The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

The fundamental subject of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ is this: it is legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life has a meaning; therefore it is legitimate to meet the problem of suicide face to face. The answer, underlying and appearing through the paradoxes which cover it, is this: even if one does not believe in God, suicide is not legitimate.

Søren Kierkegaard stated that the thinker without a paradox is like the lover without feeling. Every day that we traverse these wastelands of existence we are confronted by boulders like giants on our path, the questions that plead to be answered whose answers we must exorcise from within ourselves on pain of death. And everyday that we awaken with no answers these questions sit upon our shoulders like a cross we must bear and with the passage of time, they seem to grow both heavier and lighter. Heavier in that each day we find we are this much closer to the dust on the ground, bending under their weight, breaking under their weight; yet still, lighter in that the weight becomes familiar, it moulds onto the skin of our back so that in the right kind of light, on beautiful days, we forget that we host Goliath upon our spine. But the questions remain: a whisper to make us turn in our sleep. And for me, the question that sits upon the floor of my home like a mould, seeming to defiantly say to me ‘I shall not be moved’ is suicide.

I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying).

Moyo Okediji 4

Art by Moyo Okedije

The problem of suicide, if we are to believe Camus , is the very essence of philosophy: to judge whether or not life is worth living, every other question comes later. I have explored the dark passageways of suicide and depression before, but it seems not to have been sufficient, the ghosts are still rising from the earth to haunt the moments of my lucidity. The elixir that brought this Frankenstein to life is Avicii’s death, Avicii’s suicide, but more than that, it is a pointed question that stopped my incessant scrolling online, ‘why are we not cupping our hands over ears to listen for the silent pleas of those who are summoning the angel of death?’ Had social convention, and I dare say wisdom, not reigned me in, I would have replied with one statement: ‘why should we?’

But if it is hard to fix the precise instant, the subtle step when the mind opted for death, it is easier to deduce from the act itself the consequences it implies. In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much for you or that you do not understand it.

The habit of humanity is to allocate blame. We want to make the argument, and we do make the argument that the world needs to be kinder to those suffering from depression, that the world needs to be ready to hold back those who are jumping off bridges; that the world is callous, the world is mean and the world is to be blamed because it didn’t care enough to save those who did not wish to save themselves. I am tired of this narrative and how well it is being sold to the masses. The burden of your salvation lies with you. There is no Jesus, there is no Mohammed, there is no Superman, there is no Wonderwoman and most importantly, friends and family are not your personal yo-yo. You do not push them away only for them to keep coming back. If you teach people how to stay away, don’t be surprised when they learn.

There always comes a time when one must choose between contemplation and action. This is called becoming a man. Such wrenches are dreadful. But for a proud heart there can be no compromise. There is God or time, that cross or this sword. This world has a higher meaning that transcends its worries, or nothing is true but those worries. One must live with time and die with it, or else elude it for a greater life.

Joseph Mathew

Art by Joseph Matthew

So where does that leave us? That leaves us with The Myth of Sisyphus. Camus says that myth of Sisyphus is only tragic because the hero is conscious. Sisyphus knows that his existence is futile and that is the tragedy. But you know what Camus says, that most of us are living the futility of Sisyphus yet do not see it. We wake up every day, we go to work or we go to school and we repeat the same cycle year after year. To what end? We study to get a job, we work to get a promotion so we can work even harder and at the end of it all, we die and some of us will not even be able to afford our own funerals. Do you see the boulder that you are pushing up the hill just for it to roll back down once you get to the summit? Most people don’t. Most people live, as Anaïs says, sheltered, hibernating, like people sleeping in the snow and some never awaken. The tragedy of Sisyphus is he is conscious of the futility of his existence. Depression is that: the consciousness of the futility of existence.

Yes, man is his own end. And he is his only end. If he aims to be something, it is in this life. Now I know it only too well. Conquerors sometimes talk of vanquishing and overcoming. But it is always ‘overcoming oneself’ that they mean

Camus holds the light to lead us out of the tunnel, in one line he births a statement of audacity and bravery, ‘one must imagine Sisyphus happy’. How can we do this? How can we imagine a man condemned by the gods a punishment so severe to be happy? Camus’ answer: Sisyphus is the master of his own fate; Sisyphus has mastered his fate. He has made peace with it, he has realised that he can choose to work in sorrow or to make the struggle towards the heights what fills his heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy because he has discovered that he can conjure the balm for his wounds within his own spirit; he has discerned that the gods condemnation does not make him condemned, that the work of fate does not make him wretched. We must imagine Sisyphus happy because he has perceived an altogether poignant and elusive truth, that he alone commands his destiny.

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.

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