Finished The Plague, by Albert Camus last week. It knocked me out for a couple days, had to set it down. Them sitting around like saints, maybe angels, while the child dies. As I remember it’s one of their associates, a magistrate or something. He writes it so clearly, meaning it feels very real, palbable, atmospheric. You empathize, if you let yourself. This is what’s happened to million of other children through history, now sit there. Not just plagues either, flus, infections, swollen hungry bellies, lead, heat and contamination ripped from the atoms.
Don’t know what you know about Camus. I have a some vague impression and detailI. Refreshing with the Wikipedia, you get highlights of the extraordinary character. He was a French philosopher and writer. Football lover, Communist, Anarchist, Philanderer, dedicated to the Craft, a scoundrel. Advocated something’s called “absurdism”, which I bet is connected to that whole death thing. The factor that we are faced with our great demise, but we just keep on in this absurd spectacle of human society, i.e. The World.
I wondered in the previous reflections with The Plague, when I had connected writing and reading, the point that Art is a pretty insane and a telling human response to death and evil. And in its insanity, it helps you stay sane, paradox abounds. But yes, I wondered if I was just bullshitting, being narcassitic and making it about my own writing process. And then I got to this wonderful bit in The Plague:
Actually neither Rieux nor Tarrou had ever gathered the impression that those avenues were “flowery,” but Grand’s conviction on the subject shook their confidence in their memories. He was amazed at their uncertainty. “It’s only artists who know how to use their eyes,” was his conclusion. But one evening the doctor found him in a state of much excitement. For “flowery” he had substituted “flower-strewn.” He was rubbing his hands. “At last one can see them, feel them! Hats off, gentleman!” Triumphantly he read out the sentence:
“One fine morning in May a slim young horsewoman might have been seen riding a sorrel mare along the flower-strewn avenues of the Bois de Boulogne.”
But, spoken aloud, the numerous “s” sounds had a disagreeable effect and Grand stumbled over them, lisping here and there. He sat down, crestfallen; then he asked the doctor if he might go. Some hard thinking lay ahead of him. (136)
The men are members of a Plague squad, and one of them is hyper-focused on a poem. I believe for a loved one. In context of the novel he reads a tad off, a sentimentalist, but maybe that’s a bit of projection. But there it is, Camus got it, us sharing the experience of Literature, all this is absurd, weird . Putting your ass in a seat and watching people dressed up in costumes is absurd, insane. It’s fantastical, smacks of the other-worldly. It is illusion and delusion, and once discovered can never be pried from the practitioner’s hand.
I finished The Plague. Sat there in the death with Rieux and Tarrou on the balcony, across from the man who no longer spit on the cats. And the insane, sane man that broke at the end, while the festivities were full steam. And Dr. Rieux, and how he continues on, with a cold strength of Rationalism. But that only gets us so far. It’s his Mother, who sit there through the night as Tarrou dies, a final offering to The Plague that saves him. Where a sane man would run, they will finish it out.
Strange correlative real-life percolation with the text. Been on a mouse war at the farm house, which mirrors the symbol of the rats in The Plague. Had to snuff out one who had got half clobbered by a trap the other night. A bad domestic omen if there ever was one. But then this weekend, I had a great productive farm day. In about six months we went from suburban home to functioning homestead. That means berry bushes, rhubarb, asparagus, four fruit trees, chickens; I’ve done my owns starts of tomatoes, peppers, sorrel, cucumbers, hyssop, lemon balm, basil; I’m now planting and working close to half an acre of dirt, with sixty lbs of potatoes planted, sixty tomato plants, sweet peas, salads, collared greens, onions, and everything else! Turkeys! We’re ordering fifteen in two weeks! Point being, I stand there the most absurd because I genuinely enjoy life. Most the time anyway. Moreover I demand Truth. I won’t look away from the Abyss. Don’t blink. You must stare it dead in the eye. No, I blink and you will too, but I will breathe too and I stay strong; I know it’s there.
But it screams and withers away in sunlight, when your hands go diving in the dirt. When you dance, or hold somebody your love, or gently place a beautiful tomato plant which you tended for five weeks into the ground, and will cherish its seed for years. Spit into the abyss. Stand in the rain. Do you know you can do that as it drops buckets? You’ll steam.
On to Houdini: The Man Who Walked Through Walls by William Lindsay Gresham. Maybe that’s the secret of the weekend farm push. Starving artist, spiritualism, psycholinguistic magic tricks. More going on then you can get ahold of. Just got to keep your eyes open, that’s all.