On The Plague

3 minute read


In the beginning of the pandemic, commentaries on Albert Camus’ The Plague (1947) mushroomed and the book sale went up, for obvious reasons. I, too, joined this train, reserving the book from the library. In a somewhat ironic meta-allegory of the pandemic though, I read it halfway, and due to no loan extension because somebody else reserved it, gave up on it. Don’t my languid lockdown reading pace, and the helplessness of it, reflect the general gloomy pandemic mood, a little bit?

This year, somewhat reinvigorated, I obtained the book again and restarted and finished it.

One thing that I noticed is the uncanny parallel of the lockdown of the city of Oran due to the plague, and our own restrictions. Oh, there is nothing new under the sun, like the Preacher said. People’s denial in the beginning; lockdown fatigue; obsessions with the numbers of cases and death, then getting numbed by it; “….the only certitude they have in common–love, exile, suffering”.

…in a sense, disease is the only real actor here.
– LA Times article

The other thing that was striking in the book was the plague just… happens? What I mean is, it just strikes like the force of nature it is, strangely in absence of malice. The LA times puts it like this: “There is no anger or bitterness in this book, only an immense spirit of forbearance and pity.” Now that I am inside the story of current pandemic reality, I feel that way towards SARS-CoV-2 to some extent. It is just a nanomachine; it has no animosity. Yet, yet: It gives us the trolley problem of either killing the economy or killing by infection. But, but: it has no agency.

This god loves the virus as much as the child.
Ode To The God Of Atheists

I think, a point that is always in the air in these commentaries, but is never really brought to the forefront, is the message of hope. Of humanity surely – the narrator: “there are more things to admire in men than to despise” – but I’m talking about beyond. It is understandable though: Camus himself was a non-believer. But I cannot help but think, when I reached the end of the book, that, ah, I’m lucky I’m outside this book, with this, if you like, God-like view, and I know in the end the plague dissipates.

Even if you don’t believe in God, I would think you will draw a little consolation from the fictive distance. When I started reading, I did not know that the ending would be hopeful, but I carried on reading anyway, because I know I am not inside the story: I can think, feel, empathise safely; the plague has no power on me. But, since I am a believer, I take consolation one step further. Like the reader me, I believe that God is standing in eternity, outside the book of time, and He knows the ending.

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