No Comment, Quotation — February 9, 2008, 12:00 am

Camus’s Plague

[L]e docteur Rieux décida alors de rédiger le récit qui s’achève ici, pour ne pas être de ceux quise taisent, pour témoigner en faveur de ces pestiférés, pour laisser de moins un souvenir de l’injustice et de la violence qui leur avaient été faites, et pour dire simplement ce qu’on apprend au milieu des fléaux, qu’il y a dans les homes plus de choses à admirer que de choses à mépriser. . .

[I]l savait ce que cette foule en joie ignorait, et qu’on peut lire dans les livres, que le bacilli de la peste ne meurt ni disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans les meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambers, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le Malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats et les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse.

Doctor Rieux thus resolved to compile this chronicle which you find before you in order not to number among those who keep quiet, in order to bear witness in favor of those who suffer the plague, in order that some memorial would exist of the injustice and the violence which had been inflicted upon them. He wanted quite simply to record what one learns in the midst of the pestilence, namely that there are more things to admire about human beings than to despise. . .

He knew what this happy crowd did not know, but what it could have learned from books: the plague baccilus never dies nor disappears for good, that it may rest dormant for dozens of years in furniture, in furnishings, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day will come when to the misfortune or enlightenment of humanity, the plague will again bestir its rats and send them forth to die in a happy city.

Albert Camus, La peste, bk v (1947) in Albert Camus Théâtre, Récits et Nouvelles (Pléiade ed. 1967), pp. 1473-74 (S.H. transl.)

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(1) To need his glasses and be struck by an awareness that they are not at hand, an ordinary enough circumstance for Frederick Douglass, except sometimes it’s accompanied by a flash of extraordinary dread. If not quite panic, certainly an unease disproportionate to a simple recurring situation. Dread that may be immediately extinguished if he locates his horn-rimmed, owlish-eyed spectacles exactly where he anticipated they should be. He sees them and almost sighs. Nearly feels their slightly uncomfortable weight palpable on his nose. Finding the glasses enough to reassure him that he remains here among the living in this material …
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