The Plague

Jacqueline Rose

French paperback with flaps, 160 pages
Published 7 June 2023

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What do you do with death and dying when they can no longer be pushed to the outer limits of your lived experience or dismissed from your conscious mind? How do you live with death or rather how do you ‘live death’ when death comes too close, seeming to enter the very air you breathe?
     The Plague is a collection of essays guiding us from the Covid-19 pandemic through to the war in Ukraine in order to imagine a world in which a radical respect for death might exist alongside a fairer distribution of the earth’s wealth. ‘Living death’ will appear as something of a refrain, a reminder that to think of death as an avoidable intruder into how we order our lives, especially in the West, is an act of defiance that is doomed to fail. In the thought of the philosopher Simone Weil, who plays a key role in the book, only if we admit the limits of the human, will we stop vaunting the brute illusion of earthly power.

‘The vitality of these valuable essays on death, war and Simone Weil keeps on giving long after the last page has been turned.’
Deborah Levy, Guardian

‘Rose cements her place at the summit of Anglo literary culture. The book is also testament to the essay as the most exhilarating form through which to confront the history of the present.… Rose never tries to have the last word or entomb her subjects in cast-iron conclusions about their life and thought. She invites us to do our own thinking, to grapple with the violence and paradoxes of existence.’
Gavin Jacobson, New Statesman

‘This is a brief but beautifully written book, full of memorable insights into life, death, and politics. In particular, the final essay on Weil is a wonderfully moving mix of biographical, philosophical and political analysis…. In Weil’s writings, Rose finds a glimmer of hope in dark times: “against race, class and national affiliations, Weil’s heart is beating right across the globe”.’
— PD Smith, Guardian

‘It’s really hard for me to overestimate how important [Rose’s] work has been for me…. I don’t feel like that about very many writers.’
— Maggie Nelson

‘Jacqueline Rose has no peer among critics of her generation. The brilliance of her literary insight, the lucidity of her prose, and the subtlety of her analyses are simply breathtaking.’
— Edward Said

‘A surfeit of elegance and intelligence.’
— Ali Smith

‘One of the most original and intellectually sophisticated minds at work today.’
— Eimear McBride

‘As a literary scholar and psychoanalytic thinker, Rose has long insisted that we pay close attention to the subterranean fears, fantasies, and narratives that structure our most pressing sociopolitical problems.’
— Merve Emre, The Nation

‘To read Rose is to understand that there is no border between us and the world; it is an invitation to a radical kind of responsibility.’ 
— Parul Sehgal, New York Times

‘[Rose’s] work remains surprising and original…. The more I read her, the more I see the world through her questions…. Her real power, what makes her necessary as well as unique, may be how she teaches readers to ask probing questions on their own.’ 
— Christine Smallwood, New York Review of Books

‘Instead of avoiding that foregone conclusion, these essays – which touch on everything from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine – encourage a radical respect of death as, if nothing else, a reminder of our equality as humans, which feels especially important in a world that grows less equal by the day.’
Róisin Lanigan, i-D

‘Rose’s excellence as a critic rests on how well she nurtures others’ ideas, how plausibly she treats them as her own. Every written sentence tries to embody an idea, to give it a shape that limns its meaning, as if to recollect something of cave-time signification.’
Sarah Nicole Pricket, Bookforum

‘This book is … startingly up-to-date in ways that other explorations of the pandemic are perhaps not, set as it is on reminding the reader that, while we may be some way out of the woods, there remains a discomforting after-effect. So, despite dealing explicitly with the pandemic, Rose establishes a formulation within a period bookended by two key events: the beginning of UK lockdown and the invasion of Ukraine, yoking them together in accordance with Albert Camus’ assertion that “the two realities of history which to date people have never been prepared for [are] plagues and wars,” and an understanding that, often, one disaster bleeds into the next. This stands in quiet structural defiance to the usual narrative rolled out by news outlets, in which each constituent tragedy stands isolated and disconnected from the other.’
Lia Rockey, Arts Desk

‘[A] slender, brilliant collection of essays that takes the catastrophe of the pandemic as its principal subject, though war, protest and climate injustice feature prominently. Her overarching assertion is that in this moment of illness and upheaval, we can no longer push death to the periphery. Rather, we would be wise to treat it as a type of companion – as a fate that binds us all but which is doled out unjustly…. If she seems to be grappling with grim subjects, Rose’s writing is always playful and unexpected.’
Isabella Trimboli, Saturday Paper 

Jacqueline Rose is internationally recognised as one of the most important living feminist and cultural critics. She is the co-director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, a co-founder of Independent Jewish Voices, and a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Literary Society. Rose is a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books and the Guardian, among many other publications. Her books include Sexuality in the Field of VisionThe Haunting of Sylvia PlathStates of FantasyWomen in Dark TimesMothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty, and On Violence and On Violence Against Women.