Albert Camus reinterprets the Sisyphus myth to find the tragic heroism in all of us
“If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him?” - Albert Camus
The alarmingly high number of people suffering from depression and anxiety can be a sign of how much our life may seem meaningless or, according the philosopher Alber Camus, absurd. If life looks like that, it’s important to read what he has to say, thoughts coming straight from the Cold War days.
A personality hard to categorize due to his ideas and personal life, Albert Camus maintain his importance to the present days. In his essay “The myth of Sisyphus” published in 1941, he delves into the classic to shed light upon the absurd and chaotic world surrounding him.
“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”
With Sisyphus being his “absurd hero” due to his love for life, a tragedy shared by all of us, he says:
“At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.
If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”
Camus not only defines his concept of heroism, but also the kind of happiness possible in an absurd world: the consciousness and the rebellion against the lack of hope. An argument he develops by creating a parallel with the story of Oedipus:
“Thus, Oedipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same time, blind and desperate, he realizes that the only bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Oedipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism."
If even Sisyphus can be happy and this would be greatest rebellion against the divine punishment. However, Camus do not talk about possibility. To him, it is necessary to imagine Sisyphus being happy:
“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.”
Camus received the Nobel Prize in 1957 and became part of the great group of writers like José Saramago and William Faulkner that not only marked their time but also keep their relevance. Read also the idea Saramago proposed in his Nobel speech and the interview given by Faulkner at the University of Virginia.