Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 2, 2020

The word “plague” is spoken for the first time in today’s pages. So interesting to see Rieux wrestling with his own consciousness, calming himself down, talking himself out of his darkest thoughts, all filtered through the narrator who knows everything that is about to happen. I’m struck by the talk of the historical plagues – that amazing list of ancient images that run through Rieux’s head – and the comparison between a “known” death and a statistic. Rieux attempting to imagine what 10k dead looks like (“five times the audience in a large theater”). “When one has fought a war, one hardly knows any more what a dead person is. And if a dead man has no significance unless one has seen him dead, a hundred million bodies spread through history are just a mist drifting through the human imagination.” This feels so very relevant to today, as more of us in today’s moment come to know the personal toll of our current plague, and see the conversation shifting back and forth between the personal and the statistical. And Rieux’s conclusion seems one that many healthcare providers are also, I imagine, finding comfort in, when they can: “This was certainty: everyday work. The rest hang by threads and imperceptible movements; one could not dwell on it.” 

FOR TOMORROW: read next 7 or so pages, ending with “…was turning her face to him.” 

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2 thoughts on “Narrative Medicine Book Club: April 2, 2020

  1. Anne C.

    I had so many things highlighted throughout these pages but the one that made me laugh out loud was “Stupidity has a knack of getting its way: as we should see if we were not always so wrapped up in ourselves.” Seems that we humans just don’t learn – what was true then is true now. Then Camus proceeds to condemn the townspeople for being so wrapped up that they are “humanists:they disbelieved in pestilences.” I was confused by this as in my understanding a humanist is a progressive thinker who believes in human welfare and dignity, which is not such a bad thing. However Camus equates this with arrogance and superiority. Because our failure is in thinking that “a pestilence isn’t a thing made to man’s measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind’, which of course eventually will in fact kill us and of course the humanists will die first. The narrator provides us with more opinions of the nature of humankind and prepares the reader for the inevitability of doom. I contrast this with Dr R, who still is exploring the historical facts and then absurdly says to himself that it is “a waste of time”, he just needs to do his job. Now I think this is the “argument” that Camus wants us to consider – what is a waste of time? Earlier the policeman says he wasted an hour on visiting the patient who attempted suicide. What else is a waste of time?


  2. Patricia D

    I am reading both French and English versions of the book and sometimes the original differs from the translation. In French, Camus states, “humanistes: ils ne croyainet pas aux fleaux i.e., humanists do not believe in calamities. A few lines later he notes, humanistes “ils n’ont pas pris leur precautions” i.e. first of all, the humanists don’t take preventive measures.


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