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No doubt that the whole Covid-19 process caused drastic changes in each of our lives. I still don’t know and probably will never be able to know the truth behind it whether it was a hand made thing, an accident, or a warning call from nature. Call it whatever you like, the year 2020 will be never forgotten. Certainly, a thrilling granted story to be told later to our grandkids, don’t you think?

This wasn’t the first time that the world faced such an outbreak. And probably, one of the reasons why people immersed themselves in the history of plagues and epidemics at this particular time. The book ‘La Peste’ which translates as ‘The Plague’, written by Albert Camus gained its popularity for some obvious reasons instantaneously during the outbreak. I decided to reread the book hoping to find some answers which pertained to the despairing moments of my quarantine.

A girl looking through the window

La Peste, pretty much describes the situation we are facing now. The book takes us to a slightly fictionalized town of Oran in the Algerian coast where a catastrophic outbreak of a contagious disease starts and later spreads panic and horror in every street. Every day the death count is released, everyone is worried about getting contaminated,  if someone does, the person is isolated.
Nobody can leave the town, and if they do, they could be shot. 

As much as the people living in Oran town before the plague, so are we leading a busy money-centered and denatured, status obsession lives assuming we have been granted immortality. The people of Oran related the plague with something awkward that belongs to another era. They are modern people with phones, trams, airplanes, and newspapers. They are surely not going to die like the other poor creatures. “Yes, everyone knew that, except the death” Camus adds sardonically.

the plague

At the peak of the plague, when countless people a week are dying, one of the Camus’s particular enemy steps into the scene. A Catholic priest called Peneloux.
Peneloux gives a speech in the cathedral of the main square of Oran accusing the plague as god’s punishment for immorality.  Camus points out the part of our human nature: The tendency of seeking meaning. Indeed, we are creatures who need meanings, but in fact, we’re abandoned in a universe full of meaninglessness. 

lost in space

Call it plague, COVID-19…whatever you like, all are dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: we are vulnerable towards the ruthlessness of the universe. Our lives are literally hanged by a thread and we all are fundamentally on the edge of what Albert Camus termed “the absurd”  

Albert Camus is often associated with the idea of existentialism though he did not prefer the term and was rather focused on something he referred to as the absurd or absurdism.

Humans find meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe… It’s the conflict that arises between the need for rationality and the fundamentally chaotic nature of the universe. Sometimes I imagine the universe saying: “Ah, you wish for meaning? Sprinkle sprinkle and, voila: plague, pandemic…” It seems like our need for meaning the universe is totally indifferent towards it. Indeed the whole situation is absurd, and according to Camus, the absurd cannot be negated. This means that we can react to it in two ways:
we can live it or we can escape from it.
What do I mean by that?

thinking man

Albert Camus points to the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus. Sisyphus was the founder and King of Ephyra and was also a quite deceitful person.
He was later punished for pushing a rock uphill which rolls down every time Sisyphus nears it to the top. This process repeats for eternity. Sisyphus existence is so meaningless and hopeless that trying to give to his repetitive action any meaning is totally absurd. Sisyphus becomes conscious of the absurd predicament of life, but yet he keeps pushing the rock at his best.
Despite this hopeless fate faced by Sisyphus, Camus tells us that we should imagine Sisyphus happy so we ourselves can face
the absurdity of life:

“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Albert Camus

According to Camus, this is the time we are capable of living fully once we accept the fact we live in an absurd world. And yet at this moment of self-consciousness and confrontation, we are the happiest.
So maybe the salvation is to not just embrace the absurd, but also revolt against it. Embracing that rock of Sisyphus, and refusing to bow for the pain that life has tossed at us, and still push it at our greatest. 

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
Albert Camus

 

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