Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sisyphus and Toys

The existential philosopher Albert Camus wrote a philosophical essay entitled The Myth of Sisyphus on the absurdity of life in a meaningless world. He saw in the mythological account of Sisyphus a wonderful metaphor for the human condition in modernity. Sisyphus defies the gods with his cleverness and even succeeds in staving off death for himself and the rest of humanity for a time by tricking Thanatos and Zeus. Like Prometheus before him, however, Sisyphus’s empathy for man and duplicity toward the gods finally catches up to him in the form of a torturous eternal punishment. Sisyphus is doomed to push a boulder up a steep incline only to see it tumble right back down as he nears the crest of the hill, and so he must labor over and over again to achieve the impossible. However, I am not really interested in Sisyphus as some existential role model, and I have no intention of meditating upon him in this light.

Now we come to the point of the essay. What got me thinking about Sisyphus? No, it wasn’t a desperate nihilism or some misguided existentialism like with Camus. It was toys. In fact, I think this legend must have come about at a parent’s frustration with children, not with the frustration with life as Camus would have it. Indeed, each night the floor is littered with toys as far as the eye can see, which isn’t very far in a small room, mind you, but that’s beside the point. It really does cause incredible anxiety, nay angst, to have to clean up the same mess night after night after night. I can relate to Sisyphus. It does almost render life absurd, but… not quite. Camus goes a bit too far in equating absurdity with nihilism in the Sisyphus story. To be sure, there is absurdity in the repetitive rhythm of cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, but we do this with an ultimate end in sight: the joy of childhood requires a healthy dose of messiness and the absurd. You cannot appreciate sanity unless you are reasonably comfortable with insanity from time to time. :)

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