Living is keeping the Absurd alive
“The meaning of life is the most urgent of questions,” said Albert Camus. And along with it comes a feeling of absurdity, because the world does not provide us with answers to the purpose of life, to why we continue to live and to reason. Dying seems to make life senseless. We live on the future: “tomorrow,” “later on,” “when you have made your way” (quote from: Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”) – and we pretend we do not know that all life leads to death.
So, what is it that keeps us alive and makes us “carry on”? There is no way out of this absurdity for mankind, but by accepting it, by being aware of its immanent existence, we can overcome it. Even this “permanent rebellion” will not lead us to the goal, though, for it is per se absurd itself. Hence the conscious yet absurd human being starts every new day with a rebellious “even still”.
Mankind is constantly acting, urging, pressing. For Albert Camus, Sisyphus, a tragic figure of Greek mythology, is the very picture of the absurd man. In “The Myth of Sisyphus” he thus elevates him to the status of an absurd hero: Sisyphus’ constant effort of pushing his rock up a mountain fills his heart with joy and makes him happy, because he is aware of the absurdity of his situation. He knows that he will never achieve this goal in life and this awareness transforms his toil into pleasure.
Albert Camus’ myth of Sisyphus
“All Sisphus’ silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is his thing. [...] The absurd man says yes and his effort will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny or at least there is but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning towards his rock, in that slight pivoting, he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined und his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin off all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling. [...] 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.“
Zeus, king of the Greek gods, condemns Sisyphus to roll a massive boulder up a mountain. The stone, however, is enchanted, so whenever Sisyphus gets near the top of the mountain, it would roll back all the way down. Sisyphus is doomed to an eternity of useless efforts and never-ending repetition.
“Imagine Sisyphus happy” is supposed to symbolize the absurdity of life and gain meaning through the aesthetics of form. Camus’ concept of “mechanical life” inspired us to build a machine which performs tasks that are both meaningless and never-ending.
In Greek mythology, the thread represents life while the circle is a symbol of the divine principle. The circular (un)knitting machine knits the thread, then unravels it, re-knits and unravels, time and again in a closed circuit: a metaphorical installation of the absurd circle of life.