No, I'm not going to write about the case. You already know the key facts if you read the first sentence. My client was sentenced to be killed. It is my job to convince the Supreme Court of Ohio that they should, in Sam Spade's words that have nothing to do with this, "do something about it."
Some criminal defense lawyers see themselves as Sisyphus.
Albert Camus, in his short, brilliant essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," tells the basic story.
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.There is, of course, more. And Camus fills in the back story. I'm not going to do that here. You can follow the link and read it for yourself. Anyway, the back story, why Sisyphus was so punished, doesn't really matter. Here's what does.
You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is,as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.Camus imagines that moment when Sisyphus has finished his task, got his rock to the summit, only to watch it plummet back to the ground below. He turns. He trudges.
I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. 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.He must be. Feel the pain. Feel the ache. But feel also the necessity. He will do it.
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.It is clear, I hope, why we who toil in these trenches, who stand beside those who hear the words that will send them away or free them, those who may never see another sunset or hug a loved one, we often see ourselves as Sisyphus. Our job is to fight. Our fate is to lose. And yet, as Camus concludes,
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.I prefer the image of Quixote, the mad knight of La Mancha. Wrapped in his psychosis he is the romantic figure. Not dashing and romantic. Not capable and brilliant. He is no Lancelot. He hasn't the purity of a Galahad.
What he has is his madness. His insistence that the world be as he wishes it, that it be a place where one such as he believes himself to be might exist, and even flourish. He will love she he declares his Dulcinea, because that is what a knight does. He will tilt at that windmill, no matter the consequence, because that is what a knight does.
He will, of course, no more tame the world than Sisyphus will tame his rock and mountain. But he'll go forth to battle the windmills anyway. Convinced, as always, that this time he will win.
From "Tom o'Bedlam," the great anonymous poem of around 1600.
- By a knight of ghostes and shadowes
- I summon'd am to tourney
- Ten leagues beyond the wild world's end.
- Methinks it is no journey.