Plagued: Misreading Camus in the Age of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Review of Camus's The Plague in the New York Times Book Review, August 1948
Right behind Covid-19, Camus fever has recently been sweeping the world, followed closely by new calls for social reform. I recently took a few hours off from writing my forthcoming book, The Algerian Dream, to pen this response to those trends. Update (June 9): A revised and expanded version of this article has just been published at Middle East Eye. Read it in full there. (Une traduction en français est également disponible. Cliquez ici pour lire.) Excerpt below:

Dark times call for great literature. At least that’s what the world’s newspaper editors and literati would have us believe.

Since the coronavirus pandemic emerged as a global menace earlier this spring, seemingly every publication on the planet has run an article comparing our times to that of Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague—and recommending the book as a parable for our troubled times.

Last month, Steve Coll took his turn in the pages of the New Yorker. Alongside praise for Camus’ resistance to the Nazi occupation of France, Coll describes the author as a model of lucid rationality in crisis: “That Camus, writing in the mid-nineteen-forties, could conjure with such clarity, during an epidemic, a political morality that advocates for factual reporting, medical science, and public-health regimens seems astonishing.”

Rendering Algerians invisible

In an age when conspiracy theories run rampant online, and the US president peddles pseudo-science and snake oil from the Oval Office, Coll is right to champion a model anchored in reason. But is there no higher bar towards which we should strive today? A critical factor omitted by Camus and many of his modern admirers suggests an answer. ...

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