‘There still exist towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling of something different. In general it doesn’t change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that’s so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern.’
Like so many towns today. Here’s Albert Camus writing in 1947 and ringing more relevant than ever. His novel The Plague is about more than the plague sweeping the town of Oran. The slow viral pages we turn today are about so much more than Covid-19. They are about us.
An inkling of something different, an intimation. The original French word is soupçon, a suspicion. Do we suspect anything happening, moving, beating under the skin of our daily routine? Probably not, just like we don’t suspect to have lungs until our parents and schoolteachers start telling us about them and we see them diagrammed in illustrated science books.
The Covid-19 crisis is forcing us to rediscover our existential lungs, those we don’t always know we have, and to draw near to unsuspected sources of joy. To grope in the dark of this late hour for the lamp under the bed and to put it back on the table.
Make no mistake, Camus’s Plague is a mirrored image of our present mess. He’s seen and written it all, from A to Z, the passage from surprise to panic, the incredulity, the illusion that we’d be spared, the provocative carelessness, the confinement, isolation and separation, the bad dream and the reality of the nightmare, the insufficiency of protective measures, the overwhelmed hospitals, the quarantine centres, the self-exile, the funerals without ceremony, the thickness of time face-to-face with the outside enemy.
And yet, we are to put our ear to the ground and listen to the faint whisper of something different.