S is for Sisyphus

As you may know, “In Greek mythology Sisyphus or Sisyphos was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He is being punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when they near the top, repeating this action for eternity. Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as Sisyphean.”

So I was a bit tickled when my buddy Chris wrote: “I am a happy Sisyphus; my rock is a delight.”

She agreed, as I suspected, that she was paraphrasing Albert Camus, who wrote:

“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.”

Chris said that if Camus “can recognize the likely futility of life and be happy in Vichy France, I can be happy in the coziness of my college…” despite the inevitable frustrations. She added, “Camus, I’m guessing got it from King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, so all good ideas came from somewhere.”

Until I had come across that quote some time ago, I had never thought of Sisyphus as happy. So, I gather that there should be joy in taking on narrow mindedness in the classroom when the students see only duality – right/wrong, black/white – when there is often nuance.

There should be joy in fighting poverty, saving the environment, promoting justice, seeking equality, et al., even when that rock rolls down the hill. You have to, in the words of Curtis Mayfield, Keep on pushing.

Zachary Kanin’s 2014 New Yorker illustration

For ABC Wednesday

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