After The Covid-19: Speculations Over The Verb ‘To Re-Start
One week ago, I left my room in London with mixed feelings: I took this decision based on the impossibility to formulate any previsions about the future. I travelled from London- Heathrow to Roma-Fiumicino by plane and then, from Roma-Fiumicino to Venice by car. Being born in neoliberal and globalized times, I am not used to making decisions which are beyond the possibility of choosing among several diversified options: in the current situation, we have lost our apparently unlimited freedom to travel, to produce and to consume. Only one flight company operates this trip. The Italian government ensures the opportunity to come back to their home country only for its own citizens who are currently living in the UK, whilst the borders are officially closed for the rest of the population. Once arrived in Venice, I had to self-isolate for 14 days meaning that I could not leave home neither for doing shopping or taking the trash out. These are the only two activities for which Italians who reside in the red areas – zones highly affected by the COVID-19 – are now allowed to leave their houses.
Being at home with my family implies to join again the quotidian rituals happening among its warm walls, after months. One of these consists in watching the news together on the television, while having meals. Since my return, I thus heard several times journalists announcing that ‘We will be ready to restart our activities soon, though we need to act carefully and gradually’. When this happens, the members of my family stop eating and impose absolute silence on each other in the hope that possible dates for the ‘re-opening’ of the activities will be officially announced. Recently, the Italian government has indeed made public a provisional calendar for the next months: ‘on the 3rd May…’; ‘in July 2020…’; ‘in October 2020…’; ‘next year…’
I am the only member of my family who keeps eating her meals regardless of these announcements and does not make comments on them. I understand the shared need and will to ‘restart’ after more than one month of lockdown: ‘The Italian economy is suffering’ an Italian politician says, ‘The lockdown for the COVID-19 costs each Italian citizen 788 euros per month’ someone else adds, ‘and Italy risks to lose up to the 20% of its total GDP by the end of the year’. Nonetheless, when I hear the television or my familiars pronouncing the term ‘restart’, I cannot avoid asking myself whether me and the governments, me and thousands of other Italian families, are waiting for the same systems, activities and lifestyles to ‘restart’. By using the term ‘restarting’, do we even refer to the same phenomenon?
Once, the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari said that the fundamental problem of political philosophy ‘is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’ (2004: 31). Through this sentence, they emphasize the fact that the neoliberal and consumeristic societies we live in, produce the same conditions that make us “to want” and “to need” this exploitative economic system ruling us. Since the lockdown began, we all have experienced the ambiguous feeling caused by being trapped between the desire of “carry on as if a health crisis has never happened” and the pleasure of “escaping from any imposed duty”. This pandemic has been efficacious in showing us, through empirical experimentation, that the “ought to consume”, as well as, the “ought to produce” are not urgencies tied to our bodies or our souls. Why should we desire to come back to a system, a lifestyle, a world whose survival relies on the application of mechanisms of massive subordinations?
In these weeks, several intellectuals have speculated about possible futures after the COVID-19, over online journals. The sociologist Bruno Latour suggests ‘do not repeat the exact thing we were doing before’ this unexpected ‘stopping of the world’(2020: 2). If we want to become ‘efficient globalization interrupters’, we should strongly refuse the same modes of overproduction which lead us to periodical crises and to the accentuation of inequalities between winner nations and defeated ones. In light of Latour’s suggestions, the verb ‘to restart’ acquires thus meanings which differ from the ones evoked by worldwide governments: it means, not only to seriously deal with the heath crisis we are passing through now, but also with the climatic and planetary emergencies which we are witnessing since many years.
The current heath crisis encounters the environmental emergency in the image of a man carrying in his hands a branch with several hanging face masks which has been shared by the association Ocean Asia. The picture was taken during some marine operations around the Soko Islands, a small archipelago in Hong Kong, where associated researchers had found dozens of these protection devices along the coasts. According to some figures announced by an Italian newspaper a few days ago, Cina produces nearly 200 million of face masks per day while the U.S. will need to supply 3,5 billion in order to protect medical workers in a severe pandemic. By the end of each month, Italy will have consumed and thrown away 130 million of face masks. The photo I have referred to thus summarize the paradox with which we will soon be confronting, if we do not consider the environment as a priority in this generalized call ‘to re-start’. An important number of single-use face masks and plastic gloves – all surgical devices which are certainly saving human lives now! – will be added to the 6 millions of tons of synthetic fibers produced per year – materials which are certainly dangerous for the environment due to their dispersion in the form of microplastics! – to get rid off.
In the scenario described, it seems to me that we are living in times where the pages of our daily agendas are full of exclamation marks and red underscores: priorities get accumulated under long ‘to-do lists’ (or to-change lists?!) that requires equally energetic and prompt responses. Formulating the question in Spinozian words again, have we reached the full capacity in confront of the challenges that our bodies, our planet, the pandemic can take on? When the health and social crises encounter the environmental one, establishing a political agenda means to set priories among urgencies that cannot longer be postponed.
When I hear the word ‘re-start’ on the television or other mouths, I take time to imagine that, meanwhile, we are meeting over the web to agree on possible actions to be undertaken on the small and bigger scales. In this period of lockdown, my hope is that we have begun working consistently toward the construction of the infrastructures which will allow us to respond to these multilayered crises, both on the micropolitical and macropolitical levels. Has the ambiguity generated by the use of the verb ‘to restart’ suggested any strategies regarding how to actuate such systematic changes, yet?
Giulia Menegale (1995) is an Italian-based curator, writer and researcher.
Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Felix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 1984.
Latour, Bruno. What protective measures can you think of so we don’t go back to the pre-crisis production model?, translated by Stephen Muecke, ACO media, 29th March, 2020: https://aoc.media/opinion/2020/03/29/imaginer-les-gestes-barrieres-contre-le-retour-a-la-production-davant-crise/ (last visit: 23/04/2020.)
Zanini, Luca. “Coronavirus, allarme ambientale: «Miliardi di mascherine finiranno nei mari»”. In Il Corriere della Sera, Milan, 8th April 2020: https://www.corriere.it/cronache/20_aprile_08/coronavirus-allarme-ambientale-miliardi-mascherine-finiranno-mari-7e05af60-781c-11ea-98b9-85d4a42f03ea.shtml
Article from Ocean Asia: http://oceansasia.org/beach-mask-coronavirus/