It's been eighteen days since I started working from home and in the begining this was staying away from the city but getting outside to have a walk or ride alone, at least. Believe me, before I say anything else, I do appreciate every moment of being able to hold onto some work, and equally know this is something that can change at any moment. What follows are some personal observations, which from the outset, I acknowledge are relative and written in gratitude: I can work, I’m not sick, I have shelter.
As I write this, it only really has been a little more than two weeks of isolation, but time has already begun to seemingly break down. It's been ten days since I left the house at all, or total isolation – absolutely the longest time being indoors and in one place that I can consciously remember. This living in the moment is both exhausting and instructive. It is incredibly hard to avoid thinking about the calamity that is unfolding all around, nor does it seem right to be dismissive or unaware of it. Certainly, there are profound impacts taking place on a universal scale. Not a stone has been left unturned, so to speak.
Yet there is a sensation of selfishness in the way that I can absolutely isolate myself from this – for the moment at least: I have shelter and the necessities, my friends and family are okay so far, it is possible to physically distance myself from the world for a while. There are undoubtably degrees of magnitude and levels of impact on all those around. I can't help thinking about the people who don't have a safe space to stay in, or any space at all; the healthcare workers who are on the frontline of this and for whom every day must be unbearably anxious; the folks who have lost their jobs and have little or no means of support; the countless businesses that have already closed down; the elderly and vulnerable; those in developing countries, where this has already probably taken hold and is gaining momentum undetected.
It makes me feel incredibly afraid. A tight and heavy feeling rises in my chest several time a day, and especially when watching the news or other sources in the media. There is myself, there are those close to me, there are the vulnerable, there is the very fabric of the world: all hanging on the edge.
There is so much at stake that beyond the work, which I am thankful for, it seems difficult to do anything else. The context has shifted so radically, that all the productions of culture already seem rooted in another existence and time. This in some way renders them not insignificant, but something else, something that I can't quite put my finger on. Being very guilty of tsundoku, the great Japanese word for letting piles of unread books accumulate, now would seem an ideal time to sit down and finally devote serious time to reading. The reality is though, it is incredibly hard to pull myself away from the very live issues that are unfolding.
Then there is the experience of the temporal. I’ve seen reference to others who have said that their notion of time has altered. In relation to work, this seems to be particularly acute. I’m beginning to understand that alternating activities and the availability of intervals that interweave into the experience of time change one’s notion of duration. The physical movement around the spaces that surround me at work; the walking to meetings in different buildings and floors; the chance conversations with colleagues during the day to affirm our experiences; the time spent going to and from work. This time itself has been very important. The riding on my bike to and from work, and especially from work has, it seems, been a way to discharge tensions and anxieties about the day; along with getting some extra, well needed exercise. Now there is an amplification of experience, where moments seem far thicker and denser. These moments blend into each other in a kind of emotional melange. There is waking, there is work (and sitting for hours in the same space); there is sleep to try to escape from the awful reality; and then more work. But of course, these impressions and experiences must be read from the vantage point of what has been relayed earlier in this post. These are personal and subjective experiences, more so written as a record but always within the context of their relative position in these challenging times, but also, importantly, as a counterpoint to times when certain liberties were enjoyed without giving them the full acknowledgement that was warranted, or really without thinking about them at all sometimes.
As always with me, it is easier to understand the value of that which has been lost and that which can no longer be experienced. It is also easier to write about things when they have taken place, harder so to understand and reflect on moments as they are unfolding and revealing. Perhaps more so when an event is clearly historical in its breadth and scale, and universal in its impact. What could one say that is worth saying? What could one say that is helpful and not needlessly throwing fuel on a fire of misinformation and panic?
Certainly, while I have my impressions and experiences of this situation, some of these will be shared and maybe some even universal, but unquestionably, this is bigger than any single person and raises questions that cannot be ignored and reach far further than the inner, subjective experience. Everything so far, and with every day shines a blindingly bright light on the important things that have been ignored and neglected by our societies as a whole.
Much in the way of totalitarian regimes, there has been a near complete acceptance that the market has and will provide the solutions to human needs, and that the unrestrained accumulation of profit is acceptable and prioritised above all else. It might seem like the easy option to stand on a soap box and blame the shortcomings of the political and social establishment, but these shortcomings are nothing new, and they have been pointed to all the while. This situation has however, amplified and made it undeniable that we have been going down the wrong path. Our institutions, which should be there to provide balance and safeguards have all but given way to the needs of the market: which only really has one need. As Adorno and Horkheimer wrote almost 80 years ago:
As soon as man discards his awareness that he himself is nature, all the aims for which he keeps himself alive – social progress, the intensification of all his material and spiritual powers, even consciousness itself – are nullified, and the enthronement of the means as an end, which under late capitalism is tantamount to open insanity, is already perceptible in the prehistory of subjectivity. Man’s domination over himself, which grounds his selfhood, is almost always the destruction of the subject in whose service it is undertaken. – Adorno & Horkheimer, 1944
It is perhaps easy to look back at extreme totalitarianism and be perplexed by how societies allowed and accepted these systems taking place. They seem so clearly corrupt and perverse in their values as to be completely intolerable by ordinary people. Yet, is it not reasonable to conceive that while our societies are not necessarily led by psychotic demagogues, with singular and deranged value systems; the near total acquiescence to the needs of a singular market ideology is not much better.
Could these events not lead to a recalibration of values, and a reorganisation of our society based along these values and thus driven by human needs – not profit? It is hopeful and encouraging that many are now saying and seeing similar things.