Sisyphus and the Spring

I remember one occasion walking alone in the mountains during a hot Greek summer. I was thirsty. Then in a clearing I heard the sound of running water. Not much, but enough to make that unmistakeable sound. At the root of a tall tree the ground fell away and revealed a gash in the earth out of which the water ran.

As I drank, it dawned on me why so many tiny churches out in the Greek countryside are built next to springs. In many cases, the story must surely go back to some thirsty person in the dry season coming upon the spring and – like me – being overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude. It is a feeling that affects the knees. Instinctively one wants to kneel down and offer thanks. To what? To the spirit of the spring? And if I happened to live in the vicinity of that spring I would be moved to build something so that the water would flow more easily into whatever container people might bring, and while building I might want to add something to indicate how special the place is.

What would Sisyphus or Camus do at the spring? At brief moments in “The Myth of Sisyphus” Camus shows that he is not always completely unmoved by things like springs out in the countryside. For instance, he says at one exceptional point that “the soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more [than all the theories that have failed to answer the question of the meaning of life]”.  Let me repeat that phrase: “the soft lines of the hills”. Camus holds that glinting phrase up, but then casts it aside and tramples it into the dust of his argument. Perversely, he then denies that the hills have any soft lines. The soft lines are only in us. They are illusory. Let us not be deceived, he insists. Be lucid (a ruthless lucidty – Camus’ foremost virtue) and see that the hills themselves are just lumps of earth. Our (absurd) life is the confrontation between our longing for soft lines and the irrational lumps of earth.

This theory of the absurd looks more and more like some terrible armour – armour that is impregnable to the faint sounds of the spring in the forest clearing. The absurd theoretician – having stripped the water of its soft lines and its music – sees only brute irrational liquid – liquid that is drunk by brute lips only to be excreted a short time later. Drinking and pissing. Drinking and pissing. No, nothing to be grateful for, and certainly no reason to build anything. Just a challenge. Can one live in this intellectual desert and affirm such a senseless cycle of ingestion and excretion – affirm the absurd?

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