CFP: Albert Camus’s The Plague and U.S. Medicine

Imperiled in Paradise: Albert Camus’s The Plague and U.S. Medicine

Set in the French colonial city of Oran, The Plague (1947) is often called a classic of twentieth-century fiction and a touchstone for the field of literature and medicine. But despite its many themes that resonate with the culture of U.S. medicine—among them, idealism, greed, routine, fatigue, religiosity, and healthcare’s limits—little has been written about The Plague’s lessons for us today. This collection will address that deficit by considering the text’s relevance to U.S. health education, clinical experiences, and public health practices. It will also shed light on the novel by considering it alongside other literary depictions of epidemics, the history of disease and medicine, and contemporary outbreaks. Finally, innovative ways to teach this work will also be discussed.

As its narrator notes, plague has a way of recurring “for the bane and the enlightening” of those who experience it. Similarly, the novel itself serves students and practitioners alike by offering them a troubling but vital preparation for understanding and alleviating suffering.

Abstracts are invited that examine The Plague through one or more of the following lenses. (Bulleted points are only examples. Other topics are welcome.)

1. Literary treatments
 plague as symbol/metaphor
 weakness, disadvantage, power, privilege
 physician as witness/chronicler
 Homer, Sophocles, Boccaccio, Defoe, Pushkin, or others
2. Comparisons with historical and/or contemporary epidemics
 cultural influences and considerations
 caregivers’ practices and qualities
 ideas of the community/collective or the common good
 the role(s) of official and media rhetoric
3. Clinical (and broader) experiences
 suffering
 caregiver-patient relationships
 prolonged illness as exile/estrangement
 a caregiver’s (non-)religious commitments
 end-of-life care
 dying and death
 grief/mourning
 friendship/love versus sacrifice/altruism
 meaning, hope, despair
 solidarity and resistance
4. Public health practices and issues
 (un)preparedness
 prevention, transmission, infection
 sanitary squads and other response/relief groups
 guards and the militarization of outbreak responses
 quarantine and isolation practices/policies
 experimental/trial therapies
 burial practices
 the responses of outsiders (e.g., visitors, organizations, other cities/nations)
 an infectious agent as latent/dormant and historically recurrent
5. Topics in health education/practice
 fatigue and apathy
 professionalism
 humanism
 sympathy and compassion
 heroism and decency
 courage and cowardice
 harm and nonmaleficence
6. Innovative ways to teach The Plague
 complementary texts and videos
 discussion questions
 writing assignments
 individual/group projects
 out-of-class exercises/service

Abstracts of ~500 words should be submitted to Woods Nash. (Kent State UP is interested in this collection for its Literature and Medicine series, and an advance contract will be issued for the book if the quality of abstracts received is high.) The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2015. Abstracts and questions should be sent to with “The Plague” in the subject line.

Authors will be notified by April 17, 2015, as to whether a full essay will be invited or declined.

Woods Nash, MPH, PhD, McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston