In the Wharton graduation, I heard from my girlfriend that one speaker ended her speech with a quote by Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, [within me], an invincible summer.”
She forgot to say “within me,” which I would say is probably the most important part of the quote. At first, I got annoyed because one of my biggest pet peeves is people in business misquoting literature for the #clout. She was talking about finding things to do or about yourself that make quarantine not as bad as it was. I considered this a misinterpretation of the quote. My girlfriend did not.
I read most of Camus’ works during my semester abroad and am fairly familiar with his philosophical system. I think I understand why he thinks Sisyphus is happy. As for this quote, it comes from one of his shorter essays titled “Return to Tipasa”, which details the memory of a young man in his time at Tipasa as a child. The invincible summer, in this story, refers to the childhood memory that cannot be taken away. It is a way of viewing the world that transcends whatever happens following this period in life.
I have experienced a fair share of sadness throughout my life. Yet, I don’t think it is this sadness that has allowed me to become more resilient. It isn’t the amount of misery that I have experienced in my life that allows me to understand what constitutes a happy life. In fact, I would argue that the sadness I have experienced in the past makes it even more difficult to experience happiness in the future. But, on the other hand, I would also argue the absence of sadness in the past makes it impossible to understand happiness at all. Happiness can become real regardless of experiences past.
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Ivan Denisovich is condemned to live in a Russian gulag. The story details his day-to-day life in prison.
When devising psychological torture, there is a lot of literature discussing how shoveling gravel is one of the worst forms of punishment because it takes away an individual’s sense of purpose. After all, when you shovel gravel from one place to another only to shovel the gravel back to its original location, there is very little purpose involved. This was what Ivan Denisovich did all day. Yet, he approached the task as Sisyphus would in Camus’ interpretation. Even though every part of his life was designed to be as unpleasant as possible, he refused to approach life with this mentality.
There was one scene where he was eating mushy rice or something. The rice is, well, mushy, and bland, just as it had been since he arrived. Yet, he ate each bowl of rice as if he were eating a Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich for the first time ever. Despite his hellish external world, the world he ultimately experiences is internal. Diverging from the objectivist way of thinking, the world that an individual experiences is ultimately their creation. While there is a lot of influence of the external world on the internal world, at the end of the day, the phenomenological experience created by the internal world is something that the external world cannot dictate.
When I concluded high school, I thought I found an invincible summer because of the sheer amount of sadness I have experienced since the beginning of my life. But, obviously, I have also experienced a lot of sadness in college as well. The sadness I feel, I would imagine, is a function of my internal world. Despite a seemingly average experience in college, I always found room to find sadness, which is quite the opposite experience as Ivan Denisovich. While Ivan Denisovich finds positivity even in the most wretched moments, I find sadness in even the most comfortable moments.
I keep on wondering: What is this invincible summer that Camus speaks of? I understand now that what the “within me” part means. The invincible summer is something that truly can only be found within. But, as for how to find it, I’m still figuring that out myself.
But I know that the invincible summer is not an object. I am not going to one day find a thought that will solve all my problems with sadness. It’s close to something that I build — a framework of thinking that is resilient to all of my external circumstances. Compared to where I was four years ago, I am, for sure, closer to seeing its completion than before; at least now I know what I am constructing. But, until the moment where I become truly resilient to all the winters that life can throw at me, in all of its coldness, I still have ways to go.