Pandemical Reflections

Ironically, as the present actuality of a virus loose among us sends the people I know best into collective quarantine, I find myself less alone than ever. I barely get a moment to myself between the voice chats and video conferences and phone calls and text messages and slack alerts. As a literary hermit I feel not isolated but suddenly besieged. It turns out solitude is a place only empty because most people don’t live there. Now they’re here, and solitude is as loud as a highschool cafeteria.

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As ever when a globally salient trauma occurs, many people take every opportunity to deliver themselves of monologues and soliloquies directed to you but aimed slightly above your head at an imaginary universal audience, as if the space panic has cleared in their minds is the held breath of the world listening for the message only they can deliver. Tweets, emails, blog posts, and even chain letters have adopted a tone I can only describe as homiletic. “We have learned…” “We must face the fact that…” “It falls to us to…” “Let us…”

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It is harder to read now, or rather it is harder to begin to read. The difficulty is all in the first ten minutes. If I can overcome the urge to look at the news or stare out the window fretting, and if I allow a novel to launch its simulations in my brain, I have found myself experiencing intensities of imagination only comparable to the transports of childhood reading. Will I remember these vividly felt pandemic books as I remember the stories of childhood? Do fear and uncertainty somehow channel energy into the imagination?

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A persistent masochistic fantasy of mine is to be imprisoned with books to read or a book to write. No obligations but endurance and literature. Unfortunately, I now see that this fantasy requires, like a shadow, that everybody else continue bustling around in the usual state of distraction.

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Collective tribulation creates a desire in some people to become amateur historians or representative diarists. My theory is that this follows the revelation (or reminder) that writing has a special relation to death, the revelation that writing is a way for even the isolated and doomed to give one kind of meaning to their days. Clearly, as the existence of this very set of words confirms, I am not immune to the secondary epidemic of self-chronicle. Why fight it?

One thought on “Pandemical Reflections”

  1. Nothing changes, the madness continues; solitude is now one of them. The adjustment has been made. Life as we knew it is over.

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