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 essence 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 discussion. 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.120). Sisyphus is conscious of his dilemma, and in that lays his tragedy. For if, during the moments of descent, he nourished the hope that he would yet succeed, then his labor would lose its torment. Nevertheless, Sisyphus is clearly conscious of the extent of his misery. It is this logical 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.123).
Sisyphus’ life and torment are turned into victory by concentrating on his freedom, his refusal to hope, and his knowledge of the absurdity of his situation. It matters little for what reason he continues to struggle so long as he continues on this absurd path and not venture on to the path of dreaming or wishing.
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 statement that:
He goes on to discover if suicide is a legitimate answer to the human dilemma. Or to put it another way: Is life worth living now that God is dead? Since Camus doesn?t believe in the Superior Being, he must find another way to describe the fate of man. We know only two things:
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.8) Life has no absolute meaning. In spite of the human’s irrational longing for unity, for absolutes, for a definite order and meaning to the universe, no such meaning exists in the silent, indifferent universe. Between this yearning for meaning and eternal truth 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.
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 useless life? Wouldn’t suicide be a legitimate way out of a meaningless life? “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:
Camus then follows his ideas 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 self-satisfaction as Camus’s basic philosophy, but must be thought of in connection with the notion of the absurd that has been developed in the earlier. Man is mortal. The world is not. It is therefore absurd to try to understand something we will never have, immortality. 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 idea of hope or appeal for something that we are uncertain of and cannot know.
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. However, more important is the creator who is discussed in the essay “Absurd Creation”. For in creating a work of art the creator is living doubly in as much as his creation in a separate life. The artist gives himself and becomes himself in his work. Works of art become, then, the one means for a person to support and sustain a logical consciousness in the face of the absurdity of the universe.
Art is for Camus an essential human activity and one of the most fundamental. It expresses human aspirations toward freedom and beauty, aspirations that make life valuable for each short-lived 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.
One can see now why Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is conscious of his predicament: 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. Not all is 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 terrestrial face, gesture, and drama in which are summed up a difficult wisdom and an ephemeral passion.? (p. 117-118)
Myth Of Sysophis