Wednesday, September 06, 2023

plague for today

As unpleasant as the outbreak described in The Plague was, it seems to have been a fairly small and localised outbreak by historical standards, and we seem to be invited to infer that the medical efforts of Dr. Rieux and others have kept it fairly well contained. Not so for many of the continent-scale ravagings that have occurred throughout history, though, and one thing that you do get a sense of from reading something like Wikipedia's list of historical pandemics is the constant battle humanity has waged against wave upon wave of tiny creatures intent on swarming up our various orifices and making us cough, sneeze, vomit and shit out our assorted life essences and precious fluids until we are dead.

Everyone knows about the Black Death, of course, and that is the big cheese, the pandemic by which other pandemics are judged, wiping out up to 50% of the population of Europe and up to 200 million people around the world, and don't forget that was back in the mid-14th century when 200 million people was a lot of people. What you learn from looking at the chronological list in particular, though, is that our view of things is a bit Euro-centric and that Mexico in the 16th century in particular was ABSOLUTELY FUCKED by a series of outbreaks of various ghastly things. Add together the numbers from the smallpox epidemic of 1520 (which knocked off 40% of the population), and the cocoliztli epidemics of 1545 (80% of the population) and 1576 (50% of the population) and you find that approximately 170% of the population died over a period of 50-odd years, which, if my maths is correct, means that some people must have died more than once, just to add insult to injury. The graph reproduced below (from the Wikipedia page linked above) tells a heck of a story.

Anyway, Camus' inspiration for the outbreak in The Plague was supposedly the cholera pandemic of the 1840s, although ironically there was a minor outbreak of your actual plague in Oran in 1944, around the time he was writing the novel. Just to demonstrate the never-ending nature of the struggle there was also an outbreak in the same place as recently as 2003

On to happier things now: The Plague is the latest in a list of books featured on this blog which have titles of the form The X, where X is a single word. There were 21 of these when I mentioned it last; there are now 28. Here is an alphabetised list. The Go-Between is a borderline case, but I'll allow it. 

  • The Accidental
  • The Affirmation
  • The Anatomist
  • The Circle
  • The Conservationist
  • The Corrections
  • The Dinner
  • The Dispossessed
  • The Double
  • The Falls
  • The Fermata
  • The Gathering
  • The Go-Between
  • The Godfather
  • The Hunter
  • The Illusionist
  • The Innocent
  • The Lacuna
  • The Levels
  • The Moviegoer
  • The Other
  • The Overstory
  • The Pesthouse
  • The Plague
  • The Redeemer
  • The Road
  • The Sea
  • The Waterfall

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