Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Plague by Albert Camus



















We are born into a world where we confront inexplicable absurdities, such as the plagues of suffering and death. The fact that we will die should awaken an awareness of our responsibility to ourselves and to others. Though Camus presents a hopeless struggle against the problems of incomprehensible, ambiguous evil and indifference, Camus’ characters choose to rebel against arbitrary suffering and death, however useless their protests may seem. To resist other forms of intentional plagues (human cruelties such as murder, oppression, tyranny, racism, slavery, misogyny…) is to recognize and defend human dignity.


Excerpts from a philosophical and symbolical novel entitled The Plague:

“The first thing that plague brought to our town was exile… that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire…

“They drifted through life rather than lived, the prey of aimless days and sterile memories, like wandering shadows that could have acquired substance only by consenting to root themselves in the solid earth of their distress… But memory is less disposed to compromise… It also incited us to create our own suffering and thus to accept frustration as a natural state. This was one of the tricks the pestilence had of diverting attention and confounding the issues. Thus, each of us had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky…

‘“In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground. But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure. And all the hideous fears that stamp[ed] their faces in the daytime [were] transformed in the fiery, dusty nightfall into a sort of hectic exaltation, an unkempt freedom fevering their blood’

“…The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding… The most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind, and there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness…

“No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all. Strongest of these emotions was the sense of exile and of deprivation, with all the crosscurrents of revolt and fear set up by these…

“Without memories, without hope, they lived for the moment only. Indeed, the here and now had come to mean everything to them. For there is no denying that the plague had gradually killed off in all of us the faculty not of love only but even of friendship. Naturally enough, since love asks something of the future, and nothing was left us but a series of present moments…

“We see no reason for a child’s suffering. And, truth to tell, nothing was more important on earth than a child’s suffering, the horror it inspires in us, and the reasons we must find to account for it… Our religion had no merit… We all were up against the wall that plague had built around us… Father Paneloux refused to have recourse to simple devices enabling him to scale that wall. Thus he might easily have assured [us] that the child’s suffering would be compensated for by an eternity of bliss… But how could he give that assurance when… he knew nothing about it? For who would dare to assert that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment’s human suffering?

“I have realized that we all have plague… I only know that one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken… I know, too, that I’m not qualified to pass judgment on others… All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences…

“A loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart… There is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love…

“I don’t want to die, and I shall put up a fight. But [when] I lose the match, I want to make a good end of it…  It could only be the record of what had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers…”


(1947)

Camus, Albert. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. The Plague. New York: Random House, 1948.

1 comment:

  1. Camus, one of our greatest thinkers, left this teacher with a simple thought that has guided my life: "se battre contra le mal" to fight evil, corruption, injustice, even in the face of certain defeat; that's what gives us our human dignity.

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