The Perfect Anywhere for the Historically Unthinkable To Happen

Light of Truth

Camus published The Plague in June 1947, three years after the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. It is allegory of Nazi Occupation, the brown plague, and Communism, the red plague, in the 20th Century. The Plague spreads in an Algerian city called Oran. Exiting his office one morning, our protagonist Dr Rieux pauses to note that a dead rat ‘was out of place’ on the landing outside his door. Something “out of place” or “misplaced” connotes impropriety and breached expectations. Such a judgment exemplifies how place “combines the spatial with the social”. Oran is ‘a town without pigeons, without trees, and without gardens.’ The unequivocal anaphora continues slightly later, as we learn that Oran is ‘without charm, without plants, and without soul.’ Rieux and Tarrou’s immersion shares with common understandings of baptism the rite’s symbolic power to bind together in community, as it seals their ‘friendship’, Sea-bathing,’ has all the makings of a secular communion and baptism. The plague poses the question of the foundations of the only community that matters, that of the ‘ exiled.’ Indeed, provided that ‘exiled’ in most cases it was exile at home.’ Traditional places of rest like houses and bedrooms become, “heterotopias of deviation”. Just as Oran functions as a particular site and a microcosm, its evil both specific and generalized, so too the confinement it imposes lays bare both physical and metaphysical exile. The city’s aforementioned spatial orientation and culture indicate exile long before the plague. Inhabitants live however unknowingly separated outwardly from the surrounding sea and desert and inwardly from “the sensitivity, complexity, and interiority” that constitute what for Camus it means to be human.

‘It will no doubt be said that these habits are not unique to our town and that, in short, all our contemporaries are like this.’ In this way, Oran becomes “the perfect ‘anywhere’ for ‘the historically unthinkable to happen.’ While a precise setting for a specific epidemic, Oran thus becomes an archetypal, “mythic” place confronting a generalized evil.Dr. Rieux thinks that Oran really needs is “An earthquake! A big one!”

There is a moving passage from the novel in which Dr. Rieux indicates that “callousness and apathy” in society are less problematic than misguided heroism. “The evil that is in the world always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole, men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant and that is what we call vice or virtue; 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.” Under the sky without heaven, priests “have placed everything in God’s care. ‘Each of us carries the plague within himself.”’

The corona virus pandemic has started from a Communist land, it has become most destructive in developed countries. The people in such Western countries remain helpless victims of fate without any security of health and welfare. We are seeing third phase of West’s globalization, first it was globalization of war in the I and II world wars, the second was the globalization of the market or the self-interest. We are in the third globalization of plague and death. We were living in a way preparing the ground for the historically unthinkable to happen. It is time we rethink our social living and our spiritual life. “Most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking – not even yet, although the state of the world is becoming constantly more thought-provoking?” There is danger of “incalculable harm, a potential for unrestrained brutishness” inherent in journalistic anonymity and public nonentity for, even if violence or turmoil exists, as long as actual people can be confronted face to face there is at least the possibility of restraint, responsibility and accountability.“The essential thing was to save the greatest possible number of persons from dying and being doomed to separation. And to do this there was only one resource: to fight the plague. There was nothing admirable about this attitude; it was merely logical,” Wrote Camus.The only real crime is that of having a heart approved of something that killed off men, women, and children. “The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never-ending attention of the mind, to avoid such lapses.”

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