by Mansi Rathour.
Albert Camus’s reflection on the existence of mere mortals seems quite relevant today. Most of us are facing lockdowns in our respective places owing to the rise of the corona pandemic. Its times like these which call for a reflection upon oneself and repurposing or reorienting of our aims as human beings on this planet. In The Myth of Sisyphus (Camus 2005), Camus can be credited for deeming human life an absurdity. That man is only one, transient and trivial among indifferent and unreasonable silence of the world. Sisyphus relentlessly goes on to bouldering a rock up a hill, only to be faced with the rock rolling back down the hill. Our current situation amid the lockdown seems to draw upon similar themes of purposelessness and insignificance of our existence. But what Camus was able to explore was the heroism and bravery of Sisyphus despite being brought back down. And the outlook he offers for the abysmal scenario is that of Sisyphus being in an imagined state of being happy.
It does not have to look as bleak as it sounds. Whether we wish to believe in an illusioned state as Nietzsche or an imagined state of happiness, like Camus, a key aspect does remain the recognition of the absurdity of our lives and endeavor. In recognizing and acceptance of this absurdity can we be released from the hold of absurdity and can perhaps locate the ideals of heroism and bravery as in Camus’s Sisyphus.
We can relate this with the analogy of an ant, where it is engaged in the labor of collecting food for itself when somebody tramples over it. If alive, the ant will yet again continue the labor only to arrive at the profound insignificance of its labor. Just as we observe the ant’s trial to be futile, our own advent and trials through life could be deemed futile by the universe. Life works in mysterious ways, and we rarely ever know the plan that life has in store for us. Despite the uncertainty and futile attempts, we keep going.
We all know that post the lockdown, almost everything will look different than what it was. We will need to reorient and redirect our ways of being and living to adapt to the new environment. What is crucial is knowing. In recognizing knowing the purposelessness of our existence, we are able to release ourselves from the clutches of absurdity according to Camus. We all know and accept that for quite a significant amount of time, we will not have cinemas, shopping multiplexes and various other means of the large social gathering will have to be done with. For many, their businesses will need re-direction as what they previously worked on is deemed futile now. Education and classroom learning will definitely have to be repurposed to satisfy the goals of learning given the controlled social environment. And who is to say when we begin adapting to these current circumstances, in future, we will again have to reorient, find yet another purpose or rewind back to the previous purpose. It then seems we are all like Sisyphus or the ant continuing with our labor, while the universe remains unreasonably silent or unresponsive.
Nonetheless, the ant if alive from the trampling then either enjoys the fruit of its labor (however little) or diverts from its path. This marks the beginning of heroism and bravery. The ant is now cautious to protect itself from the obstacles in its path which may appear in the form of mysterious accidents of the world. Though Camus presents Sisyphus as being a noble character with no complaint in being tested with the most dispiriting truths, he perhaps too will look for ways to retain the rock for longer on top of the hill once he reaches atop. This looking for ways for retaining taps into one making braver attempts than before. For us humans as well, seeing the hopelessness of our situation; those looking to devise new ways of purposing themselves amidst all this chaos speaks forth their heroism and bravery to the leap of faith into the unknown. We know we will not be able to watch movies in cinema halls or socialize the way we used to, but we yet come up with ways to satisfy these various rational needs of being human. We recognize and accept the absurdities we live in, which offers a chance for us to not be bound in such a dismal picture but rather to work for the traits of heroism and bravery.