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III. Knowing the Path of Sympathy
We have seen, in our analysis of The Plague, how human consciousness when it is confronted by the phenomenon of plague (In all the senses we have used it, including the presence of the absurd), is often shaped by a sense of exile, solitude and suffering. We have also examined how an active resistance to plague can give birth to feelings that create solidarity from solitude, even though solitude as loneliness also can lead to alienation and separateness. We now need to talk more deliberately about the third "certitude" all human beings have in common, according to Rieux- the certitude of love. When we understand a bit more about Camus idea of love we need to move on to what can be won in the combat with plague and how that victory is tied to an ethic of nonviolence. What we can win will be examined in the light of what we learn (knowledge), what we remember (memory), and what we can look forward to (hope). Knowledge, memory and hope will cause us to reflect on the nature of time, especially on our own finiteness. Finally, since as Rieux tells us on the last page of the novel, we could have, unlike the now jubilant crowds of Oran, learned from books as well as from our own experiences that the plague virus never disappears for good, well reflect a little while on books, on works of art like the novel itself. Well see how the act of creation itself is an act of love, a statement and an illustration of reconciliation, an act of nonviolence as well as an act of revolt against the plague, the expression of a longing for the unity only peace can bring.
There is no better place to talk about love than to go back to our unfinished discussion of Joseph Grand. As we stated, Grand is as confronted by the sense of solitude and exile from what is important to him as anyone in the novel, but remains a loving person throughout, showing compassion even for Cottard, and regarding the necessity of fighting against the plague as a simple matter of human decency- "Why, thats not difficult! Plague is here and weve got to make a stand, thats obvious" (Plague, p.134). While tirelessly fighting in the sanitary squads, he continues on the revision of the first sentence of his novel. As we learn, his writing and his resistance activities are not unrelated. Both are inspired by love and by his desire to put into action and words what he feels in his heart. Others like Rieux come to understand Grands loneliness and love for his departed wife, but the real meaning of Grands writing is not revealed to Rieux until he sees Grand looking in the toy shop window, just before Grand falls sick with the plague.
"Tears were steadily flowing down the old fellows cheeks, and they wrung the doctors heart, for he could understand them, and he felt his own tears welling up in sympathy. A picture rose before him of that scene of long ago- the youngster standing in front of another shop-window, like this one dressed for Christmas, and Jeanne turning toward him in a sudden access of emotion and saying how happy she was. He could guess that through the mists of the past years, from the depth of his fond despair, Jeannes young voice was rising, echoing in Grands ears. And he knew, also what the old man was thinking as his tears flowed, and he, Rieux, thought it too; that a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of ones work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart." (Plague, p.261)
Rieuxs compassion for Grand not only puts Rieux in touch with the importance of love, and how the memory of love - Jeannes young voice echoing in Grands ears- gives meaning to the present, but also this compassion simultaneously fills Rieux with sympathy for Grands sorrow, -"and what filled his breast was the passionate indignation we feel when confronted by the anguish all men share." (Plague, p.261) This indignation on Rieux part is a perfect example of Camus phrase, "I rebel, therefore we are." Rebellion, in short, is born of oppression, sometimes our own, but often from our observation of the oppression of others. Camus explains-
"In the absurdist experience suffering is individual, but from the moment a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience....The malady experienced by a single man becomes a mass plague." (Camus, The Rebel, p.22).
After the moment in front of the shop window, Grand is stricken with the plague. He thinks he is going to die and asks Rieux to burn his manuscript. Grand believes that he will die without having found words to express either the love or anguish he feels, but as he gives his manuscript to Tarrou and Rieux, they notice that on the last page, under the latest version of the "month of May" sentence, Grand has finally found the words for which he was searching, words that might have kept his wife from leaving him those many years ago. "My dearest Jeanne, Today is Christmas Day and..." (p.263). These eight words are one of the great expressions of love in the book, and it seems only right that Grand should miraculously recover and then go on both to finish the letter to Jeanne and to continue to work on his book.--"Ive cut out all the adjectives." (p.306) Grand belongs to the group Rieux reflects upon as he walks the streets of the liberated Oran,
"thinking it was only right that those whose desires are limited to man and his humble yet formidable love should enter, if only now and then, into their reward." (Plague, p.301)
Another important comment on love is made through the character of Rambert, the French journalist whose love for his departed lover causes him to go to extreme lengths to escape from Oran. At the outset he rejects Rieuxs notion, that "its an absurd situation, but were all involved in it, and weve got to accept it as it is," by replying, "But I dont belong here." (p.86) Still, he joins one of the sanitary squads while waiting for his escape, and once committed, sees his responsibility and that he perhaps does belong. He struggles between the promise of happiness with his lover and his commitment to the resistance. On p.209 he tells Rieux of his intention to stay in Oran, because he would feel ashamed of himself if he went way. His shame would come from his knowledge that by pursuing his love in Paris, he would be denying his responsibility to others. So a selfish love that excludes love for all human beings is an incomplete one. Rambert is reunited with his lover at the end of the book, and it is significant that she joins him in Oran, rather than having him leave for Paris, for Oran is now his home. "Until now I always felt a stranger in this town," Rambert tells Rieux, "and that Id no concern with you people. But now that Ive seen what I have seen, I know that I belong here whether I want it or not. This business is everybodys business." (pp.209-210)
Another aspect of love is illustrated by Mme. Rieux, Dr. Rieuxs mother. She represents the wordless force of love. While Grand could not find the right words to express his love, she does not apparently need words at all. She rarely talks, yet her presence is extremely important to the novel. Tarrou sees this early on in his notebooks, noting that "a gaze revealing so much goodness of heart would always triumph over plague."(p.116) And the last pages of his journal, written after he has contracted the plague and has been taken into Mme. Rieuxs home and care, are reflections of conversations he has had with her.
"He remarks on the lightness with which she moved from one room to the other; on her kindness-though no precise instances had come to his notice he discerned its gentle glow in all she said and did; on the gift she had of knowing everything without (apparently) taking thought; and lastly, that dim and silent though she was, she quailed before no light, even the garish light of the plague." (The Plague, p.277)
The journal entry ends with Tarrous first reference to his personal life, since Mme. Rieux had reminded him of his own mother, just as Grands tears for his lost wife reminded Rieux of his own wife.
"She reminds me of my mother; what I loved most in Mother was her self-effacement, her dimness as they say, and its she Ive always wanted to get back to." (Plague, p.277)
Like a painting of Rembrandt, light and warmth seem to emanate from Mme Rieux, a light and warmth contrasting with the garish light of the plague. Mme. Rieux probably reminds Camus of his own mother, who also rarely spoke, but who for Camus seemed to exhibit a rare connectedness with the world and made him feel loved.
Tarrou does get back to that love on his death-bed. As he dies we see the contrast with Panelouxs doubtful case, i.e., no plague symptoms. Tarrous struggle is with both bubonic and pneumonic plague. These strains of the plague had all but disappeared in Oran when Tarrou became ill, and it is as if the universe were cruelly and senselessly singling him out for special torment. And Paneloux resignation, his decision not to call a doctor and not to resist the illness, is contrasted with Tarrous courageous resistance.
"Thanks. I dont want to die, and I shall put up a fight. But if I lose the match I want to make a good end of it." (Plague, p.284)
What impresses and moves us in Tarrous dying is that unlike the screaming son of M. Othon or the silent Paneloux who wants no companionship in his final moments, Tarrou keeps the pain within and smiles at Rieux and his mother in an effort to ease their pain at having to watch his agony. "Tarrou had had his eyes shut for some time. Sweat had plastered his hair on his stubborn forehead. Mme. Rieux sighed, and he opened his eyes. He saw the gentle face bent over him, and athwart the surge of fever, that steadfast smile took form again."(p.287) When after a brief respite Tarrous fever returns, he fixes his gaze on Mme. Rieux (cf. Paneloux dying gaze on the crucifix) and his last words were,
"Thank you" as she lay her hand on his "moist, tangled hair." "By the time she was back in her chair, Tarrou had shut his eyes, and despite the sealed mouth, a faint smile seemed to hover on that wasted face." (Plague, p.289)
Tarrous eyes had seen a lot, yet his participation in the sanitary squads, organized to combat the death-penalty (the plague) had brought him to a place where he embodies those noble qualities of being human that he earlier claims he cannot live up to. He becomes, in his decision to keep his pain inside and not pass it on to others, a healer, and friendship and love transform the way he looks at the world, even though earlier in the novel he has told us that he had little left to learn. For example, when he first met M. Othon and saw him as a magistrate who symbolized all the dehumanizing institutions he had been fighting against, Tarrou called him Public Enemy Number One. Later, when he sees that Othon suffered greatly because of the death of his son, Tarrou lies to him in order to spare him further agony, by telling him his son had not suffered much before dying. Rieux, too, responds to Othons growth from judgmental automaton to suffering human being. When Othon voluntarily joins others in quarantine to help relieve their suffering - "I know this may sound absurd, but Id feel less separated from my little boy" (p.259) Rieux stares at him.
"Could it be that a sudden gentleness showed in those hard, inexpressive eyes? Yes, they had grown misted, lost their steely glitter." (Plague, p.259)
Tarrou may have wanted to be a saint, but the compassion that surfaced in him in his resistance to the plague gives a reality to human love and solidarity and the peace that it can bring, even though Tarrou himself claims,
"I have lost my peace....I only know that one must do what one can to cease being plague-stricken, and thats the only way in which we can hope for some peace, or failing that, a decent death." (Plague, p.252)
This man, stricken with both varieties of plague, triumphs over it by showing us that his love for Rieux and for his mother can be as strong as the tortured fever that was destroying his body.
It takes Rieux a while to realize this triumph. His first reaction to Tarrous death is one of impotent anger. As we have seen earlier, this is the first stage we all go through when the lack of connection between what we believe we deserve and what we receive makes it seem as if we live in an absurd universe where there is no justice. The next stage in Rieux coming to terms with Tarrous death lies in Rieux awareness that
"all a man would win in the conflict between the plague and life was knowledge and memories." (Plague, p.291)
Rieux assumes that Tarrou had experienced the "bleak sterility of a life without illusions," (p.292) because he lived a life without hope. It may be true that if you had asked Tarrou if he had hope, he would have said no, but this would not be all there is to Tarrou, because like all tragic heroes who do not have a full sense of their own tragic greatness, his journey on the path of sympathy endowed him with a humanity that has to be taken into consideration before passing judgment on his life.
Rieux only comes to terms with this after Tarrous death, as the plague is declared officially over and all those who have been separated by it are joined together as "the feeling of exile vanished before an uprush of overpowering, bewildering joy." (p.295) At first this joy appears to have denied the past ravages of the plague, but Rieux gradually comes to see that there is more to this joy than simple forgetfulness. Rebellion against the plague and the rule of death was accompanied by another sound,
"a voice calling them back to the land of their desire, a homeland. It lay outside the walls of the stifled, strangled town, in the fragrant brushwood of the hills, in the waves of the sea, under free skies, and in the custody of love." (Plague, p.299)
Love, especially the kind of love Tarrou represented, finally delivered the captive population of Oran. Rieux comes to see that in addition to knowledge and memory, this love is the answer given to mens hope.
"Henceforth he knew the answer, and he perceived it better now he was on the outskirts of the town, in almost empty streets. Those who, clinging to their little town, had set their hearts solely on returning to the home of their love had sometimes their reward....They knew now that if there is one thing one can always yearn for and sometimes attain, it is human love. But for those others who aspired beyond and above the human individual toward something they could not even imagine, there had been no answer. Tarrou might seem to have won through to that hardly-come-by peace of which he used to speak; but he had found it only in death, too late to turn it to account." (Plague, p.300)
But it is not too late for Rieux, and this is why he composes his chronicle. This hope is the noise Rieux hears from the town as he mounts the stairs of his old asthmatic patient.
"The noises of the town were still beating like waves at the foot of the long line of terraces, but tonight they told not of revolt, but of deliverance." (Plague, p.307)
He resolves at this point to compile the chronicle we have just been reading so that
"some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." (Plague, p.308)
He states his knowledge, records his memories, and illustrates his hopes, and since he knows that the plague is never completely overcome, he leaves us with the hope that this memory will be a guide to human conduct in the future, when once again we must contend with the plague.
Hope is something not only Rieux would cling to, but his creator as well. Camus distrusted any future that required sacrificing the present, just as he distrusted the justice of any end that required unjust means. Yet it would be wrong to misread Camus as saying that he lived for the present only. He lived for a present that could become a future, living a life of love so that a vision of love might shape the future. There is of course a tragic dimension to this as with Rieux, because this vision coexists with the knowledge of the death of those we love and our own awareness that we may not see the future we long for. Camus Letters to a German Friend, written during World War II, testify to his belief, even as France was occupied, that the truth of man and the value of humanity would prevail.
"I continue to believe that this world has no ultimate meaning. But I know that something in it has a meaning and that is man, because he is the only creature to insist on having one. This world has at least the truth of man, and our task is to provide its justification against fate itself. And it has no justification but man; hence he must be saved if we want to save the idea we have of life. With your scornful smile you will ask me: what do you mean by saving man? And with all my being I shout to you that I mean not mutilating him and yet giving a chance to the justice that man alone can conceive." (Resistance, Rebellion and Death, pp.28-29)
Camus voice, the conscience of his times and of our own, is a call to action, a command to accomplish goodness in the face of evil, to be able to love in the face of hatred, to affirm life in the face of death.
"Nothing is given to men, and the little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. But mans greatness lies elsewhere. It lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition. And if his condition is unjust, he has only one way of overcoming it, which is to be just himself." (Resistance, Rebellion and Death, pp.39-40)
Being stronger than our condition is also the desire of the nonviolent activist, who insists on the same correlation between means and ends. To be sure, nonviolent activists who operate from a spiritual base, who believe with Martin Luther King, Jr. that the "arc of the universe is long, but that it bends towards justice" might not be so quick to dismiss the presence of something beyond humanity that gives the world a meaning, and often they call this something God, but they would also see that good and evil, innocence and experience, go hand in hand. William Blake, the Eighteenth Century English poet who saw the same connection between good and evil and innocence and experience as Camus, has a line that sums up Camus advice to those who would lead an ethical life, "Go love without the help of anything on earth."
The courage implicit in these words leads me to return to the components of the ethic of nonviolence that I outlined in my first lecture. True pacifism, true nonviolence, is not submission to evil and violence and the structures of violence but a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love. It is not an ethic for the weak nor for the naive. Camus statements that he was not a pacifist nor a believer in complete nonviolence most often refer to pacifism or nonviolence as a condition, not an action, i.e., passivity, not pacifism. The point of convergence between Camus thought and the ethic of nonviolence I am advocating is that both are acts of rebellion, statements of affirmation of an existence better than the one we lead, a yes based upon a no. Both cling to hope and happiness of the sort Rieux sees on Tarrous face as they swim together, "a happiness that forgot nothing, not even murder." (Plague, p.256) To forget nothing, not even murder, means to remember in our happiness the reality of Hitler (in some ways the human manifestation of the Plague) and the negation he embodied. In a 1946 speech at Columbia University, one of the listeners, Nicola Chiaromonte, remembers Camus as saying the following:
"Now that Hitler has gone, we know a certain number of things. The first is that the poison which impregnated Hitlerism has not been eliminated; it is present in each of us. Whoever today speaks of human existence in terms of power, efficacy, and historical tasks spreads it...Another thing we have learned is that we cannot accept any optimistic conception of existence, any happy ending whatsoever. But if we believe that optimism is silly, we also know that pessimism about the action of man among his fellows is cowardly." (Camus: Collection of Essays, pp.14-15)
In the writing of The Plague, we have seen how Camus developed this thought further, and without withdrawing anything he said about the power and poison of evil, discovers in the action of men the grounds of hope. In a plague-stricken world where time seems only to separate us from one another and where time is a sort of prison in which our loneliness can lead us to despair, Camus finds hope in the act of human love. Trying to get at what this hope means and its relation to time, I have been helped by the following passage from Gabriel Marcel, who wrote, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. "Homo Viator" means "man the wanderer," man the exile. Here is the passage:
"All then prepares us to recognize that despair is in a certain sense the consciousness of time as closed or, more exactly still, of time as a prison- whilst hope appears as piercing through time; everything happens as though time, instead of hedging consciousness around, allowed something to pass through it. It was from this point of view that I previously drew attention to the prophetic character of hope. Of course one cannot say that hope sees what is going to happen: but it affirms as if it saw. One might say that it draws its authority from a hidden vision of which it is allowed to take account without enjoying it.
We might say again that if time is in its essence a separation and as it were a perpetual splitting up of the self in relation to itself, hope on the contrary aims at reunion, at recollection, at reconciliation: in that way, and in that way alone, it might be called a memory of the future." (Marcel, p.53)
The notion of time as a separation and hope as a reconciliation gives to the future a positive quality that sometimes the present and the past have difficulty in revealing. Inasmuch as an ethic of nonviolence is an ethic of hope, it thus is an ethic that can embrace the future. The reunion, recollection and reconciliation that are born in nonviolence are in this same sense a memory of the future.
In our Humanities classes we have just read Toni Morrisons Beloved, a novel that offers rich comparisons with The Plague. Beloved is dedicated to the sixty million Black Africans who were lost in the passage to America and enslaved by institutionalized violence. Sixty million is roughly the number of those killed in World War II, the setting of The Plague. For much of the novel its heroine, Sethe, is haunted by a violent past, including memories of her own violence when she killed her own child rather than have it returned to bondage. For her, time, too, is a prison, and her despair keeps her from having any hope, separating her from her community and even from her own remaining children. On p.42, we learn that "to Sethe, the future was a matter of keeping the past at bay." On p.60, she says "today is always here.....Tomorrow never, "and on ,
"But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for the next day." (Beloved, p.70)
Her despair is the despair of all those in Oran who have given in to the plague. She is trapped by the memory of the death of her child, the sacrifice to a system of bondage she has never escaped. It takes Paul D to suggest another role of memory, which is that memory can be shared and communion established. Paul D recalls Sixos description of the "thirty mile woman.
"She a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order." (Beloved, pp.272-73)
Gathering the pieces and putting them in the right order is the positive function of memory. "Rememory" is having the past repeat itself over and over, but "re-member" is gathering the scattered members and making them whole. To remember the future in this sense is to remember tomorrow, to hold out the possibility of rejoining the broken and scattered parts of the human community and working together to make sure the violence of the world will no longer have dominion over us.
Paul D is ashamed of his slave past and of the "neck jewelry" he wears, i.e., the scars of the chains that shackled him. At the end of the novel, he places his scars next to Sethes memory of the neck scars on her daughter, Beloved. His expression for it is beautiful. He wants to "put his story next to hers." (p.273) When he is with Sethe, he feels like a human being:
"Her tenderness about his neck jewelry- its three wands, like attentive baby rattlers, curving two feet into the air. How she never mentioned or looked at it, so he did not have to feel the shame of being collared like a beast. Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that." (Beloved, p.273)
And her compassion for him is reciprocated by him, so that her humanity is restored. This solidarity holds the promise for a future, because the compassion, engendered by laying one story next to another, holds the promise of tomorrow.
"Sethe, he says, me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow." (Beloved, p.273)
Human beings' ability to put their stories next to one another recalls the importance of art, the act of creation. Beloved, The Plague, and as we shall soon see in our Humanities readings, the Greek tragedies, all offer strong evidence that humans can create from the prison in which they sometimes feel entrapped images to "deny their nothingness." (Andre Malraux) Like the ethical, nonviolent life, the act of creation is an act of rebellion, a "revolt against the human condition." (Malraux) Camus felt that the task of his generation was (from his Nobel acceptance speech) to
"fashion for themselves an art of living in times of catastrophe, in order to be reborn before fighting openly against the death instinct at work in our society,"
As Germaine Bree, writing of the importance of art for Camus, states,
"Literature was for Camus an essential human activity, one of the most fundamental. It expresses and safeguards the aspiration toward freedom, coherence, and beauty, those components of mans relative happiness, an aspiration which alone makes life valuable for each separate transient human being." (Bree, p.239)
Or as Camus himself writes, near the end of The Rebel:
"Art is the activity that exalts and denies simultaneously. No artist tolerates reality, says Nietzsche. That is true, but no artist can get along without reality. Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of the world. But it rejects the world on account of what it lacks and in the name of what it sometimes is." (Rebel, p.253)
"The artist, whether he likes it or not, can no longer be a solitary, except in the melancholy triumph he owes all his fellow artists. Rebellious art also ends by revealing the We are, and with it the way to a burning humility." (Rebel, p.275)
"In upholding beauty, we prepare the way for the day of regeneration when civilization will give first place- far ahead of the formal principles and degraded values of history- to this living virtue on which is founded the common dignity of man and the world he lives in, and which we must now define in the face of a world that insults it." (Rebel, p, 277)
While these quotes are dense and perhaps difficult to take in on one reading, they remind us that what is important in The Plague is not just its message, but also its existence as a work of art. That is, it is, as a novel, the creative response of one great artist to the world that threatens to destroy him, and a plea for solidarity, reconciliation, wholeness, and hope. Even stories of slavery, scars of chains and scars of a mothers violence to her own child can become stories of freedom, when violence and plague are transformed by the healing power of love. These are the stories to pass on. All great art is not only a revolt against the human condition; it is also an act of love.
The ethic of nonviolent action holds the promise of giving life a meaning that death itself cannot destroy. Camus says
"We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others." (Rebel, p.301)
In refusing to kill or to countenance violence as a means for social change we exhibit an authentic innocence, which is nothing but hope that does not deny the presence of evil. We act not because we expect our love to be returned (though we are hopeful our enemies may be transformed), but because we know we must do what is right, and that if we do not act nonviolently, we can never experience the peace of a nonviolent world. Our actions are based on the knowledge that we ourselves are capable of violence and are also complicit with it through our apathy, as well as through our actions. We know the world in which we live will exact suffering and sacrifice on our part. Walter Wink puts it well when he says:
"Nonviolent direct action elicits violence; it unmasks the structural violence of an unjust system and forces the system to repent or attack...The goal of nonviolence is not tranquillity but Gods domination-free order, of which tranquillity is merely a by-product. As long as injustice, inequality of opportunity, and hatred exist, we are obligated to initiate conflict in order, if possible, to eradicate it." (Wink, p.294)
We can accept suffering as redemptive because we have a belief that means determine ends, that knowledge comes through action, being from becoming, justice from acting justly. The ethic of nonviolence calls us to rebel against the world as we know it, one that in our century has worshipped and institutionalized violence, producing injustice and war, and, as stated in the first lecture, killed more people in our century than in the rest of recorded human history.
Nonviolent action, when it is both a tactic and a way of life, asserts the universality of all human beings, and the sacredness of all human life, offering us the sight of a kingdom without borders, both at the end of the path of sympathy and along the path of sympathy itself. On this path the nonviolent activist meets others, those who have refused to be victimizers or victims and through their compassion for others have tried to be healers. Their numbers are not as small as you might imagine. Those who have experienced our suffering and our longing, who have known the plague and have committed themselves to the creation of a different human order from the nihilistic, death-embracing social philosophy of so many of our societies, have, in the single year, 1989-90 involved thirteen nations, comprising one billion seven hundred thousand people, as Wink says 32% of all humanity, in nonviolent revolutions. These countries include Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, USSR, Brazil, Chile and China. Since then Nepal, Palau, Madagascar, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have undergone nonviolent struggle. Since 1986 it is possible to say that three billion three hundred thousand people or 64% of all humanity have been touched by nonviolent actions. To be sure, some of these victories have been short-lived, and in Chinas case, have not yet been achieved. As our newspapers reveal, we still live in perilous times of ethnic conflict, genocide and civil war, but these nonviolent struggles indicate and give evidence of a hope that one day men and women who believe in nonviolence and are willing to assume the sacrifice and suffering it entails can become part of the sanitary squads and live meaningful lives. The success of their actions show that it is possible to overcome the fatal attraction of nihilism and violence that have kept humans alone and alienated, unaware that we are in others and they in us.
At our just completed faculty retreat, we at Earlham have just been reminded that the process of talking about racism, certainly one of the most important facets of institutionalized violence, will be a very painful one. But the discussion and the pain are necessary. So, too, the suffering that is inextricable from the hope I have just been speaking of. Without the suffering, there can be no compassion. Without the compassion there can be no healing. Edgar in King Lear states this well
Who alone suffers, suffers most i thmind,
Leaving free things and happy shows behind;
But then the mind much sufferance doth oerskip,
When grief hath mates, and bearing fellowship. (III vi, 106-110)
I cant come to the conclusion of my remarks without sharing with you the words of Maynard Mack, writing about King Lear but really writing about all great tragic works of art and the tragic world in which we find ourselves:
"If there is an remorseless process in King Lear, it is one that begs us to seek the meaning of our human fate not in what becomes of us, but in what we become. Death, as we saw, is miscellaneous and commonplace; it is life whose quality may be made noble and distinctive. Suffering we all recoil from; but we know it is a greater thing to suffer than to lack the feelings and virtues that make it possible to suffer. Cordelia, we may choose to say, accomplished nothing, yet we know it is better to have been Cordelia than to have been her sisters. When we come crying hither, we bring with us the badge of all our misery; but it is also the badge of the vulnerabilities that give us access to whatever grandeur we achieve." (Mack, p.117)
Camus novel ends with a final look at Cottard, the one man who loved the Plague and who could not stand the prospect of a world without it.
"It is fitting that the chronicle should end with some reference to that man, who had an ignorant, that is to say lonely heart." (Plague, p.302)
I hope that what I have been talking about these three lectures allow you to feel the real weight of this magnificent sentence. This collaborator with the plague, this man of violence, lacked real knowledge. An ignorant heart is one trapped in its own loneliness, unaware of the solidarity that is real knowledge gained along the path of sympathy, the path of love.
As we reach the end of this part of our journey together, and I reflect on my own life and on my own journey and exile, it seems to me that I too have just begun. My hope is that these lectures will convince you of the importance of developing an ethic that allows Good to triumph over Evil. Remember the words of Huxley: "Good is that which makes for unity- Evil is that which makes for separateness." Never let it be said of you that like Cottard you had "an ignorant, that is to say lonely heart." I hope you will refuse to cooperate with the Plague, even if it means an exile in your own land. If exile is inevitable because of the path you have chosen, I hope you embrace it because there are important values to be discovered in it. There are values in books like The Plague and in the life they reflect. Camus states:
"Every great work makes the human face more admirable and richer, and this is its whole secret. And thousands of concentration camps and barred cells are not enough to hide this staggering testimony of dignity." (Resistance, Rebellion and Death, p.269)
And, of course, I hope you will seriously consider the place of nonviolence in developing your own ethic, especially the power of the love that lies at the center of the nonviolent vision of reality, a love that lifts us from our solitude and reunites us with one another. These are my hopes and this is the knowledge I hope you make yours. The following are thoughts I hope you remember:
1) I hope you will have a memory of the lives of the characters in The Plague as models of the ethical life and of the centrality of the principle of love in that life. They also model for us the responsibility we have for one another that the principle of love requires of us. I hope you put your stories next to this one, as Paul D. did to Sethe's, so that you, like Sethe become your own "best thing."
2) I hope you will have a memory of this book and books like it as creative protests of an artist against the injustice in the world and what often appears to be the indifference of the universe.
3) I hope you will have a memory of these lectures as a time when you re-thought the direction your lives would take and committed yourselves to moving in the direction of your own hopes, that is, as moments when you remembered the future.
Peace.October 5, 1998
If you have questions or comments about this essay, send Tony a message. Return to Earlham's home page.
WORKS CITED IN THESE LECTURES
Bree, Germaine, Camus. Harcourt, Brace and World: NY, 1964.
Bree, G. (ed.), Camus: Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall: Englewood, NJ.
Camus, Albert, The Plague. Vintage: NY, 1991.
Camus, Albert, The Rebel. Vintage: NY, 1961.
Camus, Albert, Resistance, Rebellion and Death. Vintage: NY, 1995.
Huxley, Aldous, Ends and Means. Chatto and Windus: London, 1937.
King, Martin Luther, Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of MLK Jr, ed. by
James Washington. Harper Collins: San Franciso, 1986.
Lynd, Alice and Lynd, Staughton, Nonviolence in America. Orbis: Maryknoll, NY,
Mack, Maynard, King Lear in Our Time. U. of Cal. Press: Berkeley, 1972.
Marcel, Gabriel, Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope. Peter Smith:
Gloucester, MA, 1978.
May, Rollo, Power and Innocence. WW Norton: NY, 1972.
Merton, Thomas. The Literary Essays, ed. B. Patrick Hart, New Directions: NY, 1985.
Merton, Thomas. Passion for Peace. Crossroads: NY, 1997.
Morrison, Toni, Beloved. New American Library: NY, 1987.
Shakespeare, William, King Lear. Methuen and Co,: London, 1959.
Wink, Walter, Engaging the Powers. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1992.