Camus’ argument revolves around how hope clouds our understanding of the absurdity and meaninglessness of life. He uses the Greek myth of Sisyphus to explain his thinking. The story entails Sisyphus, a mortal, who is tasked with rolling a stone up a hill in hell for eternity as a punishment for various things he did during his life. Whenever the stone reaches the top, Sisyphus bears witness to it rolling back down the hill and must redo the task again, for eternity.
The traditional take that people have when analyzing the fate of Sisyphus is sadness and pity because repetition and hopelessness seem to be traditionally sad qualities. However, Camus argues that Sisyphus is happy because he knows his fate and is therefore truly free to do what he wants. In a way, Camus says that by knowing his fate, Sisyphus is empowered to accept his new way of life and be happy with it.
The only reason why Sisyphus would be sad is if he longed for a better life, which he knows is not possible. For this reason, Camus argues that Sisyphus is happy because he knows what his fate is and can make the best of his life as it is.
My thoughts on Camus’ Argument
I disagree with Camus’ perspective on Sisyphus’ situation. When looking at the myth, we come to learn that Sisyphus was a leader of a kingdom and lived many years happily. For this reason, I believe that Sisyphus has strong ground of memories that span a happy life. Now that he is tasked to roll this rock up a hill in hell for the rest of his life, it is hard for him to forget his past and what life could have been for him. I think that Camus glosses over the fact that Sisyphus had a privileged life before entering hell. Despite the fact that the gods may have clued him into his eternal punishment, his past is still filled with memories, which will cause him to reflect and gloat in the sadness of his condition.
However, I think that Camus is correct in certain aspects. For example, think about an animal that spends most of its life hunting for food, sleeping, and general survival. This animal would not have the same type of despair that Sisyphus would have, even though the repetition of their life is comparable. This is due to the fact that the animal is doing all they have ever known, while Sisyphus’ condition is an obvious downgrade from his previous life of ruling a kingdom.
This changes one’s look at how our world works. The only difference between the animal and Sisyphus (or any other human with a routine) is perspective and experiences. The perspective of the animal is narrow, focused on survival, and their experiences revolve around survival. The perspective of humans revolves around happiness, and our experiences reflect our past. Disappointment is therefore infinitely easier for someone who has experienced the loss of happiness than someone who has never experienced true happiness.