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[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.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”