Classic Songs Re-Imagined as Vintage Book Covers During Our Troubled Times: “Under Pressure,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Shelter from the Storm” & More

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, how many of us sought solace from the turbulent 21st century in cultural artifacts of bygone eras? Our favorite records by the likes of the Beatles, Queen, David Bowie; our favorite novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Philip K. Dick: all of them now possess a solidity that seems lacking in much current popular culture. The work of all these creators has its own kind of artistic daring, and all of it, too, also came out of times troubled in their own way.

Hence the cultural resonance that has long outlasted their first burst of popularity — and that fuels the visual mash-ups of Todd Alcott. A professional screenwriter and graphic designer, Alcott takes mid-20th-century works of graphic design, most often paperback book covers, and reimagines them with the lyrics, themes, and even imagery of popular songs from a slightly later period. This project is easier shown than explained, but take a glance at his Etsy shop and you'll understand it at once.

You'll also take notice of a few mash-ups especially relevant to the present moment, one in which we all feel a bit "Under Pressure." The whole of "Planet Earth," after all, has found itself subject to the kind of deadly pandemic that only happens "Once in a Lifetime," if that often.




Increasingly many of us feel the need to "Call the Doctor," but increasingly often, the doctor has proven unavailable. Most of us can do no better than seeking "Shelter from the Storm" — and some of us have been forced by law to do so.

In some countries, all this has begun to feel like "Life During Wartime." Extended periods confined to our homes have rendered some of us "Comfortably Numb," and no few Americans have begun to say, "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A." Perhaps you've even heard from friends who describes themselves as in the process of "Losing My Religion." Some see humanity as plunging into "The Downward Spiral" that ultimately means "It's the End of the World as We Know It."

Others say "Don't Worry About the Government," expecting as they do a "Revolution" for which they've already begun to arm themselves with "Lawyers, Guns and Money." But how many of us can really say with confidence what a post-coronavirus world will look like, and how or whether it will be different from the one we've grown used to? Best to draw all we can from the wisdom of the past — whatever form it comes in — and bear in mind that, as a 20th-century sage once put it, "Tomorrow Never Knows." You can purchase copies of Todd Alcott's covers (which extends well beyond what appears here) at his Etsy shop.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What is Albert Camus’ The Plague About? An Introduction

Topping lists of plague novels circulating these days, Albert Camus’ 1947 The Plague (La Peste), as many have been quick to point out, is about more than its blunt title would suggest. The book incorporates Camus’ experience as editor-in-chief of Combat, a French Resistance newspaper, and serves as an allegory for the spread of fascism and the Nazi occupation of France. It also illustrates the evolution of his philosophical thought: a gradual turn toward the primacy of the absurd, and away from associations with Sartre’s Existentialism.

But The Plague’s primary subject is, of course, a plague—a fictional outbreak in the Algerian “French prefecture” of Oran. Here, Camus relocates a 19th century cholera outbreak to sometime in the 1940s and turns it into the rat-borne epidemic that killed tens of millions in centuries past. As Daniel Defoe had done 175 years before in A Journal of the Plague Yeardrawing on his own experiences as a journalist—Camus “immersed himself in the history of plagues,” notes the School of Life. Camus even quotes Defoe in the novel's epigraph: "It is as reasonable to represent one kind of imprisonment by another, as it is to represent anything that really exists by that which exists not."




Camus “read books on the Black Death that killed 50 million people in Europe in the 14th century; the Italian plague of 1629 that killed 280,000 people across the plains of Lombardy and the Veneto, the great plague of London of 1665 as well as plagues that ravaged cities on China’s eastern seaboard during the 18th and 19th centuries.” Perhaps more timely now than in its time, The Plague puts Camus’ historical knowledge in the mind of its protagonist, Dr. Bernard Rieux, who remembers in his growing alarm “the plague at Constantinople that, according to Procopius, caused ten thousand deaths in a single day.”

Rieux embodies another theme in the novel—the seemingly endless human capacity for denial, even among well-meaning, knowledgeable experts. Despite his reading of history and up-close observation of the outbreak, Rieux fails—or refuses—to acknowledge the disease for what it is. That is, until an older colleague says to him, “Naturally, you know what this is.” Forced to say the word “plague” aloud, Rieux allows the spreading epidemic to become real for the first time.

[L]ike our fellow citizens, Rieux was caught off his guard, and we should understand his hesitations in the light of this fact; and similarly understand how he was torn between conflicting fears and confidence. When a war breaks out, people say: "It's too stupid; it can't last long." But though a war may well be "too stupid," that doesn't prevent its lasting. Stupidity has a knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so much wrapped up in ourselves.

In this respect our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences.

Perpetually busy with mercantile projects and ideas about progress, the town, like "humanists," ignores the reappearance of history and believe plagues to belong to the distant past. Camus writes that such people "pass away… first of all, because they haven’t taken their precautions.”

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Whether we are prepared for them or not, plagues and wars will come upon us, aided by the brute force of human idiocy and irrationality. This terrible truth flies in the face of the untethered freedom of Sartrean existentialism. “They fancied themselves free,” Camus’ narrator says of Oran’s townspeople, “and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.” The novel proceeds to illustrate just how devastating a deadly epidemic can be to our most cherished notions.

In Camus’ philosophy, “our lives,” the School of Life points out, “are fundamentally on the edge of what he termed ‘the absurd.’” But this “should not lead us to despair pure and simple,” though the feeling may be a stage along the way to “a redemptive tragi-comic perspective.” The recognition of finitude, of failure, ignorance, and repetition—what philosopher Miguel de Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life”—can instead cure us of the “behaviors Camus abhorred: a hardness of heart, an obsession with status, a refusal of joy and gratitude, a tendency to moralize and judge.” Whatever else The Plague is about, Camus shows that in a struggle for survival, these attitudes can prove worse than useless and can be the first to go.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pandemic Literature: A Meta-List of the Books You Should Read in Coronavirus Quarantine

Describing conditions characteristic of life in the early 21st century, future historians may well point to such epidemic viral illnesses as SARS, MERS, and the now-rampaging COVID-19. But those focused on culture will also have their pick of much more benign recurring phenomena to explain: topical book lists, for instance, which crop up in the 21st-century press at the faintest prompting by current events. As the coronavirus has spread through the English-speaking world over the past month, pandemic-themed reading lists have appeared in all manner of outlets: TimePBS, the Hollywood Reporter, the Guardian, the Globe and MailHaaretzVultureElectric Literature, and others besides.

As mankind's oldest deadly foe, disease has provided themes to literature since literature's very invention. In the European canon, no such work is more venerable than The Decameron, written by Renaissance humanist Giovanni Boccaccio in the late 1340s and early 1350s. "His protagonists, seven women and three men, retreat to a villa outside Florence to avoid the pandemic," writes The Guardian's Lois Beckett, referring to the bubonic plague, or "Black Death," that ravaged Europe in the mid-14th century. "There, isolated for two weeks, they pass the time by telling each other stories" — and "lively, bizarre, and often very filthy stories" at that — "with a different theme for each day."




A later outbreak of the bubonic plague in London inspired Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe to write the A Journal of the Plague Year. "Set in 1655 and published in 1722, the novel was likely based, in part, on the journals of the author’s uncle," writes the Globe and Mail's Alec Scott. Defoe's diarist "speaks of bodies piling up in mass graves, of sudden deaths and unlikely recoveries from the brink, and also blames those from elsewhere for the outbreak." A Journal of the Plague Year appears on these reading lists as often as Albert Camus' The Plaguepreviously featured here on Open Culture. "Camus’ famous work about the inhabitants of an Algerian town who are stricken by the bubonic plague was published back in 1947," writes PBS' Courtney Vinopal, "but it has struck a chord with readers today living through the coronavirus."

Of novels published in the past decade, none has been selected as a must-read in coronavirus quarantine as often as Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. "After a swine flu pandemic wipes out most of the world’s population, a group of musicians and actors travel around newly formed settlements to keep their art alive," says Time. "Mandel showcases the impact of the pandemic on all of their lives," weaving together "characters’ perspectives from across the planet and over several decades to explore how humanity can fall apart and then, somehow, come back together." Ling Ma's darkly satirical Severance also makes a strong showing: Electric Literature describes it as "a pandemic-zombie-dystopian-novel, but it’s also a relatable millennial coming-of-age story and an intelligent critique of exploitative capitalism, mindless consumerism, and the drudgery of bullshit jobs."

Since a well-balanced reading diet (and those of us stuck at home for weeks on end have given much thought to balanced diets) requires both fiction and nonfiction, several of these lists also include works of scholarship, history, and journalism on the real epidemics that have inspired all this literature. Take Richard Preston's bestseller The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, which Gregory Eaves at Medium calls "a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their 'crashes' into the human race." For an episode of history more comparable to the coronavirus, there's John M. Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, "a tale of triumph amid tragedy, which provides us with a precise and sobering model as we confront the epidemics looming on our own horizon."

Below you'll find a meta-list of all the novels and nonfiction books included on the reading lists linked above. As for the books themselves — libraries and bookstores being a bit difficult to access in many parts of the world at the moment — you might check for them in our collection of books free online, the temporarily opened National Emergency Library at the Internet Archive, and our recent post on classic works of plague literature available to download. However you find these books, happy reading — or, more to the point, healthy reading.

Fiction

  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  • The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
  • Beauty Salon by Mario Bellatin
  • Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  • Blindness by José Saramago
  • The Book of M by Peng Shepherd
  • The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
  • Bring Out Your Dead by J.M. Powell
  • The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
  • The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian
  • The Companion by Katie M. Flynn
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
  • Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
  • The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz
  • Find Me by Laura van den Berg
  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
  • Journal of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad
  • The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  • The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
  • The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • Severance by Ling Ma
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
  • The Training Commission by Ingrid Burrington and Brendan Byrne
  • The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
  • The White Plague by Frank Herbert
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power
  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
  • Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
  • The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead

 

Nonfiction

  • The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby
  • And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts
  • The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Flu: The Story Of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Kolata
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry
  • The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly
  • History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
  • The Hot Zone The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
  • Networked Disease: Emerging Infections in the Global City by A. Harris Ali and Roger Keil
  • Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World by Laura Spinney
  • Pox: An American History by Michael Willrich

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Dolly Parton Will Read Bedtime Stories to You Every Week

Used to be that Dolly Parton was relegated to the country music community--well loved, adored, but hemmed in by her genre. Certainly Gen X’ers like myself didn’t take her too seriously, and having a theme park named after you in Tennessee? Not too cool.

Yet, as we have wandered back into the wretched, burning plains of modern life and found that, yes, Mister Rogers was a good person all along, we have also made space for Dolly Parton. She is a good person, and she is also therefore a Good Person.




Starting today, April 2, 2020, Dolly Parton will join us all in quarantine by way of the Internet to read us bedtime stories. She will be starting with The Little Engine That Could (see below), the classic tale of determination by Watty Piper. And listen, Gen X’ers, this isn’t for you! This is for your kids! (But okay yes, it’s also for you. It’s for all of you who have taken on the role of parent, teacher, entertainer, psychologist, and social worker without any increase in pay during these hard times. You just might be asleep before your kids once Dolly starts reading. I might just join you if I can find a spare blankie.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has been the force behind all this, a non-profit that promotes literacy and parent-child reading by sending a book every month to a child, from their birth till age five. It started in Parton’s home county in the mid-‘80s but now reaches 1,546,000+ children not just in the United States, but in Canada, Australia, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, according to her website.

The Little Engine That Could is a great kick off to a series of weekly bedtime stories. Do you think you can get through this? Just repeat to yourself: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Download Classic Works of Plague Fiction: From Daniel Defoe & Mary Shelley, to Edgar Allan Poe

The apotheosis of prestige realist plague film, Steven Soderburgh’s 2011 Contagion, has become one of the most popular features on major streaming platforms, at a time when people have also turned increasingly to books of all kinds about plagues, from fantasy, horror, and science fiction to accounts that show the experience as it was in all its ugliness—or at least as those who experienced it remembered the events. Such a work is Daniel Defoe’s semi-fictional history “A Journal of the Plague Year,” a book he wrote “in tandem with an advice manual called ‘Due Preparations for the Plague,’ in 1722,” notes Jill Lepore at The New Yorker.

In 1722, Defoe had reason to believe the plague might come back to London, and wreak the devastation it caused in 1665, the “plague year” he detailed, when one in every five Londoners died. This was not a story of heroes making sacrifices to save the city. “Everyone behaved badly, though the rich behaved the worst," Lepore writes. "Having failed to heed warnings to provision, they sent their poor servants out for supplies," spreading the infection throughout the city. Defoe earnestly hoped to head off such catastrophe. He wrote to issue an admonition, as he put it, “both to us and to posterity, though we should be spared from that portion of this bitter cup.”




The cup, Lepore writes, “has come out of its cupboard.” But so too has the resilience found in Albert Camus’ 1946 novel Le Peste (The Plague), based on a real cholera outbreak in Algeria in 1849. Though fictional, it draws on Camus’ study of historical plagues and his experience as a member of the French Resistance. Camus seems to have found the plague as metaphor particularly uplifting, nicknaming his twins Catherine and Jean, “Plague” and “Cholera,” respectively.

Whether we see it as a story of a siege brought on by sickness, or an allegory of an occupation, Camus wrote of the novel that “the inhabitants, finally freed, would never forget the difficult period that made them face the absurdness of their existence and the precariousness of the human condition. What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plagues as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.” Defoe might disagree, but plagues in his time were not also accompanied by widespread Nazism, a double crisis that might doubly force us to “reflect on what is real, what is important, and become more human,” says Catherine Camus of the soaring new popularity of her father’s novel.

We can do this through reading in our real-life quarantine. "Reading is an infection,” Lepore writes, “a burrowing into the brain: books contaminate, metaphorically, and even microbiologically” as physical objects capable of ferrying germs. Plagues are mass-existential crises on the level of WWII or the Lisbon earthquake that shook the faith of Europe’s intellectuals. They are also settings for love and terror, from Boccaccio and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Edgar Allan Poe and Margaret Atwood.

Vulture has published an “essential list” of 20 plague books to read, including many of the classics mentioned above, and a book that is hardly remembered but might be thought of as an ancestor to Atwood’s plague-ridden futures: Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, published in 1826 during the second of two virulent cholera pandemics. In the novel, Shelley claims to have discovered the story in prophetic writing about the end of the 21st century, telling of a disease that wipes out the human race. If you’d rather not indulge that kind of fantasy just yet, you’ll find varying degrees of imaginative and soberly realist fiction and history in the list of plague classics below, all freely available at Project Gutenberg.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

History of the Plague in London by Daniel Defoe

Loimologia: or, an Historical Account of the Plague in London in 1665 by Hodges et al.

The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Plague Ship by Andre Norton

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Plague by Teddy Keller

The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio

A History of Epidemics in Britain by Charles Creighton

A History of Epidemics in Britain, Volume II 

An account of the plague which raged at Moscow, in 1771 by Charles de Mertens

A brief Journal of what passed in the City of Marseilles, while is was afflicted with the Plague, in the Year 1720 by Pichatty de Croislainte

Cherry & Violet: A Tale of the Great Plague by Anne Manning

Libraries may have shut their possibly contaminated books behind closed doors, bookstores may be deemed nonessential, but reading—and writing—about plague years feels like a necessary cultural activity to help us understand who we are apt to become in such times.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

 

The Foot-Licking Demons & Other Strange Things in a 1921 Illustrated Manuscript from Iran

Few modern writers so remind me of the famous Virginia Woolf quote about fiction as a "spider's web" more than Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges. But the life to which Borges attaches his labyrinths is a librarian's life; the strands that anchor his fictions are the obscure scholarly references he weaves throughout his text. Borges brings this tendency to whimsical employ in his nonfiction Book of Imaginary Beings, a heterogenous compendium of creatures from ancient folk tale, myth, and demonology around the world.

Borges himself sometimes remarks on how these ancient stories can float too far away from ratiocination. The “absurd hypotheses” regarding the mythical Greek Chimera, for example, “are proof” that the ridiculous beast “was beginning to bore people…. A vain or foolish fancy is the definition of Chimera that we now find in dictionaries.” Of  what he calls “Jewish Demons,” a category too numerous to parse, he writes, “a census of its population left the bounds of arithmetic far behind. Throughout the centuries, Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia all enriched this teeming middle world.” Although a lesser field than angelology, the influence of this fascinatingly diverse canon only broadened over time.

“The natives recorded in the Talmud” soon became “thoroughly integrated” with the many demons of Christian Europe and the Islamic world, forming a sprawling hell whose denizens hail from at least three continents, and who have mixed freely in alchemical, astrological, and other occult works since at least the 13th century and into the present. One example from the early 20th century, a 1902 treatise on divination from Isfahan, a city in central Iran, draws on this ancient thread with a series of watercolors added in 1921 that could easily be mistaken for illustrations from the early Middle Ages.

As the Public Domain Review notes:

The wonderful images draw on Near Eastern demonological traditions that stretch back millennia — to the days when the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud asserted it was a blessing demons were invisible, since, “if the eye would be granted permission to see, no creature would be able to stand in the face of the demons that surround it.”

The author of the treatise, a rammal, or soothsayer, himself “attributes his knowledge to the Biblical Solomon, who was known for his power over demons and spirits,” writes Ali Karjoo-Ravary, a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Predating Islam, “the depiction of demons in the Near East… was frequently used for magical and talismanic purposes,” just as it was by occultists like Aleister Crowley at the time these illustrations were made.

“Not all of the 56 painted illustrations in the manuscript depict demonic beings,” the Public Domain Review points out. “Amongst the horned and fork-tongued we also find the archangels Jibrāʾīl (Gabriel) and Mikāʾīl (Michael), as well as the animals — lion, lamb, crab, fish, scorpion — associated with the zodiac.” But in the main, it’s demon city. What would Borges have made of these fantastic images? No doubt, had he seen them, and he had seen plenty of their like before he lost his sight, he would have been delighted.

A blue man with claws, four horns, and a projecting red tongue is no less frightening for the fact that he’s wearing a candy-striped loincloth. In another image we see a moustachioed goat man with tuber-nose and polka dot skin maniacally concocting a less-than-appetising dish. One recurring (and worrying) theme is demons visiting sleepers in their beds, scenes involving such pleasant activities as tooth-pulling, eye-gouging, and — in one of the most engrossing illustrations — a bout of foot-licking (performed by a reptilian feline with a shark-toothed tail).

There’s a playful Bosch-ian quality to all of this, but while we tend to see Bosch’s work from our perspective as absurd, he apparently took his bizarre inventions absolutely seriously. So too, we might assume, did the illustrator here. We might wonder, as Woolf did, about this work as the product of “suffering human beings… attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.” What kinds of ordinary, material concerns might have afflicted this artist, as he (we presume) imagined demons gouging the eyes and licking the feet of people tucked safely in their beds?

See many more of these strange paintings at the Public Domain Review.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Cork-Lined Bedroom & Writing Room of Marcel Proust, the Original Master of Social Distancing

Many of us now find ourselves stuck at home, doing our part to put a stop to the global coronavirus pandemic. Some of us are taking the opportunity to write the ambitious works of literature we've long intended to. Such an effort of creativity in confinement has no more suitable precedent than the life of Marcel Proust, who wrote much of his seven-volume masterpiece In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) in bed. The Paris Review's Sadie Stein quotes Proust's biographer Diana Fuss describing him as having written "from a semi-recumbent position, suspended midway between the realms of sleeping and waking using his knees as a desk."

He did it in a bedroom lined with cork, an addition meant, Stein writes, "not just to soundproof but to prevent pollen and dust from aggravating Proust’s allergies and asthma." Though the Spanish flu did make its way into France during Proust's last years, the writer had been worried about his own frail health since his first asthma attack at the age of nine.




He got the idea of lining his bedroom with cork from his friend Anna de Noailles, "a princess and socialite, a patron of the arts and a novelist in her own right," who also happened to be "plagued with debilitating fears and neuroses." You can visit faithful reconstructions of both of their bedrooms at Paris Musée Carnavalet, an essential stop on any Proust pilgrimage. So is the Hôtel Ritz Paris, which maintains a "Marcel Proust suite."

William Friedkin — yes, that William Friedkin — stayed in the Marcel Proust suite, "formerly a private dining room on the hotel’s second floor, where Proust often hosted small dinner parties," on the Proust pilgrimage he recalls in The New York Times. "I was told by the hotel manager that the room was reserved for Proust to entertain whenever he could venture out from his cork-lined bedroom at 102 Boulevard Haussmann." No doubt Proust "absorbed inspiration from conversations here, ones that made their way into his writing." In the last three years of his life, the writing almost entirely displaced the conversation: Proust spent almost all his time in his cork-lined bedroom, sleeping by day and putting everything he had into his work at night. A contemporary photograph of Proust's cork-lined bedroom appears at the top of the post, as recently included in a tweet by writer Ted Gioia calling Proust the "master of social distancing."

Just above, you can watch a talk on the writer's room and hypersensitivities (of both the aesthetic and physical varieties) that put him into it by Proust scholar William C. Carter, author of Marcel Proust: A Life and Proust in Love. What might Proust's father, the epidemiologist Adrien Proust, have thought about a new epidemic making the people of the 21st century look to his son?  Even if we don't take him as a model for writing life, this is nevertheless an appropriate moment to read his work (now available free online at the Internet Archive's National Emergency Library). "What Proust inspires in us is to see and to appreciate every seemingly insignificant place or object or person in our lives," writes Friedkin, "to realize that life itself is a gift and all the people we’ve come to know have qualities worth considering and celebrating — in time."

via Ted Gioia

Related Content:

Free eBooks: Read All of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past on the Centennial of Swann’s Way

An Introduction to the Literary Philosophy of Marcel Proust, Presented in a Monty Python-Style Animation

When James Joyce & Marcel Proust Met in 1922, and Totally Bored Each Other

16-Year-Old Marcel Proust Tells His Grandfather About His Misguided Adventures at the Local Brothel

The First Known Footage of Marcel Proust Discovered: Watch It Online

The National Emergency Library Makes 1.5 Million Books Free to Read Right Now

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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