itself"?
I know that a body can only endure so much physical duress and wonder how long Sisyphus will feel his skin pasted against the rockface. How long will it take him to get beyond bodily distress? Perhaps the question is how long will it be until he dies.
Having to contend, without respite, with the physical pain bred by the task, Sisyphus is compelled to become like his rock; Camus reminds us that "a face that labours so near stones is already stone itself." (Mythe, 163) To cope with the pain, to survive the pointless suffering, Sisyphus must himself become indomitable stone, immune to despair, insensible, unfeeling, an anaesthetized rock of labour. Elsewhere, in his retelling of the story of Sakia-Mouni, Camus recognized the virtues of being insensate stone:
"He dwelt there (in the desert) for countless years, squatting, motionless, his eyes looking up at heaven. Even the gods envied him his good sense and this stony destiny. In his tight, stiff hands, swallows made their nest. But, one day, they flew off at the call of far-away lands. And, what had killed desire and volition, triumph and suffering in him, began to shed tears. The consequence is that flowers grow in the rock." (Essais, 830)
Camus saw the value in our giving in to stone when we must. For stone can also yield to us the secrets and enchantment that we seek in peoples' faces. Then again, as with Sakia-Mouni, it cannot last --- even stone is not eternal. Sakia-Mouni's connection to the birds, our relationships with others, cease in time and we crave again. "And, if stone is no more able than the human heart, at least it can do just as much for us." (Essais, 830)
Camus also described an entirely different relationship between Sisyphus and his rock, a relationship that is not the end of agony, but rather, a transcendent bi-product of it. Triumphantly declaring: "His rock is his thing," (Mythe, 165) Camus told us that his Sisyphus had found a way to accept and to embrace the futility and pain. Camus might have uttered that facile cliché of today's workout enthusiasts, "No pain, no gain," but he intended to convey something much richer and deeper than what is implied by gain in that context. Through his pain, in relation to the rock and the mountain, Sisyphus was no longer stone in the sense of being rock-hardened. He was its opposite, more fully human by virtue of his profound union with rock and mountain.
What might I learn from such futile persistence?
This story differs from ones about dogged determination and stick-with-it-ness. It isn't a case of "try and try again," or "if at first you don't succeed . . ." From the time he is brought to his task through eternity, though he is never allowed to stop trying, Sisyphus is doomed by gods' decree to accomplish nothing.
Sisyphus's situation is like that faced by Jews in the Nazi concentration camps. The parallel is particularly clear when we consider Nazi use of a non-instrumental labour, also in many cases involving rocks, meant to break both spirit and body of the camp inmates. In Majdanek, for instance, inmates
" . . . were chased by blows from rods into a corner of the field and had to fill sometimes our caps, at times our jackets, with stones, wet sand or mud, and holding them with both hands and running under a hail of blows, bring them to the opposite corner of the field, empty the stuff, refill it and bring it back to the opposite corner, and so on. A gauntlet of SS men and privileged prisoners, armed with rods and whips, let loose on us a hail of blows. It was hell." (Goldhagen, 294)
And, in Buchenwald much the same: there, Jews often had to build walls, only to tear them down the next day and rebuild them again. (Goldhagen, 286) At a Polish POW camp, a commander had the Jews, on the run, carry mattresses from one empty barracks to another, and after the latter was filled, back again to the barracks where they had first been. The prisoners were beaten and made to continue until they collapsed. (Goldhagen, 304)
To simultaneously break body and spirit with the dreadful combination of punishing physical activities and futile labours was the indisputable purpose of such cruel assignments. How else do we explain the Nazi use of non-instrumental work when there was useful work to which the enslaved Jews might have been put? How else do we explain the sinister phrase over the Auschwitz gate: "Work shall make you free"?
People who have been abused experience two extreme kinds of response, often in sequence: they feel themselves to be passive victims, and they feel outrage or anger. It's rare that those who have suffered abuse are able to get to a balanced and accepting view of things. But, it's not unknown that this happens. For example, in The Sunflower, Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal's book on the theme of forgiveness, the Dalai Lama expresses his appreciation of the role played by the Chinese who had abused and killed so many of his fellow Tibetans. He not only forgives them, he appreciates that they may have been his best teachers. And, Bishop Desmond Tutu, speaking on the Post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, describes how victims of violence not only came to terms with what had happened to them; some were actually able to appreciate their abusers for having helped to sensitize them to human anguish.
Camus's Sisyphus too, like the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu's victim, finds his way to an appreciation of his hellish condition. He doesn't just accept, fear or worship his condition. He is exhilarated by it, by the brutal and pointless work, so that it becomes possible for Camus, perhaps even for us, to imagine his happiness: "This world, from now on without master, appears neither sterile nor futile to him. Each grain of the stone, each mineral chip of the night-saturated mountain, in itself, forms a world." (Mythe, 166)
In Sisyphus's case, if we believe Camus, the gods miscalculated what effects they had produced. Making the task worthless, meaningless and devoid of dividends didn't affect Sisyphus in the way they had intended. In fact, it seems to have had just the opposite effect. The absurd condition, the established and irrevocable futility of the task, was the very ground out of which Camus imagined Sisyphus happy. Sisyphus's happiness emerged, not from having ended the absurdity of the pointless perseverance, not even from hope that it is possible to do so. No, Camus raised neither heroic success nor hope of it. Instead, he invoked Sisyphus's rebellion. If, in his hour of consciousness, Sisyphus is "superior to his destiny" (Mythe, 163), it's not because he has solved the dilemma. Nor is it because he has found a way around, or located hope, in it. Rather, in his disdain for the gods' control of him, he has found a path toward his meaning. By scornfully saying "yes" to his work's futility and to life's fatality, by way of this act of rebellion, he has become the "master of his days." (Mythe, 166)
I find myself, at once, connected to and distant from the story.
The difference between "inside" and "outside" perspectives is critical. Consider the difference between Homer's telling and Camus's description of Sisyphus-at-work. In Homer's, we read what Ulysses saw. With a small stretch of our identity, we imagine ourselves in Ulysses' place, sailing by the mountain, taking in the scenery, observing Sisyphus. Perhaps helped by Fagles' powerfully visual rendition of The Odyssey, we see Sisyphus from Ulysses' position.
Camus's words are equally poetic and, in content, significantly similar. Yet, he effects a subtle and important transformation. In his telling, it's not Ulysses, it is, rather, "we" who imagine and see Sisyphus at work.
The key difference between the two descriptions is the difference between being "outside" and "inside," between viewing things from afar and, on the other hand, having positions or attitudes inside or close to them. Homer, in The Odyssey, tells Ulysses' tale, and accordingly, we observe Ulysses observing Sisyphus. But, Camus cuts out the middle-man; there is one less step to our experience of Sisyphus at his labours.
Describing his visit with Camus, philosopher Philip Hallie highlights their discussions around the inside-outside theme. During their conversation, Hallie, a student at the time, audaciously suggested to Camus that he should write with "frank subjectivity." (Hallie, n. pag.) To illustrate, Hallie pointed to the writings of Montaigne, noting that the celebrated essayist wrote in a personal manner, not scientifically or objectively. Camus agreed with Hallie, pointing out that his own recent work, La chute, a novel of a man's anguish, was in the direction of writing more subjectively. However, Camus acknowledged that his writing had not yet satisfactorily touched his own or other's fundamental truth. By means of greater subjectivity, he believed that he could improve his work. His posthumously published novel, The First Man, certainly moved in this direction; it gave us a view of Camus more accessible and exposed than in any of his previous work. Hallie, however, even prior to its publication, could still write of Camus: "No one I have ever known has felt the anguish of out-thereness as poignantly." (Hallie, n. pag.)
Though we are, with Camus's working of the myth, closer to direct experience, even then, a connection and empathic response to Sisyphus is not assured. I notice that sometimes I connect and can find myself inside Sisyphus's heart and mind; sometimes I cannot. Isn't that always the struggle in relation to an experiencing of the other? Sometimes, when I am appropriately attuned, subjectively engaged, I identify, I relate to, I meet, the other before me. Sometimes I don't.
I believe that whether or not I relate to the other depends as much on my willingness to be open to the experience as it does on how the other is presented, in this case by Camus. Perhaps more. The answer isn't in Fagles' poetic rendition of Homer's Odyssey, not even in Camus's retelling. It is, instead, in the way I experience them. As Camus said, "Myths are made for imagination to inspire them." (Mythe, 163) If I'm "inside," that's because my imagination inspires the myth, imbues it with shape and substance. Not the other way around. The characters and events of the text have no significance, neither flesh nor substance, that is not given them by me. Without my steadfast efforts to find meaning in the myth, with neither certainty of positive outcome nor even reason for optimism, Sisyphus's efforts would be little more than Camus's paper-staining symbols.
But, my efforts in relation to Camus's Sisyphus and the essay's conclusion have transformed the words into living experience. When he pushes, I push with him. When he is joyful, when he makes his rock his thing, I exult with and for him. Yes, I rejoice for Sisyphus. And, I rejoice for Camus who was able to imagine him happy.
Might I be able to foster my own "higher devotion"?
Perhaps the most telling measure of my efforts will be whether or not I do things or, perhaps, do them differently. My working of the myth emerges in embryonic attempts at art; it frequently surfaces in my work as a psychotherapist; it's there in the songs I hear running through my head. Sisyphus's story has undoubtedly steered me in these and many other ways.
It didn't have to. It might have worked in an entirely different way. Each of us, of course, experiences and works the same things in his or her own manner: some people will be moved by an experience while others will not. Camus brought this point home in his Lettres à un ami allemand. Writing as a member of the French resistance during the difficult times of World War II, he reprimanded an old German friend with whom he had studied for becoming a Nazi. During their years of study, they had shared an attachment for the belief that the world had no transcendent meaning. Yet, on reflection, Camus saw that their ideas were so significantly different that, now, they not only lived according to entirely contradictory rules of behaviour, they were extreme enemies. Asking "Where was the difference?" Camus answered this way:
"It's that you easily countenanced despair while I never consented to it. It's that you accepted the injustice of our condition enough to allow you to add to it, while, to the contrary, it seemed to me that man must affirm justice in order to struggle against eternal injustice, create happiness in order to protest against a universe of unhappiness." (Lettres, 240)
Camus's German colleague had applied the belief that there was no ultimate meaning to justify a malevolent purge of humanitarian attitudes. He "chose injustice and sided with the gods." (Lettres, 241) Camus, on the other hand, "chose justice in order to stay true to the earth." (Lettres, 241) He had been moved by the same belief in the opposite direction; it led him to proclaim the solidarity of human beings.
To discover how Camus came to this position, we have to understand how he experienced and addressed the "divorce" between his deepest, most subjective feelings and the world out there: "In a world suddenly without illusions and lights, man feels like a stranger . . .. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his set, is, properly speaking, the feeling of absurdity." (Mythe, 18) The divorce is pervasive; lives are never finally fulfilled or actualized. Notwithstanding our occasional triumphs, there always remains a frustrating chasm between our yearning for happiness and the perpetually disheartening response of the world.
The image of Sisyphus following the stone back down the mountain furnished Camus with a particularly effective depiction of the divorce-manifested. Here was Sisyphus, conscious that all his labours were futile, aware that he would accomplish nothing in an inhospitable and estranged world. Camus was faced with the question of how Sisyphus, conscious of the damnable divorce, would deal with that horrible fact. He knew that when nothing seems to make a difference, it's not unusual that a state of resignation or cynical hopelessness develops. Despondency and bitterness are, frequently, not far behind. So, too, are inaction, nihilism, cynicism and suicide.
Camus believed that despondency and bitterness need not necessarily result from the inescapable estrangement of self and world, self and others. There were other options. It was, for instance, possible to numb oneself against painful awareness of the divorce. But, Camus also refused to follow that route. He found, instead, sometimes only when the divorce had reached its limit, a place where people meet in "dialogue." There, an effort at mutual understanding, acknowledgment and respect might be found, if conditions allowed: " . . . what I wished to tell you today is that the world needs genuine dialogue, fallacy is as much the opposite of dialogue as silence, and dialogue is only possible between people who remain true to themselves and speak honestly." (L'incroyant, p. 372)
In La peste, says Hallie, Camus recast dialogue as "the path of sympathy." (Hallie, n. pag.) or the "way of compassion." He believed that it was the way that had to be taken to get back to a state that had been lost. (Peste, 209) " . . . [T]he world without love was a dead world." (Peste, 215) Compassion and love have us "seek the face of a human being and the heart filled with the wonder of love." (Peste, 215)
Recasting dialogue as compassion was a particularly important transformation with direct parallels in the case of Sisyphus. Compassion bridges, in some measure, the divorce of self and the world of others. Through compassion, people connect to others who are helpless and persecuted. In their union, they resist and oppose the plague of human anguish. Elie Wiesel, in his novel The Town Beyond the Wall, excellently summed up Camus's position in this respect. The way of compassion was the best riposte to the fact of human suffering:
"To say 'I suffer, therefore I am' is to become the enemy of man. What you must say is 'I suffer, therefore you are.' Camus wrote somewhere that to protest against a universe of unhappiness you had to create happiness. That's an arrow pointing the way: it leads to another human being. And not via absurdity." (Wiesel, 118)
Sometimes the suffering of one person can direct us to the suffering of the larger community. We might see the whole through an experience of one or more small parts. As Dr. Rieux ministered to the multitude of diseased and dying people, " . . . what wrenched his heart . . . was the great indignation we experience in the face of the suffering shared by all men." (Peste, 215-216)
Camus wanted to minister to the anguished victims of our many plagues. And, he accepted that, like Sisyphus's, his was a ceaseless task. Following the path of sympathy, he would never remove or end the divorce of self-and-world, self-and-others, in all its manifestations. He could, however, build some degree of solidarity with others and attempt to limit the inexhaustible suffering. Speaking to the members of a Dominican monastery, he stated: "I share with you the same horror over evil. But I do not share your hope, and I continue to wrestle with this universe in which children suffer and die." (L'incroyant, 372) Similarly, " . . . I will refuse until my death to love this creation in which children are tortured." (Peste, 179) The task would never be completed for the divorce was irreparable. But, the struggle had to continue, for Camus believed that, in abandoning others to the universe of unhappiness, a man betrayed himself.
But, can I make the myth relevant to my life?
My father jokes that he becomes exhausted whenever he watches sports on television. The reason, he tells me, is that, in his mind's eye, he makes every move and every shot made by the athletes he is watching. It's as if he is inside the athletes' minds and bodies. He is, in effect, empathically responding to the athletes.
It's like that for me with clients in psychotherapy. Frequently, it's the way things happen when I read. But, always the question remains: how far will I let the empathic response take me? Will I back up into my own self when the going gets too difficult; in this instance, will I distance myself from Sisyphus? Or, will I stay with Sisyphus in his anguishing circumstances, perhaps allowing the dialogue to deepen?
Camus believed that personal liberation in this age, one that spawns selfishness and conditions of exile, depends on acts of sympathy and compassion. He pursued this theme in several formats, notably in the essay "Prometheus aux enfers," in the play, Caligula, in his novel, La peste, and in a work of short fiction, "La pierre qui pousse."
"La pierre qui pousse" demonstrates that a person can find a way home from exile through a compassionate response to suffering. D'Arrast, an engineer brought from France to Brazil, seems to be, especially in relation to the local natives, to be emotionally flat, aimless and dull. His assignment is to construct a dam to hold back the river surrounding a town's lower section, the area in which impoverished native peoples live. From the moment he arrives, d'Arrast is a treated as a hero by the dignitaries who brought him there. But, the majority of people, including the native peoples whose home he tours, are much less impressed.
In a grotto, deemed sacred because a statue of Christ, retrieved from the sea, had been washed in its waters, d'Arrast witnesses the miracle of the growing stone. Somehow, this stone rises out of the water a little bit each year. People hammer off pieces, which, the next day, they carry, in a religious procession to the church in which the statue has been enshrined.
One of the natives, formerly a ship's cook, tells d'Arrast of his extraordinary pledge: when he had been in danger of drowning, he vowed that if Jesus saved him, as homage, he would haul a huge rock on his head in the procession from grotto to church. He intends to fulfill the vow the following day. Concerned that if he joins in the festival dances that night, he will, then, be too tired to bear the huge rock during the morning procession, he asks d'Arrast to keep him from dancing. D'Arrast concedes to the request when he remembers his own failure to make commitment of this sort, despite having, at one time, been inclined to do so. The cook suggests that if d'Arrast helped him realize his pledge to Jesus, it would be as if d'Arrast had made and fulfilled his own vow.
That evening, d'Arrast attends the dances. He is overwhelmed by the intense ambience. But, he feels himself an outsider and is unable to participate. Nor is he able to keep the cook from dancing. D'Arrast leaves early, feeling dejected, a failure with respect to the cook, very much an exile from the communal activities of the townsfolk.
In the morning, with several other dignitaries, d'Arrast watches the procession from a privileged balcony. He looks on as the cook, with all the others in the procession, makes the march with his huge rock. Weak from his dancing revelries, the cook falters; he falls to the ground. Impulsively, D'Arrast leaves his special seat to go to him. When he sees that the cook is completely done in, he hoists the rock to his own shoulders and carries on in the cook's place toward the church. But, when he gets there, instead of going in, he abruptly alters his route. He carries the rock an even greater distance to the cook's small home in the lower section. He drops it in hearth in the centre of the house. When the cook and his family arrive, they sit in silence around the rock. For several minutes, they do not acknowledge d'Arrast who stands exhausted against the wall. Then, the family makes room for him to sit; they ask him to join them. D'Arrast has been accepted by the native peoples and is no longer an exile.
We often think of the end of exile as a return to the place of origin. Of course, that's not always possible, nor even desirable. Many people manage to end their states of exile by finding new places in which to make their homes while still others make a home of their place of exile. In all of these cases, the state of exile is thought of as geographic displacement. But, exile can also be a way of speaking in broader terms about the divorce the individual experiences from the world and others. D'Arrast's exile would seem to fall into this category, for he was an exile from life, not just from a given homeland. He didn't have a place to return to, or more to the point, geography and place weren't significant factors in his exile. "This exile is without appeal since it is deprived of memories of a lost homeland or hope of a promised land." (Mythe, 18)
How, then, did D'Arrast manage to end his exile? He had been, in effect, in the middle of his nowhere, in a site where his identity and ways of responding to life could be taken in new directions. None of his past, his status as a professional, his engineering skills, meant anything to the native peoples. He could not rely on such mainstays of his prior life. This situation was so thoroughly distinct from anything he had experienced that it was pointless to bank on familiar or previously serviceable ways of managing life. He was compelled to respond in fresh and creative ways.
D'Arrast had been unable to numb himself to an awareness of his exile by dancing. Nor could he bridge the divorce by helping the ship's cook refrain from participation in the dance activities. In effect, D'Arrast rebelled against the divorce, the metaphysical wall that stood between himself and the townsfolk, between himself and life. He did that by reaching out in sympathy to the ship's cook, by assuming the cook's burden and purpose. D'Arrast found his way out of exile, a way to come "home" through the "path of sympathy."
Each time I take that "path," I make a bridge to isolated others and, somehow, my individual exile dissolves, at least momentarily. There is no greater gratification than finding solidarity with another, a connection, a confluence, a union. In and through my alliance with another, the world becomes slightly less formidable; the plagues are marginally more manageable. I come back to myself, I reduce my exile, stronger, better able to conceive and to re-invent myself.
The rock rolls down the hill again. As it plummets, it reminds Sisyphus of his exile from life, of the great divorce between his longing for happiness and the unrelenting silence of his unhappy and irrational world. But, when he returns to his rock, fully conscious of the ultimate futility of his life, he trusts that, if he steers clear of bitterness and nihilism and, instead, reconnects with the world, if he dialogues with it, he may find his way home from exile. It's in that way that Sisyphus is able to conclude that all is well, to see the world as neither sterile nor futile. His heart is filled with the endless struggle, and we can imagine, with Camus, that he is happy.
Is the struggle to understand Sisyphus enough?
Camus abandoned hope in the positivist myth that there are certainties, religious or philosophical, on which he could confidently depend. He was resigned to the divorce. And because of that, he could not have Sisyphus hoist the rock above the peak to some truth or certainty beyond it. Instead, he had Sisyphus pushing up and trudging down forever, and yet, still being happy. Sisyphus's happiness was not to be found in actualization, in an experience of the rock soaring as in Magritte's painting, "Zeno's Arrow." The happiness was not in the rock's flight, not even a glimpse of it, beyond the peak of actualization. For Camus's Sisyphus, there was no hope of that, of any heaven or nirvana on a side of the mountain where meaning is given and certain.
Initially, Sisyphus defies the gods, spurns them, holds them in disdain. Then, he makes his rock, that preposterous, abhorrent burden, his "thing." Kierkegaard tells us that, in our complex, technological world, the coping strategies are less and less likely to be found in the "beyond," in the "out there." They are more often likely to be discovered "within," and, by way of the path of sympathy, between oneself and the world. When we accept responsibility for ourselves and our lives, when we stop making excuses of gods and rocks and mountains, there can be, in the work within, or in the "between," by way of dialogue and sympathy, in our relationship to others and the world, as in D'Arrast's case, so much more. Enough, we know, for Camus to imagine Sisyphus happy. Perhaps enough to imagine Camus happy, perhaps as happy as his Clamence at the conclusion of the novel, La chute: "I am happy, I am happy, I tell you, I refuse to let you disbelieve that I am happy, I am happy to die!" (Chute, 166)
Is it enough to imagine me happy? I continue to struggle with how to portray Sisyphus in art, for the myth continues to conjure up a wealth of possibilities. I could sculpt him anguished, pushing the weighty burden to an unsuccessful conclusion; I could draw him, despairing of his endless futility, watching the rock rumble down to the waiting plain; I could film him, trudging in contempt, downhill to the gods' destiny for him; I could paint him sublimely happy as he manages to bridge the divorce between self and world, as he makes his rock his thing; I could write an essay in which I grapple with Camus's concept of Sisyphus happy.
1. All translations from French into English are the author's own.
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Camus, Albert. Caligula and Three Other Plays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958.
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Camus, Albert. La peste. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1947.
Camus, Albert. "La pierre qui pousse." L'exil et le royaume: nouvelles. Ed. B.F. Bart. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1965. 109-143.
Camus, Albert. "Le Minotaure ou la halte d'Oran." L'été. In Essais. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1965. 809-832.
Camus, Albert. Le mythe de Sisyphe: Essai sur l'absurde. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1942.
Camus, Albert. "Lettres à un ami allemand." In Essais. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1965. 213-243.
Camus, Albert. "L'incroyant et les Chrétiens." Actuelles I. In Essais. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1965. 371-375.
Camus, Albert. "Prometheus aux enfers." L'été. In Essais. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1965. 839-844.
Camus, Albert. The First Man. Trans. by David Hapgood. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Trans. of Le Premier Homme. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard, 1994.
Hallie, Philip. "Camus's Hug." American Scholar 64:3 (Summer 1995): n. pag. Online. EBSCO. 16 July 1999. [http://www.epnet.com/bin/epwgargoy.../session=bVXd3Nw/st=273/qn=2/ftext]
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. by Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1996.
Tutu, Archbishop Desmond. "Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Experiences of the Truth Commission." Nobel Peace Laureates Conference, University of Virginia. Nov. 5 and 6, 1998. On-line. Internet. 10 July 2000. [http://www.virginia.edu/nobel/transcript/tutu.html]
Wiesel, Elie. The Town Beyond the Wall. Trans. by Stephen Becker. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
Received: January 1, 2002, Published: January 1, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Bruce Sarbit