Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waiting For Godot and the Myth of Sisyphus part 1

     I bought the Harold Bloom 'Modern Critical Interpretations' edition for 'Waiting for Godot' and read several of the essays.  All of the essays mention Albert Camus's short essay, 'The Myth of Sisyphus', so I figured I would start by looking over this essay and quoting what some of the interpreter's say; this is an essay I first read in high school and it was a poignant experience to read it again as I remember the effect the essay had on me all those years ago.

     One of the first things I noticed when I got my old copy of the essay was an underlining I had made in the essay;  I would have done this some time around 1982:
"But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed the water and sun, warm stones, and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness."(pg. 88-89)
When I recall the bouts with depression, the sense of futility, along with the melodramas of my adolescence, this line, with its emphasis on simple, natural, pleasures, provided me with real solace.  I asked myself many times why life was better than death, and this line speaks to this question.   It also brings to mind the fact that in Dante's Inferno, most of those in Hell want to be remembered to those up in the world -- all, of course, except Guido De Montefeltro.  Those in Hell relished the thought of the 'bright world above'; for me,  this line helped me prefer life to death, viewing death as oblivion with no warm stones or anything at all for that matter.

     Sisyphus is torn from the natural world he loved made to push an immense boulder all the way up a mountain only to have it roll back down.  Camus says:
"If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious.  Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd.  But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious."

Camus seems to believe that Sisyphus has a kind of victory in his scorn over his fate, when he turns from the top of the mountain and walks back down he has a moment of consciousness.  At this moment he scorns the gods, his fate, and returns to his rock.  I guess I never believed Camus here and I think Beckett backs me up.  That is, there is no victory.


  1. I guess that some passages are timeless - 1982 is almost an entirely different era...

  2. I couldn't agree more. The essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus" is a beautifully written description of the absurd hero, the only kind of hero I felt, and feel, it is relevant to be these days. It is, furthermore, a reference to stories that are thousands of years old and yet somehow are permanently relevant. In this regard I think of the Homer and the Greek tragedians. It is a shame that university programs like the University of Kentucky Honors program, which presents classics in translation, is in danger of folding. We need to stand up for those works that really are of permanent value, irrespective of current fashion or financial convenience. Please excuse my little rant