Search the KHIT Blog

Saturday, May 23, 2020

"A malevolent holiday"

From Harper's Magazine, Easy Chair column (paywalled):

“Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky,” writes Camus in his 1947 novel The Plague, as translated by Stuart Gilbert. He continues: “There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” A masterpiece of European postwar fiction, The Plague offers a uniquely clear, forceful, and meticulous account of the states and stages of inertia, ignorance, denial, learned helplessness, and—when we’re at our best—resistance that we pass through as we’re confronted with an evil as efficient as it is incomprehensible…

…For Camus, the question of sickness, of life’s two irreducible teams—pestilences and victims—and of the Sisyphean struggle for meaning in a godless, absurdly indifferent universe, was always quite literal. He worked on the book for six eventful years: first in Oran, then in the French Alpine village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, where he went to treat his tuberculosis, and afterward in Paris, during the Resistance, distilling into fiction his painstaking research on the history of plagues in Europe and Asia. Taken at face value as a work of extraordinary and exhaustive insight into the fundamental conditions of living under biological pestilence—and in this way contrary to Judt—The Plague does in fact offer a considerable number of lessons.

A pandemic, if you are fortunate enough not to be hospitalized or killed by it, wears you down by other, more subtle measures. It administers, by a thousand cuts, a kind of spiritual and psychological incapacitation. It sends you away on a malevolent holiday, open-ended, enough to make you crave the rhythms and ardors of labor. By stripping you of the most basic knowledge that the world will remain predictable, stable in the morning, it makes you all too aware of just how good you once had it—and that no such assurance was ever promised to you in the first place. Indeed, one of the key insights of The Plague is its emphasis on the fundamental fragility of all human arrangements, and the concomitant inability of most people to acknowledge this tenuousness until it is far too late for meaningful collective action. (Beyond the particular menace of the coronavirus, this is ultimately what is so terrifying about the climate crisis.) It is our great strength as well as our terrible weakness to live most fully in the past and in the future. But pestilences rob us of the sanctuary of both of these states, forcing us into the totalizing uncertainty and silence of the present. A pandemic, then, is an opportunity, at last, to see ourselves and our condition more clearly. If there is one, this is the virus’s silver lining…

Among my decades-long hardcopy periodicals subscriptions are The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and Harper's. The latter remains primus inter pares.


"Let's say you woke up with a terrible cough, a fever, and severe body aches. Immediately, you rush to the doctor and unfortunately, you’re diagnosed with COVID-19. For the last two weeks, you’ve been unaware that you were infected and you’ve ignored "the rules." You've gotten together with some close friends for pizza, had a few people over, even visited a park and a beach. You figured, 'I don’t feel sick. I have the right to keep living my normal life. No one can tell me what to do.'

With your diagnosis, you spend the next few days at home on the couch, feeling pretty crappy; but then you’re well again because you’re young, healthy and strong. Lucky you.

But your best friend caught it from you during a visit to your house, and because she didn't know she was contagious, she visited her 82-year-old grandfather, who uses oxygen tanks daily to help him breathe because he has COPD and heart failure. Now, he’s dead.

Your co-worker, who has asthma, caught it too, during your little pizza get-together. Now, he’s in the ICU, and he's spread it to a few others in his family, too--but they won't know that for another couple of weeks yet.

The cashier at the restaurant where you picked up the pizza carried the infection home to his wife, who has MS, which makes her immunosuppressed. She’s not as lucky as you, so she’s admitted to the hospital because she’s having trouble breathing. She may need to be placed in a medically-induced coma and intubated; she may not get to say goodbye to her loved ones. She may die surrounded by machines, with no family at her bedside.

All because you couldn't stand the inconvenience of a mask; of staying home; of changing your familiar routines for just a little while. Because you have the right, above all others’ rights, to continue living your normal life and no one, I mean no one, has the right to tell you what to do.”

     — Anonymous

More to come...

No comments:

Post a Comment