The Myth of Sisyphus

 “The world and I are within one another” – Maurice Merleau Ponty (1962).

At the age of 72 I am applying the social theory of Pierre Bourdieu (1999) to the challenge of growing older in an ageist society.  In my ongoing PhD narrative inquiry at Warwick University Centre for Lifelong Learning I contend that, when we attribute wholly negative meanings to physically feeling older, we are possibly the victims of self-inflicted ‘symbolic violence’ (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), interacting compliantly within an oppressively dominant ageist culture and social discourse.

I know that sometimes in my research work I feel as if I am pushing a giant boulder up an endless steep hill, like Sisyphus in the Greek Myth.  The metaphorical task seems to me to be a symbol of struggling with what Bourdieu described as ‘the weight of the world’, in terms of trying to contribute to fundamental attitude change and culture shift in British society, but I would rather be a survivor than a victim.  I am prepared to fight until my death for my human right to actively participate and thrive whilst still alive.  I know that many people may laugh at my ‘tragic optimism’, inspired and invigorated by the spirit-lifting ‘logotherapy’ of Viktor Frankl (1988).  Never-the-less I will continue to ‘hold my head up high’ walking through a storm of troubles, eternally hoping, like Captain Tom Moore, that “tomorrow will be a good day” (Moore, 2021).  Like Simone de Beauvoir I hope that “our personal passions remain sufficiently strong at an older age to prevent that we turn inward”(de Beauvoir, 1972).  I will continue to pursue goals that give meaning to my life.  I will devote myself to people, activity, social, political, intellectual and creative work.  With the wonderful villanelle style poem of Dylan Thomas singing in my head I will “not go gentle into that good night”.  I will struggle on, pushing the weighty globe up that hill, like the obstinate old wrinkly rebel that I am, deliberately annoying many beautiful youthful people, though I will continue to love most of them dearly.  Like Simone de Beauvoir, I refuse to become invisible and to be excluded.  I am thoroughly enjoying what Carl Jung (1933) called ‘the afternoon of life’.  I demand to be politically included with equal rights and social justice, and I’m certainly not prepared to take ageism, or this relentless pandemic, lying down.  Like in the Paul Simon song, I don’t need a ‘wristband’ for admission to this event, because I’m just returning to being on the stage myself, after a short break in my act, much to the annoyance I’m sure of some of the younger players.  Their time will come soon enough, but my time is now until I am no more, and on this particular occasion I am stubbornly choosing to “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.  (Thomas,1952). 

About the author

This blog was written by Christopher Tovey, a current PhD student at CLL.

References

Bourdieu, P (1999)The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary SocietyCambridge: Polity

Bourdieu,P. and Wacquant, L. (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press.

de Beauvoir, S. (1972) The coming of age.  New York: Putnam.

Frankl, V.E. (1988) The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Application of Logotherapy. New York: Penguin.

Jung, C.G. (1933) ‘The stages of life’, in C.G.Jung, Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962)The phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge.

Moore, T. (2021) Tomorrow will be a Good Day. London: Michael Joseph.

Thomas, D. (2014) Do not go gentle into that good night.  The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: The Centenary Edition. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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