Although The Plague is a narrative centred around an epidemic, there are many things that make it different from what we have read so far: modernity. While previous texts focused on the breaking of interpersonal relationships and seclusion from the world, The Plague brings forth the governmental and logistical point of view by adding bureaucracy. The novel shows meetings and discussions with the Prefect, as well as having characters refer to the Prefect’s decisions as a leading force of quarantine and delay. There are not a lot of medical descriptions of the plague in the book, though there is a lot of time dedicated to talking about life in an infected city and the logistical problems and nonsensical restrictions taken by the government.
The description of society and the epidemic in The Plague reminded me of kaiju films, a mostly Japanese genre of cinema characterized by the presence of large monsters —kaiju— and their interference in human life. A prime example of this genre is Toho’s Godzilla (Gojira in the original). I believe there are similarities to be found between the epidemic narrative and the kaiju genre, since both talk about the survival of large groups of people when threatened by a force of nature outside human control. Reading through the bureaucratic parts of The Plague, however, I was particularly reminded of Shin Godzilla (sometimes called Godzilla Resurgence), Toho’s 2016 rebooting of Godzilla.
Shin Godzilla is a strange example of a kaiju movie. Godzilla has limited screen time and there is no individual main character tracked in the movie. Quite the opposite: the movie tracks government officials as they struggle with the bureaucracy of an event so unexpected it breaks protocol. Most of the key scenes in the movie consist of meetings, reunions, and people talking through the best solutions to a problem.
Moments like these in The Plague highlight a pushback to action: nothing can be done unless there is a general consensus that something must be done; and this delay in reaching a consensus takes time that could be used to prevent the spread of disease (or the destruction of a kaiju).
I just saw the trailer over the weekend for a new Godzilla sequel. Do the Japanese movies seem to despair of government bureaucracy in the same way Camus’s novel does? Our little band of resistance fighters seems deliberately extra-governmental.
An interesting topic this convener’s post brings up is that of modernity. We talked about it a little in class, but the theme persists even through the second half of the book. I find my self wondering why the books opens on a rather mellow note, describing the town as uneventful, the proceeds to make multiple references about modernity that mostly relate to capitalism. Also, as the novel goes on, it begins to embody a similar structure to that of The Ghost Map. The novel zooms in out of perspective by focusing on a single experience, then referring back to the collective. Additionally, the author does speak directly to readers and uses the narrator to make larger inferences about the surrounding world.
To me, nothing signifies modernity in this book more than bureaucracy, a form of social organization designed for efficiency and to bolster various forms of authority but which ultimately leads to waiting in line, endless paperwork, and impersonal regulations that have little relation to humanity. The sound of the rubber stamps announcing deaths and burials, at the end of Part Three, is the ultimate figure for that form of modern social authority. It’s not even invested in the figure of the Prefect — it’s distributed in a system of middle-managers and offices. The passages we were looking at today ask us to consider what happens when all those attempts to organize society efficiently ultimately fail (in the face of mass death) and we’re left instead with a call to collective action — taking responsibility for our own collective fates.