From Jim Roeg’s marvellous essay on the lately-deceased Steve Gerber’s work on Marvel Two-In-One…
Available on the sidebar under “Seven Soldiers of Steve”, under the title “Two Earth-Clotted Hands”…
“If the descent [of Sisyphus] is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much….One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness….Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable….
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. 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.”
Yes, to all of that.
I was troubled, not long ago, by the idea of Steve Gerber, my hero really, labouring under a severe shortness of breath. Well, I know how that feels, myself: I have sometimes been cursed with a shortness of breath, with an inability to take a breath, with the feeling that breath — what many of the ancient peoples of the Earth believed to be identical with “thought”, or “soul” — was leaving me behind.
If there is a feeling in this world which merits the name “urgent”, it’s that feeling.
When it’s a Sisyphean task to draw a breath, and live…or to not draw one, and die…
Well actually…both of those are Sisyphean endeavours, as Jim’s essay makes clear.
What does Camus say?
“If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious”?
Sorry, wrong one. Instead, it must be:
“A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself!”
I’ll stop quoting Jim’s selections from Camus, now. Because I’m sure I’ve accomplished the goal (!) of making it clear that, though he’s a mythological figure that toils on after death, Sisyphus’ story really addresses the toil of life: and the struggle to make something of it, to hold onto it, to crest the top of it. Of course one never can. Well: only once.
Breath, too, is a stone we roll up, only to have it ever roll back down again. And in that exhalation is the very “hour of consciousness” when we surpass life, death, fate, and the Gods — is it not? I like to think that in that final hour, we do at last crest the top of the hill, and see the boulder careening down it on the other side…and then we still turn our faces from the Sun, and walk down to the hollow again. Our job finally done, we go to the land, the hiding-place, of Rest. There to wait.
But we don’t know, actually.
Maybe we chase the boulder down the other side, yipping and hollering and waving our hats around!
Maybe rest is not needed!
Maybe Sisyphus escapes!
But the point is, I think, that Sisyphus has already escaped, long before the possibility arises that he may at last go over the hill…and he’s already found all the rest he needs. Well, is that not the meaning of existentialism? Sisyphus has already escaped; he has already written, and read, the manual of happiness. He has already found all the peace there is. That face, which toiled so close to stones, has already become stone itself, long since. We unfortunately live; but we must consider ourselves happy, as alien a feeling as that may be to us. We must find the peace that is here.
Because the stone we roll up, that we toil so close to, is naturally Death. Is naturally breath. Is naturally mind, and soul, and speech. And they’re all the same: inseparable. A big basket of gifts, wrapped in a single sheet of paper. I’ll quote, not Camus, but myself:
He’ll freeze the world in a tick of time/ Just to run up a path that the facts won’t find
Well the world is a hill that/ Nobody might climb
That the King of Fevers can’t/ Keep from tryin’…
Forgive me: it was fun, typing that out, and I shouldn’t be having fun today. My Sisyphean hero has made his last exhalation, either skipped off down the side of the hill that we can’t see, or peacefully made his way back down the side…well, that we still can’t see…
Having written this story that Jim’s revealed so brilliantly for us…
Having written this manual of happiness…
He has himself formed a world. Of mineral flakes; of night-filled mountains. Of the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands.
Rest in peace, Hero Steve. I’ll miss you like nobody’s business. You showed me how to push that stone around. And you showed me that it can also take place in joy.
So I leave you at the foot of the mountain!
And find my burden again.
Pleasant dreams to you, you great Teacher. Great roller of stones! I never knew a stone-roller quite like you.
Maybe, there never was one.