Aloha, Sisyphus

A story I found in Haruki Murakami’s latest novel After Dark deserves re-telling and some further thought. Marukami says it’s an old Hawaiian legend. I am undoubtedly doing some westernizing in my version.

Three brothers are shipwrecked and washed ashore on an uncharted island. As they discuss their predicament, the god of the volcano appears to them.

Before each brother the god places a heavy, roughly hewn boulder.

“From the top of my volcano you can see the whole world,” he says. “Roll your boulder up the side of my mountain, until you can or will roll it no longer. There you will make your home and be the master of all you survey. Of course, the one who rolls his rock the highest will command the greatest view.”

So the three brothers set out on their Sisyphean journey, rolling their big boulders across the beach. No sooner do they reach a shaded area at the base of the big mountain than one brother says to the other two: “Far enough for me. I can go no further. Besides, I can make a good life here. I will build a dwelling here in the shade, fish and eat the coconuts that fall to the ground.”

His two brothers embrace him, say their goodbyes, and set out for the peak of the big mountain. They roll their boulders for days, until one brother turns to the other and says: “Far enough for me. Why go any further? I can make a good life here. There is good earth for farming, plenty of game to hunt, and I can even plant a vineyard.”

“As you wish,” says the third brother. And he carries on, alone. He rolls his boulder for many days. The terrain grows rocky and steep; the temperatures drop. The wind howls. Above the treeline, he notices, there is very little to eat, except moss that grows on rocks; when he is thirsty, he sucks a handful of snow.

He perseveres until, after many days and nights, he reaches the top of the volcano. There he makes his spartan dwelling, eating nothing but moss and snow, and commanding a view of the whole world.

3 thoughts on “Aloha, Sisyphus

  1. Tree Fitzpatrick

    I don’t quite see the brothers’ journey as Sisyphean. Sisyphus, of course, is condemned to roll a stone uphill but each and every day, his stone rolls back down. He never reached any destination. The journey is condemned. He never reaches a destination. The destination must be within him. He must, I hope and pray, surrender to perpetually beginning anew. He is not free, as these brothers are, to choose where he will stop rolling his stone.

    The brothers in Marukami’s novel, which, it so happens, I have just finished, they are never doomed like Sysyphus. Marukami gives them the hope of arriving somewhere, a somewhere where they can make their peace with life.

    Albert Camus has a nice essay, called, I think, The Myth of Sysyphus, which is easy to Google. Here is a quote from Camus’ essay:

    There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

    The rock, my rock, is still rolling.

    The brothers Marukami’s story must not be, well, as evolved as Sisyphus.

    I have long and personally identified with Sisyphus. Often I refer to myself as Sisyfina, actually.

    I close with another quote from Camus’ essay, just cause I love it so much: (NOTE: I don’t know how to put the quote in italics, sorry)

    “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 toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

    Reply
  2. Unni

    Well, the three brothers made the decision to roll the stones and how far to roll them. Sisyphus was condemned to roll his stone.

    Life, as it is lived, involves taking position and being postioned. This complex notion of freedom is brought out beautifully by Louis V. G. in ‘Aloha, Sisyphus’.

    The story about the three brothers also begs the question: Why does anyone want to command a view of the whole world?

    For me then, up free will and condamnation

    Reply
  3. KnowledgeBank

    Well, the three brothers made the decision to roll the stones and how far to roll them. Sisyphus was condemned to roll his stone.

    Life, as it is lived, involves taking position and being postioned. This complex notion of freedom is brought out beautifully by Louis V. G. in ‘Aloha, Sisyphus’.

    The story about the three brothers also begs the question: Why does anyone want to command a view of the whole world?

    For me then, up free will and condamnation

    Reply

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