“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.”
– Will Durant
I was reading this book called Intimate Journalism by Walt Harrington and it struck me that so much of today’s journalism or for that matter writing focuses on the stream as Will Durant says. We read so much about politicians, murderers, sportspersons, business barons and war mongers in the papers, yet we find so little about real people – the “ordinary” people we meet everyday. The kind of people who wake up on a Sunday morning and look forward to a nice lunch and a long nap in the afternoon followed by a little stroll in the park with the kids. These are the kind of people whose idea of a normal day does not include being interviewed by a dozen news channels on trivial issues. 99.9% of the world consists of such people, yet so much of “news” or for that matter fiction tends to focus on the 0.1% of these (in my opinion) unusual individuals who spend most of their lives in the limelight.
Having just read Albert Camus’ essay on Sisyphus, I thought I should share this with all of you. A question that plagues all of us is whether our existence has any meaning. We often wonder if life has any meaning to it or is it just a form of futile and hopeless labor. In this context, Albert Camus’ views on the Myth of Sisyphus give us some interesting insights.
Legend has it that the Gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly roll a rock to the top of a mountain whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. The Gods had thought (and with some reason) that there is no punishment more dreadful than futile labor. Our lives are a lot like that of Sisyphus. Each day we do the same things, meet the same people, fight the same devils from dawn to dusk without realizing that we are living out the same patterns day in and day out. A sense of sameness pervades all our lives. Not surprisingly, thanks to the human animal’s unique virtue (?) of introspection, our attention is often drawn towards this pointlessness. At these moments, we try to find answers in religion or try to avoid the questions by indulging in more mundane activities!
For a moment think of Sisyphus’ mental state when he has toiled to push the rock up to the summit and watched it roll back down. This is the moment of consciousness that I have just talked about. Camus’ says that this is the moment where the myth becomes tragic. The tragedy stems out of the consciousness of the absurdity. It is tragic when you realize the absurdity of your existence, yet continue with futile pursuit.
An alternative view is that the descent could actually be performed in happiness. Isn’t it likely that Sisyphus could have found some joy in the fact that his fate was now completely under his control. The rock in a sense could be viewed as a metaphor for fate. In Camus’ own words, “At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that silent pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory’s eye and soon sealed by his death. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile.”