The Metaphysics of Lockdown, According to Albert Camus

or many people, it was their first experience in a full denial of freedom. Locked in their homes. Prevented from traveling. Separated from loved ones. Forced to spend day after day wondering about big things previously unconsidered: why am I here, what are my goals, what is the purpose of my life?

It was a transformation. We are not the first to go through this. It is something experienced by prisoners, and by previous populations under lockdown.

I’m reading – over and over – Albert Camus’s classic and astonishingly brilliant book The Plague from 1947. There is a chapter that describes the inner life of people who have experienced lockdown for the first time. It came suddenly in the presence of a deadly disease. The entire town of 200,000 closed. No one in or out.

It’s fiction but all-too-real. I’m astonished at Camus’s perceptive insight here. Reading it slowly and nearly out loud is an experience. The poetry of the prose is incredible, but more so the depth of knowledge of the inner workings of the mind.

One interesting feature of the narrative is the difference in communication. They could only communicate via telegraph with the outside world, and with limited vocabulary. There were also letters outgoing but one had no idea whether the intended recipient would see it. Today of course we have vast opportunities for digital communication in audio and video, which is glorious, but no real substitute for the freedom to assemble and meet.

Here I am quoting this one chapter. I hope it helps you understand yourself as much as it did help me gain awareness of my own experience. The entire book is compelling. You can download it or read it for free at Archive.org.

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