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July 26, 2006

Death -- Part I

Seventh_Seal.jpgAllen_death.jpgEven those of us who don't get much of a kick out of heaven and hell, have to admit that some have had good fun with Death. There's Ingmar Bergman, of course; not to mention Woody Allen's takeoff on Bergman.

However, it is difficult to imagine anyone who had as entertaining a time with Death as Sisyphus. When Death came to get him -- a bit on the early side, as sometimes happens -- Sisyphus, instead, managed to get Death: chaining him up. This meant for a time, with Thanatos out of commission, that nobody could die -- a circumstance that put Ares, god of war, out of business. In order for armies to be able to resume killing each other (I know that the idea that armies once shot and bombed seems incomprehensible to us advanced 21st-century types), Ares had to go and free Death himself and make sure Sisyphus was sent safely on his way to Hades.

But Sisyphus, whom Homer describes as "the craftiest of all mankind," was still not ready to go "gentle into that good night." He instructed his wife not to bury him, and then moaned to functionaries in Hades that he was unburied. They allowed him to go back up to earth to rectify things. Camus, in his essay on the Sisyphus myth, gives a good account of what happened next: "When he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness." Having once again tricked the gods out of death, Sisyphus lived "many years more" experiencing, in Camus' phrase, "the smiles of the earth."

Of course, in the end Death and the gods, as also happens, had the last laugh on old Sisyphus.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at July 26, 2006 2:49 PM


What part of dead comes second?

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 26, 2006 3:40 PM

Some amazing intertextuality going on among the Sisyphus story and other Greek death-but-not-yet myths--and with very similar language to describe the joy of the light and earth again; obviously Persephone's story is primary among them, as is Orpheus's. The interesting distinction perhaps, for M's purpose here, is that these two in particular are crucial regeneration myths; Sisyphus's punishment by the gods is obviously diametically opposite to regeneration: all about wasted energy, rolling that stupid boulder up the hill, etc., for his arrogance and craftiness. That the gods devise a punishment as *unproductive labor* is to me the critical issue here.

Camus's take on it, that S epitomizes the 'absurd hero,' is to turn that repetitive, unproductive labor into joy. It's pretty brilliant, really. Fuck the gods! He makes it his own fate and even takes pleasure in it, in spite of its absurdity--in spite of, and perhaps even because of, its *unusefulness*. Yeah, he's an atheist hero, too, if you need that -- but more interesting, he accomplishes *nothing* and finds joy therein. Unpurposeful labor = joy because it's the meaning he's created *for himself* at that moment. Pretty incredible.

Posted by: JM at July 26, 2006 9:23 PM

Wow, there is so much to learn about nothing!
What a long/short strange/meaningless trip its been. Too much of nothin can drive a man sane.
Its oposite day or was that yesterday?
No, actually I am all out, that is the problem.

Posted by: Jay Saul at July 26, 2006 10:25 PM

stop making sense !!!

Posted by: JM at July 26, 2006 11:58 PM

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