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Random, unpredictable, and inevitable...oh my!

AnnaP's picture

In Anne Dalke’s discussion section, we talked about the last paragraph of The Plague in relation to what we’ve read so far. Many people in the class saw the last sentence as challenging our agency. People seemed troubled by the idea that, no matter what we do, the rats will rise up again – randomly, unpredictably, and inevitably. So what do we do? How do we create things and feel good if we think that no matter what we do, bad things are going to keep happening?

I wonder if this is a little bit like our worries about the Library of Babel. A lot of people were alarmed by the idea that, somewhere out there, everything they might think or do might already exist out there as a possibility. I personally don’t feel that either scenario really takes away from our agency, because I figure that either way we are going to keep on trucking and doing our best. Sure, the rats are going to come back, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a better understanding for fighting them off next time.

On a more pleasant and entirely unrelated note, I would like to offer up a really great website that Professor Dalke directed me to after I told her I was interested in comics: Scott McCloud has not only written very successful comics, but has also written a book about writing comics in comic form (metanarrative!).



ckosarek's picture

Trauma and Camus

 I'm wondering if the repetitive quality of the rats appearing could be construed not only as a metaphor for agency, but also as a metaphor for for the ways that humans gravitate toward the familiar. In an essay I read by Bessel A. van der Kolk, a psychiatrist and trauma specialist, the idea that in the face of tragedy humans may cling to what is predictable and comfortable is explored. Though the predictable may not be the most logical or, in some cases, may worsen a situation, people will hang on to what they know because what they don't know - further traumas, more unpredictability - is too difficult to confront. 

In Camus' novel, we see the people carrying on as normally as possible with the appearance of the rats. Could it be that the trauma/presence of the rats takes away people's agency to break out of their norm and adjust their routines to ones that could be safer? If humans act in certain ways in the presence of past-known stressors, then what does that do to agency? Is agency anything but an illusion, and (in the case that it is), does that prove the existence of Babel?

alexandrakg's picture

Re: Trauma and Camus

Perhaps when people carried on their regular routine, it was them trying to exercise some control over their situation, something along the line of "what you don't know can't hurt you."  Perhaps in some sort of strange logic, they thought it they ignored this disturbing phenomenon long enough, it would simply go away, or perhaps they thought if they acted like everything was normal long enough, everything would then return back to normal.  In a way, this is partially true.  The only thing these people had control over anymore was their own actions and through their own routines they maintained normalcy in the only way that they could.  People fear change, especially harmful change.  I think Camus' message is less about inevitability and more about how one should act.  Everything changes, good or bad, and trying to suppress change will only make things worse.

KT's picture

Carpe Diem

I viewed the ending as a call to make the most of the present. You never know when the rats are going to come again, so live and do what you want to do now before your time is up. Really, life itself is a bit of a plague because everyone is going to die eventually and unpredictably. When Dr. Rieux goes to see his asthma patient with the peas, the man comments, “You’d almost think they expected to be given medals for it [the plague]. But what does that mean-‘plague’? Just life, no more than that.”[p.307]

I think the reason that Thomas Kurton, in “Generosity,” had so much trouble with Camus’ ending is because Kurton wanted to control life through discovering genes that result in predictable outcomes. As with the plague, and despite our efforts to the contrary, life isn’t always predictable and controlled.

hlehman's picture

Living with the plague

 I’m very intrigued by this idea that “each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it” (253). I was instantly struck by Tarrou’s insight on the plague when he states, “that’s why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death” (253). I think that this quote affected me because I am not one of those people who refuse to be “plague stricken.” I can see the weariness that Tarrou describes in people every day and although at times I think I try to fight the plague/ get upset and work hard against things that are beyond my control, for the most part I am at ease with my disease. I think that even though it is kind of scary and depressing that we all have the “plague” within us, I also find comfort in it. That really no one is perfect and since the only way to be free from our “disease” is to die, we really don’t need to sweat the small stuff- it is just the effect of the plague and fighting for a cure will simply hurt you more. If you learn to live with the plague of life, however, appreciate the good things, make the best of every situation, and live each day the best you can, the plague won’t be so bad and you’ll hardly notice it.  

ib4walrus's picture

The real plague

For me the real plague that I think Camus is writing (and warning) about is the one within ourselves like you mention.  The bacillus plague brought on by the rats was just a device used in order to highlight the issues "plaguing" our society.  Looking specifically at the reaction (or lack of) at the beginning of this horrendous spectacle, the fact that most of the citizens were not alarmed was an indication of their reluctance to acknowledge an event that would disturb their lives.  In this sense their lack of action is actually their active resistance against their fears.  For instance, M. Michel's attempt to rationalize an irrational phenomena (claiming that delinquents were planting the mangled rats) is a defense used in order to maintain his sense of security.  The individualistic lives of the townspeople and their concern with only themselves may be what Camus warns us to try and fight against.  We are a sociable species and should require cooperation from one another in times of distress.  Without the sense of community, we would be nothing. 

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