The myth of Sisyphus: The importance of collegiate community

The meaning of Spartan life

Jacob Martin

It’s Saturday, Oct. 5, 8:31 p.m. My computer just booted up and (since it isn’t homecoming weekend, and the class of 1963’s 50th reunion party isn’t creating cacophony or a pungent aroma of alcohol that would both permeate the third floor quiet study room) Kelvin Smith Library is rather serene.

I’ve opened my notebook and laid my books out in my usual study cube tucked well into the stacks just as I’ve done so many times before in preparation for a long night of studying. However, one thought won’t quit its barrage on my focus. I need to address the question, “With all this homework to do, why does community matter?” Maybe then I can stop reeling and write my English paper.

Why should you, a Case Western Reserve University student— or professor or administrator for that matter— care about community and dialogue and diversity on this campus? Why heed a call for an attitude adjustment or change in perspective? Why work to establish a real community of interconnected scholarship at CWRU when each of us is busy, stressed, sleep-deprived and pressed for time?

A colleague asserted in this paper last week that the number of CWRU students that read great literature is dismally low, and unfortunately I would agree. But I also want to provide a small, yet assuring glimmer of hope that lonely intellectuals remain in the interstices of our detached and egoistic university.

Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” introduces the notion of philosophical absurdity; that is, man’s search for and inevitable inability to find inherent meaning in life. For those unfamiliar with the reference, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus was doomed to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down. Camus relates this to man’s ostensibly meaningless and futile existence, ultimately asking if suicide is the answer to such a reality. He answers this question with a condemnation of suicide and a charge to rebellion.

In the time spent walking back down the hill, Sisyphus is conscious of his pointless task. From that awareness rushes a brook of vitality so strong and refreshing that Camus concludes his masterpiece with the line, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

We are all modern day Sisyphus’s that share the same absurd task of completing an undergraduate education. Each of us is pushing rocks up hills: Rocks that look like homework, chaotic and confusing personal development and the human impetus for socialization— hills that afford sweeping views of discovery, growth and electrified solace.

Therein lies the answer to why we must work to establish community. This prodigious commonality that connects us is indispensable. We must exercise solidarity if we are to be a community, and we must be a community if we are to be happy like Sisyphus is happy.

Yet we continue to commit symbolic suicides, never rebelling against mediocrity and discontent. Have you ever been walking through campus, sitting in class or studying at a table surrounded by others and felt the pangs of loneliness or the desire to reach out to someone only to become paralyzed by an irrational adherence to social norms and fear of disrupting the status quo? Aren’t there things that have upset you to the verge of tears, things which you outwardly respond to with inexplicable silence but internally cry a dejected and primal scream?

Community has the power to pacify such unrest. It’s like an old palatial mansion without property lines. It has countless rooms that house collegiality, integrity, honesty and transparency; a parlor for stimulating dialogue; a wrap-around porch to be merry and praise diversity of thought, culture, and difference of opinion; a basement to lock away judgment and hatred; a pool of love in the backyard to drown social norms and the pieces of a shattered hierarchy in. The doors would never be locked, and the only house rules would be a positive attitude and curious disposition.

Perhaps I’m slipping into the dangerous realm of idealism, but to me a university is quite simply an institution that provides a large-scale forum for learning. It is a place that transcends society, functioning as a model of engaged wonder and a catalyst to inspiration. We need community and dialogue and diversity at CWRU to re-enter and reestablish a forum of unbridled learning.

If we continue marching down the road of apathy like a mob of cowards without a cause, we remain disenchanted composites of basal mass only capable of squandering happiness and incarcerating love and respect behind bars of selfish ignorance.

I’m tired of settling for the dilapidated, weathered hovel that houses the CWRU community, and I refuse to accept that the overwhelming majority of students on campus don’t share my frustration. Perhaps it’s time to listen to Camus’ positive message in the face of absurdity, because if awareness is enough to combat suicide, then it must be enough to facilitate change.

Jacob Martin wishes to acknowledge the industrious individual(s) who taped his column all over Nord’s doors last Friday. Sine qua non.