September 28, 2007

THE PLAGUE YEARS


Caption: The Tower Hill Sundial in London. Photo by wallyg via everystockphoto.

Welcome to Albert Camus Week at Goat Rope. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

My favorite work by Camus is kind of a downer, unless you really like reading about massive lethal epidemics. It's his novel The Plague and I've gone back to it over and over again through the years.

Set in the still French Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s, it chronicles the outbreak of plague that begins with dying rats and spreads through the quarantined population. It's at least in part about how people bear up in an unbearable situation, some with quiet heroism and some without.

Obviously, there was a strong metaphorical factor involved given other world events in the 1940s. We seem to be living through a metaphorical plague of our own the last few years.

The part I go back to the most involves that character Tarrou, a stranger in town. His father was a magistrate who prosecuted criminal offenses. Tarrou once attended the execution by guillotine of someone his father had convicted and was repelled by what he saw.

He rebelled and joined a radical movement (obviously the Communist Party) and worked with it for years until he realized that there too he was complicit with murder:

And thus I came to understand that I, anyhow had had plague through all those long years in which, paradoxically enough, I'd believed with all my soul that I was fighting it. I learned that I had had an indirect hand in the deaths of thousands of people; that I'd even brought about their deaths by approving of acts and principles that could only end that way...

...I only know that one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and that's the only way in which we can hope for some peace or, failing that, a decent death. This, and only this, can bring relief to men and, if not save them, at least do them the least harm possible and even, sometimes, a little good. So that is why I resolved to have no truck with anything which, directly or indirectly, for good reasons or for bad, brings death to anyone or justifies others' putting him to death.


Here's the take home message:

All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it's up to us, as far as possible not to join forces with the pestilences.



MEGAN WILLIAMS CASE UPDATE. Residents of Logan County, WV are calling for a positive public event in response to the kidnapping and torture of Megan Williams, an African American woman. The event, likely to be a candlelight vigil and prayer service, is planned for next week. Look for details here Monday.

HAVE NOT NATION. Here's a good column by Harold Meyerson from the Washington Post about why more Americans are identifying themselves as have-nots.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, here's the latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute highlighting unequal--and sometimes negative--wage growth between 1979 and 2004.

FOOTPRINT MALFUNCTIONS. Our good friends at the conservative WV State Journal appear to be taking the heroic stand that global warming is a hoax or at least a totally natural thing. Somehow they managed to fit that in between paens to Unleashing Capitalism. To clear the palate, here's an op-ed by Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic.

ROLLING OUT THE PROGRAM. It looks like Unleashing Capitalism is the new holy writ of WV Republicans.

CHIP PASSES THE SENATE by a 67-29 margin.

A LITTLE GOOD NEWS. There has been positive action in Congress lately dealing with the high cost of higher education.


GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

2 comments:

Mike said...

Camus most inspired me by just that kind of thinking-that there must be a path that leads to affirmation. "Neither victims nor executioners"is a thought of his I carry with me. It made him a hero of the original New Left who rejected capitalism and Soviet-style state capitalism.

Also impressive is the fact that Camus saw the Russian Nihilists as exemplary revolutionaries who were willing to die for their assassinations. Essentially giving a life for a life in an even exchange. All of which keeps me advocating non-violent action as the rational course.
In modern terms, what does this make suicide bombers, exemplars or tools of others' violence?

El Cabrero said...

Hi Mike,
I'm with you--"neither victims nor executioners" is about the best we can hope to be.

What I got out of The Rebel and the discussions of nihilists is that rebellion sometimes mutates into a homicidal form and betrays the original impules of saying "No" to injustice.

There's a recent book, Terrorism and Liberalism by Paul Berman that looks at contemporary terrorism through Camus' lense. I don't agree with his whole argument but it is pretty interesting.