Thursday, November 8, 2007

Like Sisyphus, Rolling The Rock

An Essay on Writing
by Dave Swinford

In his essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus," French Existentialist philosopher, Albert Camus, asserts that Sisyphus's situation mirrors the human condition. For toying with the Gods, Sisyphus has been condemned to eternally roll a huge rock to the top of a hill only to have it come tumbling down again. He is an isolated individual whose only purpose seems to be endless, fruitless labor.

Writing is a solitary vocation, and every writer has experienced dark moments of the soul. Your muse is being recalcitrant, your collection of rejections just keeps growing, and you feel like Sisyphus, rolling your creative rock up that hill only to have it come rumbling back down. You know you need to roll that rock back up the hill, but it's easier to just sit and stare at the computer monitor.

Imagine poor Sisyphus, enduring an eternity of such dark moments, yet Camus concludes that we should think of Sisyphus as happy. As he trudges down the hill to resume his labors, Sisyphus's thoughts turn inward, and it is there that he discovers he is truly free. The Gods cannot control his thoughts. He can make of them whatever he wills. He can scorn the Gods' attempts to punish him, be his true, authentic inner self and choose to be happy.

Camus, the existentialist, saw each of us as solitary, isolated individuals. Yet, as Sisyphus discovers, there is power in our individuality. We are all free to choose how we will edit and shape our inner landscape.

This is a truth writers discover as they labor at the craft. External validation is something to be desired, but it is the inner landscapes, the imaginings, the creative synthesis of concepts into words that provides the greatest freedom, and often the greatest validation. Writers, more so than most, understand and revel in the creative power of their inner self.

Existentialism asserts that "existence precedes essence," that we exist in subjective isolation and it is within this subjectivity that we must create our own essence. Thus, Camus could envision Sisyphus as embracing his inner freedom and scorning the Gods, but steeped as he was in the Western scientific paradigm, Camus could not imagine that as Sisyphus stubbornly rolls that rock up that hill, he might also undergo an Eastern mystical experience.

Calloused shoulder hard against the eroded granite, grunting with effort, Sisyphus might cease to think of the rock as a foe and see it as an extension of himself, as two parts of one being, forever coupled in an eternal dance. He might even extend this subjective awareness to include the rutted hillside and foreboding sky, merging them into the dance, becoming one with the totality of the process, a process in which he is both a player and a creator.

This ability to merge the inner being with the external, to extend the boundaries of self, represents the true freedom that fuels creativity. To take a flash of color, a casual gesture, the heartache of loss, a soaring insight, the fear of failure, the joys of a child, to take all these and blend them with imaginings that plunge from the inner depths to the limits of the universe is to embrace the power of the creative and the subjective. It is to become one with the rock, to merge with the process and to truly become "A Writer."

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