Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Albert Carnus - Sisyphus Happy

Say what you will but I for one have a connection with one of his philosophies. While it's somewhat abandoned in favor of western philosophy it hasn't lost its relevance. He manages to reconcile the absurdity of life  and maintain a positive outlook. Similar to a view I held yet hadn't bothered to think of as something that would show up in this blog prior to having read about this idea. To get down to my view is to say that I've long since realized that life in and of itself is a futile and painful existence and we're all burning alive slowly every moment of the day our entire lives amidst a world engulfed in flames, I merely put on some glasses and relax on the lawn with a smile to enjoy it all as everyone else runs around trying to put the fire out. I'm content with the fact this world is a sad and bleak place to live and would much rather enjoy it while I can than fret over everything making things only worse by making myself miserable while suffering away trying to change something all the while knowing it's for nothing as no single impact will ever be great enough to withstand the power of time.

Albert says to achieve this same state of being happy while acclimating to or accepting the fact that life is a random happening and a total absurdity with no meaning or purpose. Though that may be more extreme interpretation a more accurate way would be to say how to be happy in spite of everything.  Is to imagine Sisyphus happy. First you may ask who is Sisyphus? He was punished by the greek gods to push a boulder uphill for all eternity. Or more accurately he was originally punished to do it and have it constantly roll downhill before he could reach the top, then eventually tasked with a myriad of useless efforts and unending frustration of a similar nature to the bolder, though it is widely believed now through the blur of the myth that he simply rolls a bolder up an endless hill for all eternity. This as you can imagine is quite demeaning to a former King on top of everything else and quite honestly he deserved it if you read up on what he did in life. Though perhaps not for all eternity... Moving onward you might ask then how could one possibly imagine him ever being happy? How could you ever enjoy the fact that everything you do is undone and for nothing and what you're doing isn't that important to begin with it's futile on a multitude of levels!

I for one like to think perhaps it's hope. His defiance and stubborn nature leads him to believe one day he'll prove them wrong and the boulder won't roll downhill. Or perhaps he believes they think he'll give up each day and thus he spends the day proving them wrong, which brings a certain level of satisfaction. Though perhaps that would be the least agreed upon concept or most likely to be disregarded. This idea as a whole also plays well with Schopenhauer's writing that life is a penitentiary. In which the concept is as straight forward as it sounds. Interestingly enough it would seem according to modern psychology that the mind searches for a natural state of happiness and will manufacture it if necessary to adapt to whatever monotonous task you assign yourself so long as you don't spend your time convincing yourself you should be miserable. Simply put if you don't think of how much your job sucks you're likely to be content with it.

The more commonly accepted interpretation of the idea is that it's an allegory of human life. Life in and of itself is an uphill struggle and every time you reach what you think is the top either everything you've done comes unraveled falling down hill forcing you to pick up the pieces or continue from where you are with nothing, or you find out that you haven't reached the top merely a stop on the way and you still have more to go. Indeed there's an art to reaching the top and staying there as long as you can before you have to work your way down the hill in some form or another. However in the time going up and down is when you find and enjoy your happiness if you allow yourself to have any, the rewards in life are not the accomplishments but the efforts necessary to reach them, the memories to look back upon once you reach the top. In realizing this you understand that in order for you to be happy it must be that others could also be happy with the same and vice versa thus Sisyphus can be happy with what he has and does as you are and both could be happy in the others scenario through understanding. To simplify all of our efforts in life are difficult and arduous like rolling a boulder uphill, and yet they amount to nothing like the boulder falling down the hill after we work so hard to push it up. The work involved in pushing the boulder is pain and suffering which in and of itself rewards nor achieves anything which could be said to justify it, proven more so by the end result which is the boulder rolling down hill.  This then is the Sisyphean allegory of life.

To analyze Sisyphus' happiness we suggest his enjoyment of the labor not of itself but of the minor details surrounding it. Perhaps he enjoys a slight breeze and the fresh air under the sun. He may gain satisfaction in his abilities a proof to himself that he can accomplish it day after day. Then it may be the climax as he knows he reaches the top and thus the  point in which he understands there's no further point to travel and in knowing what comes with that. There's a certain level of relief in knowing he is done for the day even if the day was for naught. It could be said his happiness is analogous to ours. Though for some they don't realize they've been pushing a boulder their whole life and have never had to see it roll downhill, they will be fortunate that their boulder will roll down after they are gone, as time destroys their work after it no longer matters. The infinite eternity laying waste to everything. Imagine if at all possible anything you know today that will be true in 100 million years. What will remain of anything that exists today? For many of us we can't even conceive what will remain of anything we've done in merely a millennium. (1,000 years)

This is why Sisyphus has learned to be happy with nothing and in spite of everything, his happiness comes from a place outside logic, in understanding the freedom that comes with knowing nothing you do in life is truly permanent and eventually it will all fade away. Though some might consider this to be rationalized nihilism or similar I would point out that nihilism is not defined by the pointlessness or uselessness of life, it's really not so depressing either as that would sound, though these may be considered objective truths they're not indicative of the nature of nihilism.

Not to beat a dead horse but let us also consider Sisyphus has a purpose then, which in itself can be a reward, and he cheated death a rare accomplishment worthy of eternal happiness in spite of any punishment. If I had tricked death I'd have an eternal smile for sure. To quote Carnus here "the struggle to reach the heights in itself is enough to fill a mans heart." which makes a good point as are you really any better off than him? At least he truly sees the futility of his efforts as they're straight forward, you on the other hand are blinded to this fact as it is well disguised by the vestiges which you have made for your boulder. Why then should he not be happy? Admittedly I think the unhappiest part of his day is when he reaches the top and realizes he has nothing left to do, which is also why I think he pushes the boulder downhill probably being the happiest part of his day knowing he'll have something to do tomorrow some sort of purpose. One of the most depressing things I ever did was finish my first game. I'd worked on it tirelessly as a sole consuming thought of my every waking moment, some days I would roll from my bed to my computer chair without ever touching the floor. I would then proceed to work all day sometimes without food or bathroom breaks and go back to bed again without touching the floor the entire day because I had things that close in my room and I was that obsessed, passionate, dedicated, and insane. Imagine then what it felt like for me to wake up and realize I had nothing to do. We all form an emotional attachment with our boulders that is why we can't climb the hill without them and can't bear the thought of just doing nothing with them at the top.

As a final note how many of you have actually seen a giant boulder roll down hill? It's a bit of an awesome sight to see these large chunks of earth colliding and pieces flying everywhere leaving indentations which will be seen for years to come. It's a sight such that if I really had the strength to do it I might just do it because I could just to see it again. Which leaves something to be said about making your own fun...

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