President-elect Donald Trump swung to new heights in the era of the coronavirus refused medical supplies sent to Cuba. Other leaders, too, have shown authoritarian and unsympathetic sides as the world now faces its greatest crisis since World War II. In my growing thirst for heroism and humanism, I seek solace in literature.
A breathtakingly fresh edition of Albert Camus' legendary novel plague lies ahead of me. It sells well in the hard-hit countries of France and Italy. But is there really something to "learn" from a 1947 novel? Or does attention to the new release just become "hype" because the action at certain points is similar to what we are experiencing today: quarantine, closure of cities, hopelessness, violent death struggle and lungs that "puncture"?
The plague settles in the lungs, but here are no respirators, just spitting blood.
The rats are coming
In the novel, it begins with rats. They crawl along the streets, houses, shops and trams in the city of Oran in Algeria. Then people start to get sick, with swollen lymph glands and fever. The plague settles in the lungs, but here are no respirators, just spitting blood. The corpses are growing. Mass graves are needed. They know this now, in New York and in Northern Italy.
We follow the doctor and storyteller Rieux and some of his relatives. There are closed borders, animal time, parties, frivolity, madness and funerals. We go on sick visits, overhear conversations, there are people who come and go, some who want to escape, but still stay. Finally one day the nightmare is over.
Camus was one Blackfoot, a "black foot," as they were called, a descendant of white, French settlers. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. The Nobel Committee justified the award that Camus's literary production "very clearly enlightens the human conscience of our time".
Plus plague it was novels like The stranger og The fall which earned him world fame.
White man for a white audience?
The Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said (1935–2003), known to the book Orientalism (1978, published in Norwegian in 1994), Camus criticized for having a look at colonialism. IN plague there are hardly any Arabs with independent names and characters. The main characters are usually white French.
There are Arabs dying in plague also, but we do not see them. But Camus was translated into Arabic and read and taken into account that a revolution was in place. He was an intellectual model and wrote a number of articles against French colonialism and for independence.
The plague as allegory
However, that is not what Algeria Camus is writing about. The outbreak of disease has been added to the Algerian city of Oran, yes. But it could have originated anywhere, or given an external geographical framework from somewhere else. What occurs in this city can be read as a gloomy account of human folly and idiocy.
The plague has been interpreted as an allegory of Nazism, published only two after the frenzy of war.
plague has been interpreted as an allegory of Nazism, published only two after World War II frenzy. If so, this can be read as a settlement against the war in Europe. Perhaps that is exactly why the Arabs are "written out" of history? It is mankind's general struggle for freedom, against oppression.
The struggle for freedom
Doctor Rieux writes down the narrative to "at least leave a memory of the injustice and violence they had experienced, and to simply say what one learns when one is in the midst of disaster, that it is more to admire than to despise in humans" .
Camus' warning at the end of the novel is clear: A plague bacterium never dies. It lies dormant, for decades after decades. The bacteria are in basements, in beds and in clothes. There comes a day when the rats are awakened and returned to die, in a happy city. As in Oran. Or as in Oslo, or in Odda.
Fairness as a remedy
Doctor Rieux can neither be called a dreamer nor an idealist, and he has little to do with religion. But he is fair. He does his job. He is to be trusted. It's enough to make sense of him in life.
Camus and his contemporaries, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, were close friends, but eventually fell into each other's tits. Idealist Sartre believed that Camus' existentialism became too private. He was not systemic enough for the revolutionary Sartre, who believed that heaven on earth was a political project.
Where are we in Norway today, in the midst of the "plague time"? Bent Høie has done a strong and good job, just like the doctor Rieux. And many other doctors and nurses and politicians do the same. We need them. We should pay tribute to them so we can pay tribute to Camus' work. But in my opinion, we also need those who think like Sartre, who want to build something bigger.
We must go a step further from Rieux's good work ethic. We must have an expanded social ethic.
The humanists are among those who die first.
This is the sixth release in Solum Bokvenenens Camus series with his most important work in new translation. plague was translated by Christine Amadou, and the language glides seamlessly and is a clear modernization and improvement of the latest Norwegian release in Norwegian from Aschehoug in 1997.
Camus's literary warning applies to all of us. He writes: “Still, people are always just as surprised in the face of war as well as plague. In this area, our fellow citizens were like everyone else, they thought of themselves, in other words they were humanists. They didn't believe in disasters. "
As long as there are disasters, no one will ever be free.
The humanists are among the first to die, Camus writes, because they have not taken any precautions.
It can be difficult to follow Camus here. But this is related to his concept of freedom. There are several disasters, and as long as we have disasters, no one will ever be free. I interpret the Camus dithen that we are responsible for predicting such disasters. And to act so that they do not arise. We have a personal responsibility.
Such disasters may include inequality, authoritarian and totalitarian boards, oversight, and proposed far-reaching exceptions, President Donald Trump stopping drug shipments to Cuba and attempting to hijack viral medicine before its completion.
All of this may be part of the modern plague, today's pandemic. If we, the humanists, close our eyes to it and keep silent, we too are accomplices.