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September 25, 2009

Today was an off day. It happens. On the ride over to the library I was telling myself–repeatedly, deliberately– that taking yourself too seriously when you’re upset is no less silly than taking yourself too seriously when you’re happy. I’m not sure if that even makes sense, but it sounds wise. I’m in the kind of mood in which I can’t be too picky. No rules–anything goes!

At some point in highschool–I think it was late Junior year or early Senior year–I’d remind myself of a passage in the Plague by Albert Camus so as to snap out of whatever shitty mindset I was in. Or to at least acknowledge that my sullenness was temporary. At the time that I read this book, I’d highlight a lot, so I’m gonna grab the book and see if I can find said passage. Apparently yellow hilighter sucks (all but completely faded), whereas blue pink and orange are all equally good. So I couldn’t find the passage that I was thinking of. To be honest, I don’t even have a clue as to what happened in it. In its stead, I’ll post two other passages. (In case you are unfamiliar with the book, here’s some context (thanks to Wikipedia):

The Plague (Fr. La Peste) is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947, that tells the story of medical workers finding solidarity in their labour as the Algerian city of Oran is swept by a plague epidemic. It asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace.

The novel is believed to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage of Oran’s population in 1849 following French colonization, but the novel is placed in the 1940s. Oran and its environs were struck by disease multiple times before Camus published this novel. According to a research report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oran was decimated by the plague in 1556 and 1678, but outbreaks after European colonization, in 1921 (185 cases), 1931 (76 cases), and 1944 (95 cases), were very far from the scale of the epidemic described in the novel.

The Plague is considered an existentialist classic despite Camus’ objection to the label. The narrative tone is similar to Kafka’s, especially in The Trial, where individual sentences potentially have multiple meanings, the material often pointedly resonating as stark allegory of phenomenal consciousness and the human condition. Camus included a dim-witted character misreading The Trial as a mystery novel as an oblique homage. The novel has been read as ametaphorical treatment of the French resistance to Nazi occupation during World War II.

Although Camus’s approach in the book is severe, his narrator emphasizes the ideas that we ultimately have no control, irrationality of life is inevitable, and he further illustrates the human reaction towards the ‘absurd’. The Plague represents how the world deals with the philosophical notion of the Absurd, a theory which Camus himself helped to define.)

Here are the passages I found (I have “the Modern Library College Editions” edition, which Stuart Gilbert translate from the original French):

“Even the past, of which they thought incessantly, had a savor only of regret. For they would have wished to add to it all that they regretted having left undone, while they might yet have done it, with the man or woman whose return they now awaited; just as in all the activities, even the relatively happy ones, of their life as prisoners they kept vainly trying to include the absent one. And thus there was always something missing in their lives. Hostile to the past, impatient of the present, and cheated of the future, we were much like those whom men’s justice, or hatred, forces to live behind prison bars. Thus the only way of escaping from that intolerable leisure was to set the trains running in one’s imagination and in filling the silence with the fancied tinkle of a doorbell, in practice obstinately mute.” -p.67 Yea, I bolded that shit.

“Till four in the morning one is seldom doing anything and at that hour, even if the night has been a night of betrayal, one is asleep. Yes, everyone sleeps at that hour, and this is reassuring, since the great longing of an unquiet heart is to possess constantly and consciously the loved one, or, failing that, to be able to plunge the loved one, when a time of absence intervenes, into a dreamless sleep timed to last unbroken until the day they meet again.” -p.102

Sentences like “[this book] represents how the world deal with the philosophical notion of the Absurd” from the Wikipedia summary are funny. Freshman year a classmate of mine wrote a paper that opened with something like “A situation in which the bad outweighs the good is considered unfavorable; on the other hand, a situation in which the good outweighs the bad is considered favorable.” Our professor liked this. Actually, he liked it so much that his comments include something like “You clearly have a mastery of the English language.” Right. So, honoring that tradition, I will produce my own authoritative reading (with smaller words): the Plague says don’t give up.


Perhaps one could argue that a worthwhile, nuanced reading of a book would undoubtedly require many qualifications and elaborations, indeed, many more sentences, paragraphs, and pages–but, um, let’s be honest: “nuanced reading” is not the tradition that I happen to be honoring at the moment.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. maryam permalink
    October 14, 2009 5:18 AM

    saeid, thanks for reminding me of the plague. i miss reading, especially reading books that end up becoming special to me… but i digress… yes i agree.
    don’t give up.


  1. LOVE/ALWAYS « thefictionalsaeidedward

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