Camus and COVID-19: What would Camus suggest for the situation at hand…
Albert Camus was a mid-20th century French Algerian philosopher, although he denied being that at many instances in his 46 years of lifetime. He called himself an artist and not an ‘existential philosopher’ as many believed him to be, especially after the event which was dubbed as ‘the major Political-Intellectual divide of Cold war era’, when Camus and Sartre discontinued to be together on both intellectual and political grounds, by the ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ in the essay on Camus. Why did this happen is a topic for another essay twice the size. Camus, although rejected the ‘existentialism’ as a philosophy, he was fundamentally an existentialist and he asked the best existential question of the 20th century,
“There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide”.
Camus in his lifetime wrote many different novels and philosophical essays that questions the meaning of existence and answered this seemingly philosophical question with an anti-philosophical approach. He rejected to follow the notion of rationality and upheld the human spirit of being wondrous with experience, with the only problem being the lack of Camus’ belief in the existence of any answer itself. He called this paradoxical argument - the absurdity of the meaning of existence. The best depiction of this comes not through any argument but from an allegory of the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was ordained to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to lose it when he gains the top. He had to keep the stone rolling till eternity. Camus says we must imagine Sisyphus as happy when we question the meaning of our existence and still fail miserably to do answer it. We must cope with the knowledge of absurdity and triumph the constant possibility of hopelessness. Camus saw reasons to stay alive by adorning the reveries of normal life. He called his philosophy as a ‘lucid invitation to live and to create in the very midst of a desert’.
One of his most astonishing and highly acclaimed novel, ‘The Plague’, resembles the situation we’re facing in these difficult times. Oran is a town south of Algiers where this story takes place. The leading doctors of the town notice a serious amount of death among mice. The city reeks with the smell of dead rats and the pile of dead bodies keeps rising for weeks. It doesn’t take long for the plague to take its first human life and no longer to spread across the whole town killing more than half the population. Dr Rieux is the leading character of this novel who is much like Camus himself. He enjoys the pleasures of normal life; is a romantic fellow; loves his mother; likes to play sport; and above all, feels compassion and empathy for the human spirit. He suggests a solution to the problem early in the time to restrict the spread of the disease, but to no avail. Even after that, he is constantly introspecting every decision he makes and regards every person with the same seriousness. His calm demeanor throughout the story can at times be chilling. But his love for fellow humans never cease.
Camus suggests us to love one another. The normalcy now in no longer the normal we knew; circumstances may have changed, but our capacity to love could only increase. Camus believed we’re already living in a Plague that perpetually will lead us to our end by the realization of the meaninglessness of it all. However, the meaning isn’t what we live for. It’s the love of the world that makes you draw another breath.
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