A collaborative project by the UCA Writers’ Group
TO MY BELOVED FUTURE CHILD
Firstly, on behalf of us all, I believe an apology is in order.
We let it all happen and just watched. Such a passive audience. So many words spoken, written, yet so little done. Social media rife with complaints, such loud cries, yet still no action. Many will claim they did not realize, that they did not see, yet others may argue they chose not to. It is up to you to decide who and what to believe.
It did not all happen in a day. These things seldomly do.
It started with us watching events unfold from afar, in another country, on another continent, shielded by our little screens. Once more, we believed ourselves to be invincible. We were convinced we were safe. We could not have been more wrong.
So opinionated pointing our judgemental finger. Some even claimed that they brought it upon themselves, that they deserved it while others spoke of conspiracy—“Look at how they live.”,“ look at how they eat”, “look at what they eat”, “savages, the lot of them” , “I heard it came from a lab”…
As irony would have it, we were next.
And yes it had to do with the way WE eat, mass producing indecent ever-increasing amounts of food, of meat, always more and more and more. It was never enough. It mattered not that we were warned, our governments chose to pay no heed to our scientists, to turn a blind eye to the grim forecast they were begging us to see, to understand, to react to…
Once upon a time we were free to wander the land as we pleased with whom we pleased. Greetings were done with kisses, embraces, handshakes or just a quick nod and it was our choice. Then one day, it had crossed the border and arrived and was here and then it all changed. No more kisses from your nan, no more family embraces, no more touching each other, no more seeing friends, no more hanging out and chilling, no more nights out, no more dancing with the girls, no more, just not more.
The streets fell quiet as our cities played dead.
We were all cooped up inside our homes but it would be a lie to pretend it was the same for all. This dark period she the light on the ever-existing inequalities present in our rich developed countries. While some wrote diaries about their harsh confinement experience in the beautiful country homes they had run off to as soon as the news reached their ears others were sharing a two-bedroom apartment with the other 6 people in their family. While some got to spend time working on their vegetable gardens or learning how to scrapbook, use pastel or make their own bread others got to spend hours queuing for food after harsh days of ungrateful work. Easy for those locked up in their ivory towers to yet again, point a judgemental finger to those down there who dared not respect the rules. Once more, blame came easy.
Divide to conquer as they say, and so they did.
A TAKE ON THREE TOPICS: THE PANDEMIC AS PORTAL, THE GIMMICK, THE INNER LIFE
The pandemic has made visible the already present pitfalls of our society. Between those who feared for they lives and brushed the Grim Reaper, and those who never bothered to wear a mask, or in other words those who feel concerned and those who do not. This is in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects the pandemic has made visible; kindness and egocentricity.
I am not sure whether or not it has made anything obsolete. Well, not yet. However, basic human interaction went through some stark changes overnight. No more handshakes. No more bises à la française. And preferably, anyone ought to be two meters away. Social and human thresholds have been altered. Maybe not forever, but for as long as this pandemic lasts, our ways will be different. What does it allow? For us to realise how fragile life is, to seek happiness in what is commonplace. But in light of recent events, it does seem to prevent, or forbid, more than it allows anything.
The Gimmick is described as a time saver, work-intensifier, as a device “that works too hard” and “too little” and something that makes “capitalist production transparent” but at the same time “obscure” (Sianne Ngai’s Theory of the Gimmick , Chapter I). Antithetic and confusing, the gimmick seems more of fleeting concept than a bound to earth idea. Yet, we all embrace it and treat it adamantly as such. Her theory is in essence, an aesthetic theory on our current capitalistic society or, the relationship between art and labour trough gimmicks. More information in her book, of which I highly recommend reading.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, drastic changes in the workforce spawned. Some worked from home, undaunted by the jarring masses and some were frontline workers, essential to our society, so we have been told. We are at war— repeated four times President E. Macron, like a college student religiously applying a textbook anaphora in an essay, which marked the beginning of new sets of gimmicks. Controversial in nature, for the lexis of warfare is usually used for actual wars, we were now officially in a fight against the virus. And during a war, you either support or join the frontlines or refuse to bear arms. Thus, new quips such as In these hard times… or We are all in this together… and Please support our essential workers were in every politician’s mouths, despite having failed at preserving us from said hard times. Capitalist in nature and gimmicky in forms. As Ngai put it, we both love it and hate it. Here, these messages we like because of the support we need, but hate because of where it comes from.
But more than languages, but still related to, publicity boomed online (delivery services to streaming platforms), and also on the telly (stay-at-home campaigns, PSA’s) among many other forms of divertimento. In what sense they are gimmicks, in would argue, is that brands affect people and have real impacts and translating humanistic values through a capitalistic microcosm reduced to one-minute ads and punchlines can make use uneasy. Though, not downright useless or evil.
While I was writing this last bit, wondering if it even made sense and if I was going to send it in the end, I came across a governmental public announcement; Tenir ensemble. Face au virus, chaque geste compte. Posted by the official French government Facebook account, it appeared on my timeline at just the right time. Like I said above, this is not useless nor evil. It is part of the Government’s duty to address, inform and to spread awareness. Spread information, not the virus.
Quelques réflexions à partir du livre de Jean-Guilhem Xerri Prenez soin de votre âme: Petit Traité d’écologie intérieure :
La sobriété possède deux sens, selon moi, bien distincts. Le plus usité est l’état de sobriété dû à l’absence d’alcool. Mais pas ici, en tout cas pas tout à fait. Ici, c’est plus en rapport à une philosophie de vie, ou une manière de penser, d’être et agir. La sobriété n’est pas juste de ne pas boire ou l’absence d’extravagance, mais plutôt une résultante, menant à une forme d’équilibre intérieur. Selon Jean-Guilhem Xerri, c’est une vraie « pharmacie de l’âme liée à la santé spirituelle » qui serait de « faite de sobriété ». En soi, une vie sobre au sens propre du terme.
Selon moi, cette sobriété est essentielle si l’on veut se préoccuper et se soucier de l’autre, vouloir prendre soin d’autrui et/ou de soi-même. Ce n’est chose aisée si cet état de sobriété n’est pas atteint. Comment aider autrui si on ne s’est pas aidé auparavant ? Comment aimer son prochain sans s’aimer soi-même ? D’expérience personnelle, c’est compliqué. La sobriété serait une sorte de prérequis pour une intériorité qui peut aider contre le repli sur soi parmi d’autres choses.
Une vie intérieure serait donc une combinaison de tout cela, un moyen de créer une véritable « santé de l’intérieur », comme dirait Xerri. Et surtout en ces temps rudes, je pense que c’est essentiel. Que ça soit spirituel ou religieux, il est important de prendre du recul et de se faire du bien.
Relié à l’idée d’écologie interne de Xerri, cela serait pour moi, une réconciliation de soi-même par rapport à soi-même. S’accepter comme l’on est à l’instant-t mais évoluer en mieux, vers ce que l’on veut et non se replier sur l’inéluctable. Devenir un agent et non une victime de sa propre vie. Une bonne écologie interne pourrait être d’admettre ses sentiments négatifs et d’aspirer à ce qui est actuellement bénéfique pour soi. Après tout, la seule personne avec laquelle vous allez devoir vivre, c’est vous-même.
A RETROSPECTIVE DIARY ON LIFE DURING LOCKDOWN
Five letters. Two figures. Covid-19.
Tuesday 17th March 2020. Noon. Mankind officially enters a parallel dimension through this mysterious coronavirus portal—an unknown world in which time seems to be somehow frozen, even though the clock is still ticking. The street is awfully quiet. No one is to be seen.
Monday 23rd March 2020. An extension of the lockdown period was announced tonight. It has not even been a week. How queer it is that, in no more than a couple of days, the pandemic seems to have shrouded the entire human race in a thick mist of uncertainty—and everyone, although fully aware of their short-sightedness, appears to be questioning, escaping, running away from—fighting, even—this new, invisible and most certainly uncontrollable entity.
Monday 11th May 2020. The (first) lockdown ends. Fundamental questions are still left without any clear-cut answers: “Where does it come from? How long will it last? When will we—finally—be able to carry on with our lives as we used to?”.
Tuesday 29th September 2020. Patrons are progressively deserting their sun chairs at private beach clubs. Summer is slowly coming to an end. It is back-to-school time. Universities are allowed to reopen—how long will that last? Nobody knows. Nobody can know.
Friday 30th October 2020. Here we go again. Lockdown, season 2—episode 1. We all knew this day would come. We had been warned. Universities are closed—yet they seem to be the only ones. Primary and secondary schools are open.
Tuesday 17th November 2020. New questions are starting to arise: “When will non-essential shops reopen? Will the lockdown be extended? How will we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve?”. A fundamental question is still left unanswered: “When will this situation come to an end?”.
Friday 15th January 2021. Processing the end-of-the-year aftermath. Coronavirus cases resulting from a general slackening during the recent celebrations are bound to peak. The curfew is maintained.
The winter break is coming. High-end ski resorts are usually fully booked a month prior to the holiday date—yet they are exceptionally closed this year. It has nearly been a year, and the fog of uncertainty still has not lifted. On the contrary, it seems to become thicker month after month.
Friday 5th February 2021. Waiting for the third lockdown. We all know it is happening. It is just a matter of time before we are forced to stay at home again. People are increasingly complaining about the overall lack of foresight. I, however, do not believe that this pandemic has entirely blinded us—it rather seems to have shed a blazing light on countless important aspects, hoping to trigger a (tragic) global awakening.
It only takes one to open their eyes to see it: is it not time we truly appreciated the inestimable value of our medical professions? Is it not time we understood the crucial need for better hospital funding? Is it not time we realized how precious—and fragile— human life is? Is it not time we cherished it, protected it, saved it, by limiting our social interactions and physical contacts—however important they are?
More importantly: is it not time we became aware that behaving responsibly is the only way we can stop this pandemic?
Even so, people continue to go out unmasked in the street or, worse, to take it off when feeling the sudden need to cough— and I cannot help but wonder: what (else) would it take for us to finally open our eyes?
Saturday 6th February 2021. Still processing this surreal dimension we have been living in for almost a year now. They say this is one of the worst pandemics that humanity has known in over a century. Be that as it may, I refuse not to try and find a glimmer of hope amidst these dark times: Nature’s desperate cry for help does not necessarily mean that the end is near—nor does it mean that it is too late to remedy this situation.
This warning signal, of course, most certainly shows that the ties uniting Man and Nature have been changed, damaged, altered—but not irrevocably severed. Nature can still recover.
We can still recover.
To be continued…
ON READING POETRY
Louise Glück was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020.
Another 2020 turn of events—a welcome October surprise.
I have found myself unable to read novels lately; poetry has felt more appropriate to the tentative and urgent mood—particularly, as Glück’s puts it beautifully in her Nobel lecture, “poems to which the listener or reader makes an essential contribution, as recipient of a confidence or an outcry, sometimes as co-conspirator”. Glück continues by quoting Emily Dickinson’s famous lines: “I’m nobody!”-“Are you nobody, too?/Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!”.
Could poems retrieve for us the intimacy we have lost in the real world in the wake of our pandemic predicament?
Is Poetry a way to reacquaint ourselves with the joy of an intimate conversation?
Does the poetic text awaken the voice of our agency as we work our way to the “urgent plea” or “confidence” extended to us, readers of lyrics and verse—“elected listeners”, in Glück’s words again.
As I consider the book I wrote with my father during the summer —Retour sur les guerres et leurs confinements (Michel Houdiard Editeur, December 2020)—I realize that my prose aims at the poetic—and daily reality takes on emblematic or parabolic value—striving to communicate something of the “puny inexhaustible voice” of humanity, in the image of another American Nobel laureate, William Faulkner. Faulkner’s context, like ours, was scarred by fear and terror; the Cold War was a pandemic of another kind, with its invisible viruses, casualties, and uncertainties. But, as History has shown us, that era, too, came to pass.
The Berlin Wall was destroyed; new times were ushered.
One word at a time, one image at a time, one sound at a time.
In this Winter season, Louise Gluck’s Snowdrops provides a truce in our own warring times; I rehearse some of its whispers and murmurs—fear hushed out of existence, hope throbbing, light waxing:
I did not expect to surviveEarth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
in the raw wind of the new world.
LIGNES DE FUITE
« Individus ou groups, nous sommes traversés de lignes, méridiens, géodésiques, tropiques, fuseaux qui ne battent pas sur le même rythme et n’ont pas la même nature. (…) Car de toutes ces lignes, certaines nous sont imposées du dehors, au moins en partie. D’autres naissent un peu par hasard, d’un rien, on ne saura jamais pourquoi. D’autres doivent être inventées, tracées, sans aucun modèle ni hasard: nous devons inventer nos lignes de fuite si nous sommes capables, et nous ne pouvons les inventer qu’en les traçant, effectivement, dans la vie. »G. Delleuze, F. Guattari, Mille Plateaux, Editions de Minuit, p257
Avant le mot, avant l’identité, peut être avant la conscience, il y a, semble-t-il, une ligne, un mouvement, dans le temps ou dans l’espace, qui relie et donne une cohérence à une succession d’états, lui donne son sens, permet la conscience, permet l’identité, permet le mot.
Est-ce encore une projection de la cognition humaine ou bien réellement une propriété du réel? Est-ce que c’est notre manière de percevoir qui se structure par lignes, par délimitations, par trajectoires, qui ne peut pas faire autrement? Ou bien y a-t-il d’abord la ligne, d’abord la délimitation, d’abord la trajectoire?
Universel de la ligne, celle de la géologie, celle des champs de forces, celle des anneaux de croissance des végétaux, celles tracées, avec une insolente anarchie, par les innombrables rhizomes du vivant. Propriété minimale sans laquelle tout est chaos, indécidable, inextricable, absurde.
Je suis une ligne. Evidemment toute une variété de lignes. Lorsque je commence une phrase sans vraiment savoir où elle me mène, lorsque j’interprète, lorsque je parle, lorsque mes émotions entrent en résonance. Il y a, à chaque fois, une ligne qui a été suivie, que je vais suivre, qui est privilégiée, qui arrive à la conscience et donne à un certain mouvement (de pensée, de mots, d’émotions, de sensations) une cohérence. L’inscrit dans quelque chose. On dirait, un récit, une autobiographie, on dirait, une fiction.
Vertige de penser l’inverse. C’est à dire que la ligne n’est pas le résultat du langage (il y a langage, donc il y a fiction, donc il y a récit, donc je m’inscris dans un fragment de récit), mais que le langage est le résultat de la ligne. Il y a des lignes. Il y en a partout. Il y a des trajectoires, il y a des strates, il y a des traces à suivre, donc il y a moi, donc il y a langage.
A propos d’écologie intérieure, dans un temps où l’extérieur est comme figé, glacé, jeter un regard vers les océans inconnus dont ne nous parviennent que le lointain écho des marées gigantesques. Plonger dans le mystère immense et à jamais irrésolu de la conscience. Voir, tracer, imaginer des lignes sans lesquelles tout n’est que chaos.
Fermer les yeux un instant et continuer de voir.