Sisyphus! Hope! Death enchained!


Full Jane is in effect this month.

In this period of my existential momentum (I hesitated to put “upswing”, as the reactive downswing would seem inherent…and maybe it is), I’ve been pondering an awful lot on death, how to react in truth to my emotions as opposed to what I’ve learned to do, and how to tap into my higher consciousness more often. No big. Below are highlights of some of these mental meanderings and some of what I’ve been taking in and putting out of late.

Those few who know me intimately are aware of my fondness for Albert Camus, especially his philosophical essays (though his novels are entrenched with and merely a platform for his creative interpretations of those philosophies). It’s not a new fondness (I remember reading The Stranger around age 12…no wonder that’s where it all turned around for me), but the more I experience and the more dots I connect, the deeper I am able to cultivate my own philosophical garden. And I hope we all are. Recent times have inspired me to dig further and farther from what I already comfortably know and pay attention to what is coming to the surface right-fucking-now. I realized that interpreting everything as it happens only in the context of what I already believe could be a great disservice to myself, and, therefore, to humanity. There is this necessity for constant expansion that I have been glazing over. It’s not that I don’t believe what I used to anymore, but that I need to put today’s context into terms that deserve more elaboration than yesterday’s explanation. What I seek is not a concrete ‘answer’, but a philosophical framework to work with.

That said, Camus’ mind, in my opinion, was one of the most brilliant, innovative and capable of encapsulating the human experience. And though I do not agree with him on the concept of hopelessness being the source of happiness, I believe it is because I use a different interpretation of the concept of hope (more below). But even still, because of this key disparity, it might be difficult to label me a true existentialist.

In his essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus interprets the fate of the titular character (who is most well-known for being punished by Death to eternally push a boulder up a hill, only to have it fall back down each time he reaches the top) and concludes that, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” It is such a short, valuable read and there is simply no substitute for ingesting it for yourself, so I will only rehash a few things: 

In one version of the story (myths are made for creative interpretation, remember?), Sisyphus tricked Death into demonstrating a new pair of handcuffs on himself and was kept locked up in the home of Sisyphus, during which period nobody could die. There were mortals staggering about with half of their bodies absent, organs turning into acidic mush, brains bleeding out of eye sockets, but they couldn’t be granted the “freedom” of death. When Death was finally freed (get it…?), he obviously went after Sisyphus first. Sisyphus had told his wife not to follow any burial traditions and she complied, so when he got to the underworld, he complained to Persephone, Queen of the Dead, that he wanted to chastise his wife for this grave injustice (pun intended) and redeem his proper route to the underworld, after which he was foolishly granted passage back to Earth. But he then refused to return to the underworld and lived to a ripe, old age before finally dying and receiving his infamous punishment at last for his heinous crimes against the gods. Thus, the never-ending boulder pushing.

The key moments in Sisyphus’ “torture” cycle, Camus asserts, were those after the rock fell back down and before he started pushing it up again– facing that absurdity in such a high state of consciousness and choosing to accept that rather than to condemn himself to despair*, in which he would not reach any freedom or sympathy from the gods. So Sisyphus rebelled against the gods even still, simply through his state of happiness in performing a task that was meant to inspire despair. (It’s worth noting, too, that Camus is also known for his stance that suicide is the ultimate act of resisting the reality of experience (defeat), and that living life consciously is the act of rebellion. And in that rebellion should be revelation of life’s ridiculousness, not anguish over a failed, imagined order of things or a faith that greatness awaits us.)

“Basically, at the very bottom of life, which seduces us all, there is only absurdity, and more absurdity. And maybe that’s what gives us our joy for living, because the only thing that can defeat absurdity is lucidity.” -Camus, in a separate essay

*This, to me, is hope: to accept absurdity and unknowingness and not to despair but to revel in what is. Hope is never ‘blind’, so to speak, in that it does not mean to pretend or wish for everything to always be grand. Hope is about acceptance, not resistance. This is not to say that hope is a means to fold to the pressures and tragedies of our world, but to exalt in what is. Only after accepting was is can you strive to be more, understand more wholly, connect more deeply. If you are in denial, you are not truly hopeful. If you are ignorant, you are not hopeful. If you are in despair, you cannot hope. Accepting tragedy does not intrinsically require a state of despair. In fact, you can’t help anyone when you are in despair yourself. And to be entrenched in tragedy while remaining hopeful can only be achieved through awareness.

Perhaps order as we wish to know it is accidental, happenstance.

But we sit in disappointment, grasping order, expecting, distracting.

Here’s what I gather: we can’t be happy if we deny our true experiences (even—especially— grief, of any kind), but only if we fully experience them in an aware state. Nothing that is true is inherently good or bad. It’s our choice.

Here’s an interesting Sartrean experiment I’ve tried a handful of times in the last several days that is great for a trippy kind of reset: when you’re sitting staring at your computer (as you are presently), close your eyes and remove any and all context from your current activity. This means breaking down each component of what you’re experiencing— the act of sitting on a chair (a bunch of carved plant flesh/mined metals/man-made plastic fashioned in order for humans to bend at the waist and rest their spindly legs), the feeling of sitting in a chair (the pressure created on the fat and muscle in your legs and back), the object of your gaze (staring at an intricate mush of formed metals and plastics that somehow organize into projections of familiar shapes and patterns), even time itself (an absurd concept of linear moments that we latch onto and look forward to but rarely experience as they occur in an effort to grab a semblance of order). We accept all this rather ignorantly as ‘normal’, unless we stop to consciously accept it all as it is.

There was a good bit of regurgitation here, but my aim is only to highlight what’s happening in Jane Brain lately, not my relay opinions on pop culture or politics or anything else– making those connections from what I write is your job if you choose to do it. After all, you’re merely looking at a bright palette of contrast, using slimy orbs that are stuck inside your skull, with which humans interpret visual information, to see shapes that give you insight into the perspective of some other human you may or may not have encountered in your short life as a minuscule, respirating flesh-bag occupying space on a spinning sphere in an indefinable, indefinite universe. No big.

We can make anything absurd, and everything is, in fact. What I’m getting at in all this is that I don’t believe we need to (or can) ‘make sense’ of everything in order to ease our many anxieties.

Apart from this, I’ve recently assembled a band and hope to have lots of new, dynamic music to share in the near future.

I love you.