Random Thoughts

  • People who write horoscopes are as nitwitty as those who believe in QAnon or the Big Lie. They construct vague statements that are plausible because they are made to please a reader’s ego. Here’s my horoscope for today, provided by Madame Clairevoyant, New York Mag’s resident soothsayer. Those who know me may get a laugh out of this.

Gemini Weekly Horoscope
The idea of being all things to all people is an alluring one to you. There’s a certain kind of appeal in the dream that by observing others carefully enough—their speech and their movements, the shape of their desires—and by reflecting this back to them, you could heal anybody’s sorrows, bring sunshine to even their darkest inner world. But this week, it’s necessary not to forget your own needs, your own interior life. You don’t have to give and give until you’re hollowed out. Your duty isn’t to reshape your whole being to match someone else’s wants, but to strive to become ever more yourself.

  • Mary Trump has a new book out and was interviewed by one of my favorite sources, The Daily Beast. She takes the Democrats to task for their appeasement. Judge them by their reactions to Biden’s refractory speech on Afghanistan.

By playing politics, by being polite, by pretending the bipartisanship still exists, by pretending that there’s a rulebook anymore—they are doing a huge disservice to the American people. . . . I think that we’re literally on the brink of the end of American democracy to the extent that it’s ever existed, but [the Democrats] are the only people who can do anything about it. So if they keep pulling punches by pretending that the filibuster is a good thing, or that the Republicans are interested in governance of any kind, then it’s over.

Camus Updated

Albert Camus, The Plague

 Gordon A. Craig, Politics of a Plague

 David Wallace-Wells, The Coronavirus Is a Preview of Our Climate-Change Future

I’m rereading the great Albert Camus novel The Plague (La Peste), and there’s no fiction more timely than this. It’s Camus’s best work, the story of how plague comes to a small French-Algerian city in the 1940s with consequences more frightening than today because so much about the blight was then unknown.

Among other things, it is the story of how ordinary people do extraordinary things when under pressure. Of course we think of our health care workers of today: the priceless virtues and commitments of all those who care for the sick under dreadful conditions.

The plague in Camus is a metaphor for the Nazi holocaust. But it also represents the “abstraction” in all our lives, those rules, habits, and forces that control us, keep us in line and, even, give satisfaction as the townsfolk march to work every day, go to the movies, drink in cafés and live out their pedestrian lives.

The town of Oran is a grim, featureless place, and Camus stresses the climate’s effect on its inhabitants. “It must be the weather,” they say: the blue sky, the piercing sun, the heat that keeps people indoors, “socially distant.” Reading from our perspective, it could be a metaphor for climate change. The plague transforms the city into a charnel house. And “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good.” It hides in furniture, clothes, bedrooms, cellars, always to reemerge without warning.

Like cholera and COVID-19, plague is a disease of society, as if a God were taking vengeance. In Camus’s novel, the plague exposes all our shortcomings—political, social, moral, economic—and so it is with COVID-19. Our very isolation forces us to contemplate the vacuous defects of our institutions and the precariousness of our lives.

We have been living in a bubble of denial about pandemics and certainly about climate change. We discover that we cannot insulate ourselves from the natural world, though that seems to be the goal of our culture. As David Wallace-Wells put it: “Nature is mighty, and scary, and we have not defeated it but live within it, subject to its temperamental power, no matter where it is that you live or how protected you may normally feel.”

My isolation is pretty comfortable. Boring, but comfortable. Yet it forces me to think of what others are enduring. I think of the trenches being dug to bury the nameless, unrecovered dead. I think of those who expire in a ventilator isolated from all.

Being in Mexico, I think of these words of Camus:

Thus the first thing that the plague brought to our town was exile. . . . It was undoubtedly the feeling of exile—that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.

In our present isolation, we are thrown back on that “sensation of a void within” for much of the day, trying to make sense of the abstraction of a pandemic that is all too real. It’s an effort to wrap our minds around the inscrutable nature of something so distant and basically unknowable.