Critique in times of Corona

by | 8 Apr 2020

Over the last few weeks we have received a large number of pieces on the pandemic, so we have decided to publish a small selection of them over the next few days, and then to continue to publish them as they arrive. In the past we would have called this intense blog series a ‘carnival’, but on a first pass the ‘Covid Carnival’ has a mawkish ring to it. Pausing for a moment, the association between carnival and plague is well established. In Venice, near the site of the first European outbreak, the carnival has fetishized the plague in the mask of il medico della peste. This eerie echo of seventeenth century ‘personal protective equipment’ (PPE) was held to be an imminent sign of death. It stood over you as a sign of the miasmic contamination and contagion in which you lived. In an article for Counterpunch last month, Julian Vigo commented on this: ‘it is inevitable that those of us in Italy are haunted by the figure of the plague doctor.’ In these viral times, the figure of the plague doctor has gained a new sense of immediacy. Vigo explains that now ‘everyone is suspect and there is no plague doctor’. There is no plague doctor because there is no one to cure the viral illness. We can be kept alive with mechanical ventilation, but the virus is so far impervious to treatment. But we can also see that there is no plague doctor in its carnivalesque sense – a reminder that death is not distant, but an ever present possibility. Who needs to be reminded of that in the Coronavirus lockdown. In truth, I suspect, we might well long for the day when we can all dress in the PPE masks of today, and dance together in the street. We can long for a time when the distant memory of this virus is enough to remind us of death, but not enough to really ruin your night out. No doubt, that time will come. But for now, all we have to offer you is critique in the times of the corona; a series of lines of flight out of the ‘crisis’, some that originate in reactions to Agamben’s recent controversial analysis, spiralling outwards from his trajectory; Others that come from other sites of critique (Sylvia Wynter for instance). We hope you will read, and contemplate, and contribute in comments and further articles.


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