Monday, April 27, 2009

After All

I was attracted to the following quote from Camus's novel The Plague (Stuart Gilbert translation) as a possible addendum to my "Camus and the Necessity of Unbelief" post, but it could stand just as well as a testament for the character of Niide in the Kurosawa film Red Beard (q.v.).


Tarrou squared his shoulders against the back of the chair, then moved his head forward into the light.
"Do you believe in God, Doctor?"
Again the question was put in an ordinary tone. But this time Rieux took longer to find the answer.
"No - but what does that really mean? I'm fumbling in the dark, struggling to make something out. But I've long ceased finding that original."
"Isn't that it - the gulf between Paneloux and you?"
"I doubt it. Paneloux is a man of learning, a scholar. He hasn't come in contact with death; that's why he can speak with such assurance of the truth - with a capital T. But every country priest who visits his parishioners and has heard a man gasping for breath on his deathbed thinks as I do. He'd try to relieve human suffering before trying to point out its excellence."
Tarrou remained seated in his chair; he was smiling again. "Why do you yourself show such devotion, considering you don't believe in God?"
His face still in shadow, Rieux said that he'd already answered: that if he believed in an all-powerful God he would cease curing the sick and leave that to Him. But no one in the world believed in a God of that sort; no, not even Paneloux, who believed that he believed in such a God. And this was proved by the fact that no one ever threw himself on Providence completely. Anyhow, in this respect Rieux believed himself to be on the right road - in fighting against creation as he found it.
"Ah," Tarrou remarked. "so that's the idea you have of your profession?"
"More or less." The doctor came back into the light.
Tarrou made a faint whistling noise with his lips, and the doctor gazed at him.
"Yes, you're thinking it calls for pride to feel that way. But I assure you I've no more than the pride that's needed to keep me going. I have no idea what's awaiting me, or what will happen when all this ends. For the moment I know this; there are sick people and they need curing. Later on, perhaps, they'll think things over; and so shall I. But what's wanted now is to make them well. I defend them as best I can, that's all."
"Against whom?"
Rieux turned to the window. A shadow-line on the horizon told of the presence of the sea. He was conscious only of his exhaustion, and at the same time was struggling against a sudden, irrational impulse to unburden himself a little more to his companion; an eccentric, perhaps, but who, he guessed, was one of his own kind.
"I haven't a notion, Tarrou; I assure you I haven't a notion. When I entered this profession, I did it 'abstractedly,' so to speak; because I had a desire for it, because it meant a career like another, one that young men often aspire to. Perhaps, too, because it was particularly difficult for a workman's son, like myself. And then I had to see people die. Do you know that there are some who refuse to die? Have you ever heard a woman scream 'Never!' with her last gasp? Well, I have. And then I saw that I could never get hardened to it. I was young then, and I was outraged by the whole scheme of things, or so I thought. Subsequently I grew more modest. Only, I've never managed to get used to seeing people die. That's all I know. Yet after all - "
Rieux fell silent and sat down. He felt his mouth dry.
"After all -?" Tarrou prompted softly.
"After all," the doctor repeated, then hesitated again, fixing his eyes on Tarrou, "it's something that a man of your sort can understand most likely, but, since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn't it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?"
Tarrou nodded.
"Yes. But your victories will never be lasting; that's all."
Rieux's face darkened.
"Yes, I know that. But it's no reason for giving up the struggle."
"No reason, I agree." Tarrou stared at the doctor for a moment, then turned and tramped heavily toward the door. Rieux followed him and was almost at his side when Tarrou, who was staring at the floor, suddenly said:
"Who taught you all this, Doctor?"
The reply came promptly:
"Suffering."

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