Sunday 5 April 2020

Quarantine readings

Ionian Sea, Summer 2019

Trying to make sense of everything that is happening, trying to put one’s thoughts in order, trying to take care of the immediate as well as imagine the distant, the “post-something”, my latest readings mix up, one feeding the other, and some words keep emerging:

fear and uncertainty; hope and imagination; care and solidatity;
 And… silence

On fear and uncertainty
“Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear?”, wondered Arundhati Roy.
At the same time, Franco “Bifo” Berardi was quoting psychologist Luigi D´Elia, who recently wrote: “If well focused, fear is the main drive for change. Jung says it clearly, ‘Where there is fear, there lays the task’.
“What is the object of fear?”, Berardi continues. “More than one: fear of disease, fear of boredom, and fear of what the world will be like when we will finally leave the house. But since fear is an engine of change, what we need to do is to create conscious conditions for change.”

On hope and imagination
Fear can push us forward and hope can make us dream and imagine. What is the change we need, the change we can dream and should long for, the change we should be planning for?

Judith Butler talks about hope: “To stay within the framework of Realpolitik is, I think, to accept a closing down of horizons, a way to seem ‘cool’ and skeptical at the expense of radical hope and aspiration.”

We must be stubborn and insist on keeping our horizons open, ignore those who have been telling us that we haven’t got other options.

For Deborah Cullinan, hope is a driving force:

“Are we willing to accept - as an arts system and a society - that we are not just waiting this out so that we can ‘bounce back? We are, rather, facing this virus - and all the inequity and injustice it surfaces - so that we can prepare to reinvent our institutions and our systems to be ready to meet new needs, find a new normal, and better serve the wellbeing of our communities. This need for reinvention is our absolute certainty. To step to it, we need to understand hope as an essential and practical driver in a system of possibility. (…) How can we help not by perpetuating our sector as we know it; and instead by reimagining our work across sectors, silos and differences, to introduce new possibilities to both lead and serve a new and different tomorrow? What is our practical application in a time of loss and uncertainty?”

On care and solidarity

There is in many of us a need to serve our communities, a need to be useful. And perhaps this is where one possible answer lies.
Going back to Berardi: “When, one day, the body comes out from the confinement of quarantine, the problem will not be rebalancing the relation between time, work, and money, rebalancing debt and repayment. The European Union has been fractured and weakened by its obsession with debt and balance, but people are dying, hospitals are running out of ventilators, and doctors are overwhelmed by fatigue, anxiety, and fear of infection. Right now, this cannot be changed by money, because money is not the problem. The problem is: What are our concrete needs? What is useful for human life, for collectivity, for therapy? (…) So, money is impotent now. Only social solidarity and scientific intelligence are alive, and they can become politically powerful. (…) What do we need now? Now, in the immediate now, we need a vaccine against the malady, we need protective masks, and we need intensive care equipment. And in the long run we need food, we need affection and pleasure. And a new culture of tenderness, solidarity, and frugality.”

To whom are we going to express this tenderness and solidarity?

Ailton Kranak reminds us that our concept of so-called “humanity" excludes a variety of sub-humanities (indigenous peoples insisting on living in close contact with their land), as well as 70% of the people who were taken away from their lands and live in slums and peripheries.

Judith Butler arguments that “If we were to rethink ourselves as social creatures who are fundamentally dependent upon one another - and there’s no shame, no humiliation, no “feminization” in that - I think that we would treat each other differently, because our very conception of self would not be defined by individual self-interest. (…) Our interdependency serves as the basis of our ethical obligations to one another. When we strike at one another, we strike at that very bond. (…) We would need to develop political practices to make decisions about how to live together less violently.”

Many intellectuals agree, at this point, that our return to normality would be catastrophic. By now, many people are suspecting that the “normal” was not good enough and has driven us to this point. Perhaps, there may be hope that many will be willing to work together for a “new normal” and, as usual, Deborah Cullinan sees the arts and arts organisation at the forefront of such processes.

Dare to imagine…

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next”, writes Arundhati Roy. Judith Butler reminds us that “Sometimes ‘reality’ is used to debunk as childish or unknowledgeable points of view that actually are holding out a more radical possibility of equality or freedom or democracy or justice, which means stepping out of a settled understanding.”

We should dare to imagine something different and ignore those who will wish to discipline us with their “realistic” arguments.
Berardi believes that we will get the chance to rewrite the rules and break any automatism. But this belief comes with a warning: “But it is good to know, this won’t happen peacefully. We cannot foresee the shape the conflict will take, yet we must begin to imagine it. Whoever imagines first wins - one of the universal laws of history.”
Kranak gives us an idea of what the conflict might involve: “Our time is specialised in creating absences: of the meaning of living in society, of the meaning of the experience of life itself. This generates a great intolerance towards those who are still able to experience the pleasure of being alive, of dancing, of singing. And it is full of small constellations of people around the world that dance, sing, make it rain. The type of zombie humanity that we are being asked to integrate does not tolerate so much pleasure, so much enjoyment of life. So, they preach the end of the world as a possibility to make us give up our own dreams.”
Berardi also reflects on this: “The massive spread of death we are witnessing in this pandemic may reactivate our sense of time as enjoyment, rather than as the postponement of joy.”
On silence
“Our mother, Earth, gives oxygen for free, puts us to sleep, wakes up with the morning sun, gives oxygen, lets the birds sing, the currents, the breezes, creates this wonderful world to be shared, and what do we do with it? This may mean a loving mother who has decided to make her child shut up, at least for a moment. It's not because she don't like her child, but she wants to teach them something. Silence, my child. This is what the Earth is telling humanity. And she is so wonderful that it is not an imperative order. She is simply telling us: silence. This is also the meaning of the retreat.“  Ailton Kranak

Arundhati Roy, The pandemic is a portal

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