The Plague Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd, Existentialism, Humanism Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
To fight abstraction you must have something of it in your own make-up. But how could Rambert be expected to grasp that? Abstraction for him was all that stood in the way of happiness. (2.2.74)
Let’s take this one piece at a time. Rambert wants to be with his "wife," a concrete and clear goal. Abstractions, or grand ideas such as "heroism" or "the good of society" stand in his way. This is why he isn’t willing to deal with ideas in any manner; he can’t see that, in fact, you need to use abstraction – as Rieux does – to fight abstraction. When Rieux says that he uses abstraction, he means that he closes himself off emotionally to the individual suffering of his patients. This is what allows him to do his job, such as quarantine a sick individual, even though it means heartache for a given family.
"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." (2.7.63)
Rieux initially saw his profession as an idea, not a concrete reality. Clearly, he’s learned his lesson.
"Man isn’t an idea, Rambert." Rambert sprang off the bed, his faze ablaze with passion. "Man is an idea, and a precious small idea, once he turns his back on love. And that’s my point; we—mankind—have lost the capacity for love. […] Let’s wait to acquire the capacity […]. Personally, I look no further. (2.9.237-9)
Rambert sees abstraction as the enemy, as the penalty, for losing love. He claims that love roots us in reality, makes us concrete and palpable, whereas without it, we become mere abstractions.