Thursday, May 14, 2020

Streetcars (Albert Camus)

The Plague:
During all the late summer and throughout the autumn there could daily be seen moving along the road skirting the cliffs above the sea a strange procession of passengerless streetcars swaying against the skyline. The residents in this area soon learned what was going on. And though the cliffs were patrolled day and night, little groups of people contrived to thread their way unseen between the rocks and would toss flowers into the open trailers as the cars went by. And in the warm darkness of the summer nights the cars could be heard clanking on their way, laden with flowers and corpses.

(Translation by Stuart Gilbert)
The hardest part of The Plague to read at the moment is the chapter in which the narrator recounts the increasingly desperate measures the authorities in Oran resort to in order to dispose of the mounting number of victims. Individual graveside ceremonies — simplified a bit, to be sure, as a concession to public hygiene — give way in time to furtive disposal in a common pit. Thus far it hasn't gotten that bad here, but the very image gnaws away at our complacency. Few notions horrify us more.

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