Who is Sisyphus?

Sisyphus is the absurd hero.

This man, sentenced to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain and then watching its descent, is the epitome of the absurd hero according to Camus. In retelling the Myth of Sisyphus, Camus is able to create an extremely powerful image with imaginative force which sums up in an emotional sense the body of the intellectual discussion which precedes it in the book. We are told that Sisyphus is the absurd hero "as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing." (p.89). Sisyphus is conscious of his plight , and therein lies the tragedy. For if, during the moments of descent, he nourished the hope that he would yet succeed, then his labour would lose its torment. But Sisyphus is clearly conscious of the extent of his own misery. It is this lucid recognition of his destiny that transforms his torment into his victory. It has to be a victory for as Camus says:

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 towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. (p.91). Sisyphus' life and torment are transformed into a victory by concentrating on his freedom, his refusal to hope, and his knowledge of the absurdity of his situation. In the same way, Dr. Rieux is an absurd hero in The Plague, for he too is under sentence of death, is trapped by a seemingly unending torment and, like Sisyphus, he continues to perform his duty no matter how useless or how insignificant his action. In both cases it matters little for what reason they continue to struggle so long as they testify to man's allegiance to man and not to abstractions or 'absolutes'.

The ideas behind the development of the absurd hero are present in the first three essays of the book. In these essays Camus faces the problem of suicide. In his typically shocking, unnerving manner he opens with the bold assertion that:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. (p. 3). He goes on to discover if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human predicament. Or to put it another way: Is life worth living now that god is dead? The discussion begins and continues not as a metaphysical cobweb but as a well reasoned statement based on a way of knowing which Camus holds is the only epistemology we have at our command. We know only two things:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction. (p. 14) With these as the basic certainties of the human condition, Camus argues that there is no meaning to life. He disapproves of the many philosophers who "have played on words and pretended to believe that refusing to grant a meaning to life necessarily leads to declaring that it is not worth living." (p.7) Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human's irrational "nostalgia" for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning to the "not me" of the universe, no such meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe. Between this yearning for meaning and eternal verities and the actual condition of the universe there is a gap that can never be filled. The confrontation of the irrational, longing human heart and the indifferent universe brings about the notion of the absurd.

The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world. (p.21) and further:

The absurd is not in man nor in the world, but in their presence together...it is the only bond uniting them. (p. 21) People must realize that the feeling of the absurd exists and can happen to them at any time. The absurd person must demand to live solely with what is known and to bring in nothing that is not certain. This means that all I know is that I exist, that the world exists ,and that I am mortal.

Doesn't this make a futile pessimistic chaos of life? Wouldn't suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life? "No." "No." answers Camus. Although the absurd cancels all chances of eternal freedom it magnifies freedom of action. Suicide is "acceptance at its extreme", it is a way of confessing that life is too much for one. This is the only life we have; and even though we are aware, in fact, because we are aware of the absurd, we can find value in this life. The value is in our freedom, our passion, and our revolt. The first change we must make to live in the absurd situation is to realize that thinking, or reason, is not tied to any eternal mind which can unify and "make appearances familiar under the guise of a great principle," but it is:

...learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment. (p. 20) My experiences, my passions, my ideas, my images and memories are all that I know of this world - and they are enough. The absurd person can finally say "all is well".

I understand then why the doctrines that explain everything to me also debilitate me at the same time. They relieve me of the weight of my own life, and yet I must carry it alone. (p. 41) Camus then follows his notions to their logical conclusions and insists that people must substitute quantity of experience for quality of experience. The purest of joys is "feeling, and feeling on this earth." This statement cannot be used to claim a hedonism as Camus's basic philosophy, but must be thought of in connection with the notion of the absurd that has been developed in the early part of the essay. Man is mortal. The world is not. A person's dignity arises from a consciousness of death, an awareness that eternal values and ideas do not exist, and a refusal to give in to the notion of hope or appeal for something that we are uncertain of.

In the following essays, Camus presents examples of the absurd person. We are given Don Juan, the actor, and the conqueror as examples of people who multiply their lives in an attempt to live fully within the span of their mortality. But more important is the creator who is discussed in the essay "Absurd Creation". "The absurd joy par excellence is creation." For in creating a work of art the creator is living doubly in as much as his creation id a separate life. "The artist commits himself and becomes himself in his work." Works of art become, then, the one means for a person to support and sustain a lucid consciousness in the face of the absurdity of the universe.
The present and the succession of presents before an ever conscious mind, this is the ideal of the absurd man. (p. 81) Art is for Camus an essential human activity and one of the most fundamental. It expresses human aspirations toward freedom and beauty, aspirations which make life valuable for each transient human being. Art defies that part of existence in which each individual is no more that a social unit or an insignificant cog in the evolution of history.

In The Myth of Sisyphus then we find the philosophical basis for the stranger, the doctor, and the judge-penitent. This is the starting point of Camus's thought. Camus is concerned here as in his other works with persons and their world, the relationships between them, and the relationships between persons and their history. In The Myth of Sisyphus he opposes himself to the rationalism of classical philosophy which seeks universal and enduring truths or a hierarchy of values which is crowned by God; he believes that truth is found by a subjective intensity of passion; he maintains that the individual is always free and involved in choice; he recognizes that persons exist in the world and are naturally related with it;he is deeply concerned with the significance of death, its inevitability and its finality. The absurd is a revolt against tomorrow and as such comes to terms with the present moment. Suicide consents to the absurd as final and limitless while revolt is a an ongoing struggle with the absurd and brings with it man's redemption.

One can see now why Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is conscious of his plight: it was his scorn of the gods, hatred of death, and passion for life that won him the penalty of rolling a rock to the top of the mountain forever, and he does not appeal to hope or to any uncertain gods. His is the ultimate absurd, for there is not death at the end of his struggle. All is not chaos; the experience of the absurd is the proof of man's uniqueness and the foundation of his dignity and freedom.
All that remains is a fate whose outcome alone is fatal. Outside of that single fatality of death, everything, joy or happiness, is liberty. A world remains of which man is the sole master. What bound him was the illusion of another world. The outcome of his thought , ceasing to be renunciatory, flowers in images. It frolics - in myths, to be sure, but myths with no other depth than that of human suffering and like it inexhaustible. Not the divine fable that amuses and blinds, but the terrestial face, gesture, and drama in which are summed up a difficult wisdom and an ephemeral passion. (p. 87) One could do worse than to consider the myths-retold in the works of Camus.

Exerts from "The Absurd Hero" by Bob Lane (laneb@mala.bc.ca)


Missionary doctor Marilyn Scudder dies

6/3/2005 Exerted from obituary by Trudi Hahn in Minneapolis Star-Tribune

This is a picture of the Mvuni hospital in Tanzania where Dr. Maryilyn Scudder worker. It services the needs of over 40,000 people in the Tanzania country side. If you can help the Mvuni Hospital help others, see the link.

In the spirit of trying to make the world a better place, I came across an obituary on Dr. Marilyn Scudder who died in Salaam, Tanzania on May 16, 2005 at the age of 66. I'm a daily reader of the newspaper. The daily newspaper of choice for me is the St. Paul Pioneer Press-Dispatch. My ties to the Pioneer Press-Dispatch go back to when I started delivering this paper at the age of eight. Legally, it was my brother's paper route, because you had to be 10 to offically have a route. Back than the Pioneer Press and Dispatch we split between the morning and evening papers. My brother and I delivered both.

The first thing I read in the paper is the obituaries. I try to prepare myself for the surprise death of someone I know or am related to. Also, I read the obits of people of note. The obituary of Marilyn Scudder was inspiring to me and goes with the theme of this blog site.

Scudder was born in 1939 to medical missionary parents in Amarah, Iraq. She was the 102nd missionary in her family. Nearly all the missionaries in four or five generations of Scudders had served in the Middle East. She moved with her family in 1949 to Kuwait, where oil had been discovered but had not yet transformed poverty-stricken “old Kuwait,” where she played in dirt streets as a child.

She attended boarding school in India, received a bachelor’s degree from Hope College in Holland, Mich., and an M.D. in 1965 fro the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After a year’s internship in Kalamazoo, Mich., she moved to the Twin Cities and began a residency in ophthalmology and a fellowship in retina studies at the University of Minnesota.

Her work in Africa began in 1970 when she was head of the eye department at a hospital in Mvuni, Tanzania. She returned to Minnesota in 1971 for further study, and in 1973 joined the eye department at a medical center in Moshi, Tanzania, where she became department head in 1979.

According to Shirley Shumaker, a longtime friend of Scudder’s from New Brighton, MN, “She felt there was plenty of medical advice in the United States. She wanted to be whee she was really of use.”
Sponsored by a German group, the Christian Blind Mission International, the eye team took medical safaris by vehicle and small plane to 30 mission and government hospitals all over Tanzania. People walked for miles to get eye care in the country and then walked miles to get home. Scudder retired from surgery in 2001 and went to live and work with the Franciscan Capuchin Sisters of Maua, on the western slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro near the village of Sanya Juu. There she continued training nurses and holding eye clinics. She was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis in 2002. She was buried May 21 at her home on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The goal: to change the world

Exerts from editorial by Glenda Holste in St. Paul Pioneer Press on 6/3/2005

“The message from the United Nations’ coordinator resonates with the fire and practical optimism of a classic Midwest prairie populist: Informed, engaged citizens can change the world.”

Holste’s editorial centers around the United Nations’ “Millennium Development Goals” and the current town hall tour by Eveline Herfens, executive coordinator of the UN’s Millennium Goal campaign. To make such a campaign work and these goals to reached, we have to “get them down out of the rethorical clouds and into your hands.”

What are the goals that have been approved by the 191 countries making up the UN?

They are as follows:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women.
4. Reduce child mortality.
5. Improve maternal health.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
8. Develop a global partnership for development.

The target date for reaching these goals is 2015. All 191 UN member nations have pledge to do their part.



This morning at the laundry mat, I picked up a copy of Awake!, a weekly publication put out by the Jehovah Witnesses. I found the article below, in a section called “Watching the World.” I include it here, because I believe it helps illustrate some of the negative uses of today’s technology to hurt people and spread the negative gospel preached in the virtual Ethernet of our world.

While having coffee with a friend of mine last weekend, we were discussing a local news/political blog site. My friend was supportive of the blog posters who actually used their own names – especially when attacking the school and government officials. He might totally disagree with them, but at least they are willing to sign their names at the bottom of their comments. The other side to his comment is that these blog posters use more than one post name – depending on how negative they want to be. In other words, when there might actually be some grains of truth in the posts, they will sign their actual names to the posts. Otherwise, they use a nickname.

Below is an article that discusses some of the Internet bullying that goes on:

Cell phones and the Internet are social lifelines for many young people. "They cal also be their social death," says Canada’s MacLean’s magazine, since "cyber bullies" can use E-mail, instant messaging, and cell-phone text messaging to torment victims. "A quarter of young Canadian Internet users report having received material that said hateful things about others," says MacLean’s. Such electronic bullying has moved police to issue reminders that written death threats are a crime. MacLean’s advises parents to talk to their children about the people and places they visit on-line and to put computers in an open area of the home where it is easy to monitor what children are reading and sending. The report warns children never to respond to a bully's message and never to "give out their long-in codes or passwords to others, even their best buddies," in order to prevent their private information from being passed on to others.