After kicking off the Text and Meaning Series with an article on Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech in August, the latest installment is on Albert Camus’ classic book, The Myth of Sisyphus. The Text and Meaning Series is one reminder that some of the battles we've found ourselves struggling through in 2013–– as if thrashing while asleep and trying to wake from nightmares–– have been fought before. In many cases it was believed victory had already been won.
I started the Text and Meaning Series largely as a way of introducing classic works into conversations on current topics and events. It presently consists of the following:
1) Text and Meaning in Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech
2) Text and Meaning in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
3) Text and Meaning in Langston Hughes The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain
4) Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus
Employing MLK’s I Have a Dream speech to launch the series made sense because the year 2013, now drawing rapidly toward its end, marked the 50th anniversary of the speech. Focusing on it also provided a way to help amplify dialogues on multiculturalism and race in America. That such dialogues must not be stifled have been made disturbingly apparent this year by several high-profile events, from the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin to the glaring lack of diversity at the Emmy Awards and subsequent reports in Huffington Post on racial divisions in Hollywood.
The article Text and Meaning in Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus takes me into somewhat new territory as an author. Outside of my writings on W.E.B. Du Bois for the Philosophical Library Series and my profile on Alain Locke for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, I’ve written very little about philosophy or philosophers. However, with November 7, 2013, marking Camus’ 100th birthday, I had to expand the scope of my focus.
It is well known that Camus generally considered himself more of a novelist than a philosopher. The extraordinary power of The Stranger and The Plague have led many people to agree with him and to think of him more as a serious author whose works in fiction and drama were heavily influenced by his study of, and passion for, philosophy. What I appreciate the most about him is what I tend to appreciate the most about all writers who achieve the levels of mastery and accomplishment that he did. I respect the way he gave such huge chunks of his life to his art. I admire the way he structured his art as a form of service to humanity. And I treasure the enduring excellence of the example that he fought, endured, and labored to provide.
4 November, 2013
From the time he was first placed on trial for the murder of Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989 until his death by execution one year ago, September 21, 2011, more questions than answers have tended to accumulate where the case of Troy Anthony Davis was and is concerned.
As far as any observers––including such trained onlooker as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Amnesty International, and Color of Change–– have been able to tell, Davis was not executed because he was proven guilty. He was executed because technicalities of applied legal practice and questionable choices in regard to his defense failed to confirm his innocence. For the average person, such a distinction is murky at best. For Troy Anthony Davis––and for an as yet undetermined number of individuals––it literally meant the difference between life and death.
The case of Troy Anthony Davis is not one that shall gently disappear inside the shadowy annals of American history. It generated while it lasted too much pain for too many people. Moreover, prior to culminating in the highest dramatic fashion with the executed prisoner’s death, there was that of his mother Virginia Davis only a few months before. And after his death, his courageous sister Martina Davis-Correia succumbed to the cancer she had been battling at the same time she fought on her brother’s behalf.
It shall also continue to linger, inform, and influence because too many issues associated with it remain dangerously relevant. Considerations of race in the American judicial system represent only one such issue. The increasing use of DNA forensics testing ––a technique which the lack of physical evidence in regard to the Davis/MacPhail case rendered inapplicable––under suspiciously unclear circumstances is another.
According to the Innocence Project founded in 1992, “To date, 297 people in the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing, including 17 who served time on death row. These people served an average of 13 years in prison before exoneration and release.”
Troy Davis served 22 years in prison before his execution.
In the case of the slain teenager Trayvon Martin, the shooter George Zimmerman has steadfastly maintained he shot Martin because the teenager had grabbed his gun and was trying to shoot him. This past week, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a statement that none of Martin’s DNA was found on the grip of the gun.
The Capital Punishment Debate
Yet one more reason Davis’s story shall not quickly fade away is because of the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In commemoration of this first anniversary of Davis’s death, a number of prominent advocacy organizations have stamped their names to a mosaic poster of Davis topped by the slogan: “Abolish the Death Penalty.” Towards the bottom of the poster (or to the side in one version) are the words Davis communicated just before his execution: “The struggle for justice doesn’t end with me.”
While people who believe Davis was actually guilty will likely continue to remember him as such, millions have in fact adopted his face as a powerful symbol of both what is most wrong with the American judicial system, and, as what may yet become yet one of the hallmarks of what is most right about it. With that in mind, it is worth noting that the rallying cry used in previous years to bring attention to the case of Davis and others has altered only slightly: from “I am Troy Davis” to “I am still Troy Davis.”
by Aberjhani, founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
More on Troy Anthony Davis & 1st Anniversary of His Death
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.