Since deciding to start blogging every day, I have avoided writing in the first person, recounting my days and my experiences in typical public-diary fashion, as I didn’t want this blog to be yet another machine of ego-production, yet another let-me-tell-you-about-my-life space. Yet, it turned out to be yet another machine, and yet another space, rife with the potential for boredom-inducement and non-value.
Then Coronavirus came knocking at our doors, and I realised that there are not just pandemics of pathogens, but also pandemics of stories about pathogens. That a virus is not just contagious, but also culturally totalising. It eats up the airwaves, the bandwidth, it fills every crack and every corner. It became clear that there are only two types of discourse allowed to thrive and proliferate in this time of crisis: the impersonal, journalistic, descriptive, often scientific idiom around what the pandemic has been, is, and will be, and the personal, phenomenological discourse of what the pandemic means to each one of us, individually, the first-person view upon the shuddering world, upon our slice of the world to which we have unmediated access.
As the public space disappears, the private space becomes a novel marketplace, a panopticon of self-expression and self-visibility. We are losing the ‘we’ field, but we’re boosting the ‘I’ space. The crowd of observers discovers the power of storytelling, the reservoir of personal expression. The crowd rejects the crowd and scatters out.
Readers become writers. The age of self-chronicling is upon us. It is not only therapeutic, but also inevitably empowering, the sudden realisation that our lives may finally interest others. Why we needed a pandemic to understand this obvious truth, beats me. Maybe that’s how it works. St Augustine discovered it at a time of public crisis. So did Boethius. So did Montaigne. So do we.
Yet it remains that everything we read or see these days contains a protein of coronavirus. It’s in the stories we tell, the poems we write (the New Yorker has just published a poem about self-isolation), the conversations we have. We express ourselves reflexively and creatively, but we’re being held captive and captivated by this tiny killer. Pandemics are totalisers. We shouldn’t respond in kind. It’s hard, but perhaps we feel that if we don’t, we’ll be taxed as indifferent and aloof.
If you’re reading this blog regularly, you will notice that I too have cast my lot in with those singing the fall of Troy. Which means that this blog is at risk of becoming even more boring, more irrelevant, more personal. You’ve been warned.