Cloister Commentary, Day 176: Dr. Rieux’s Neighborhood

The other day, I had a Facebook exchange with an old friend about reading during this pandemic–it’s difficult, because it’s hard to concentrate for numerous reasons. Even I, who reads 4-5 books at a time, sometimes with ugly noise cranked on the stereo, find myself living out Lou Reed’s words, which haunt me: “Every time you try to read a book / You can’t get to page 17.” But…it’s essential to hunker down. It pays off. I think Pynchon once wrote that the key to our current problems is in the literature of the past; Faulkner wrote that the past isn’t gone, it isn’t even past; and I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t keep reading, because I’ve lately vowed that I’m not arguing politics or history with anyone who isn’t well-(widely, omnivorously, deeply, compassionately)read. If you’re going to be well-read, you can’t ever stop plumbing the wisdom of our sages.

Case in point: a passage I read yesterday in Albert Camus’ The Plague, a book I’m re-reading after first feeling it rock my world in Winter 1983 in a “philosophy in literature” class at what was then called Southwest Missouri State (this is from Stuart Gilbert’s 1948 translation):

Dr. Rieux: “[S]ince the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence…?

Tarrou: “…Yes. But your victories will never be lasting; that’s all….”

Rieux: “Yes, I know that. But it’s no reason for giving up the struggle.”

Tarrou: “No reason, I agree. Only, I now picture what this plague must mean to you.”

Rieux: “Yes. A never-ending defeat.”

This may seem grim, but it can also seem (in fact, I think it is) heroic. The plague in question is both literal and figurative. You really should read it–a new translation is due out soon.

Elsewhere in the day, Nicole cooked an amazing pan of baked chili poblanos, and we, still on a Beatles wave, watched the very McCartneycentric Yesterday (hell, he could have written it). It was cute, and we both enjoyed it.

Streaming for Survivors:

Who says there ain’t no decent hip-hop anymore?

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