Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017 Word of the Year: Hero

I’ve never engaged with a Word of the Year before.  But when someone mentioned it a few weeks ago, a word popped into my head, and I wanted to run with it.

That word was HERO.

I don’t know why “hero” came up so quickly.  Maybe it was intuition, or maybe it was something else… I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the hero since my youth, and this fascination came to the fore in my teenage years as I studied about the archetype of the hero in school.  I suppose you can say it’s been a word ingrained into my very being.

But I don’t feel that I really understand the term.  Or at least not to my satisfaction.

One of the most lasting impressions of the word “hero” was one of my first encounters of the term as such.  I was about thirteen when I stumbled across the brilliant webcomic titled HERO.  (Please check it out at It’s beautifully told and illustrated, and the creator seems like a truly lovely person!)

The narration style is captivating and innovative, and I really love the art.  Of course, that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  As you follow the protagonist, you wonder what precisely about him is worthy of the series’ title.  He’s not Harry Potter, who has a clear villain to overcome or mission to accomplish.  He’s not Ebenezer Scrooge, who just needs to reflect on his life to see the “error of his ways.”  He’s not Heracles, who goes around defeating monsters to prove he’s worthy of something.  No, the protagonist (arguably protagonists, but that's another topic) of HERO is just an ordinary guy who almost randomly decides to do something and then just goes with the flow.

It was rather baffling.

With a little more research and a hint or two from the creator of the work, I was turned on to the writing of Italo Calvino (whose book Invisible Cities inspires much of the webcomic itself, even the domain name).  This combined with some very synchronistic studies at school, specifically the essays of Albert Camus and Joseph Campbell, made me realize that heroes aren’t all just sword- (or wand-)wielding do-gooders; heroes aren’t all just people who need to overcome something, regardless of whether that something is within themselves or without; heroes aren’t all just antiheroes.

The hero that I met in the webcomic – and that has stuck with me all my life since then – was the absurd hero.

This is the term Albert Camus uses to describe the hero who has come to terms with the meaninglessness of his own existence and/or efforts, and yet, in spite of that ego-crushing realization, persists in his futile struggle.  Happily.

That’s the key.  The absurd hero happily continues on with his menial daily tasks.  He happily gets out of bed each morning to clock in at 9 AM and clock out at 5 PM and repeat.  He happily struggles.

It sounds easy.  Wake up, get ready, go to classes, eat, go to work, make dinner, eat, etc.  (Or however your typical day goes.)  But when something challenges you, especially mental blocks or issues, all of the seemingly easy tasks become an indomitable mountain.  And you sure as hell can’t happily sashay down the lane in that case.

When I think about how much I’ve struggled throughout 2016, I begin to realize that my personal engagement with the absurd hero archetype has been shallow, at best.  I’ve whined; I’ve cried; I’ve blamed.  I tried to pick myself up so many times, only to fall back down to cry some more.

The absurd hero struggles, but he does so absolutely knowing his situation.  He takes pride in his own action within the world of meaninglessness.  He struggles happily accepting the pointlessness of what he’s doing.

I know.  It sounds nihilistic, but I really find this inspiring.  That's because, ultimately, no one knows what life is about.  No one really knows the point of it all.  All we know is that we are alive and then we die.  What comes in between is up to us.  That is far more hopeless a thought, actually, because there’s no certitude to the meaning of anything that we do.

The absurd hero relishes each moment of the present precisely because of that:  no one knows what the hell is going on.  We just know that we’re alive.  Right.  Now.

So the pointlessness of existence gains meaning only in the present, only in the struggle against that exact pointlessness.

The nature of the absurd hero is the antithesis of the Jungian hero:  the Jungian hero knows his greatness (or at least can become convinced of his own worth) while he absurd hero does not take such things for granted.

That’s the hero I want to realize.

I can’t wield a sword.  (Actually, I can, but it’s been a few years.)  I don’t believe in the magic that Harry Potter has.  (Certainly, there is magic in the world, though.)  The classical hero archetype is largely foreclosed by current poststructuralist thought.  I won’t be fighting dragons or hydra or nuclear-fallout-produced giant lizard-monsters.

I can only go on to 2017 with the wisdom I’ve gained from experience and the light-heartedness of not having to take a futile life too seriously.

I will struggle to be the absurd hero.  Happily.


For reference:

Calvino, Italo.  Invisible Cities.

Camus, Albert.  "The Myth of Sysiphus."  (Accessible for free at:

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