Like many others during this time, I have turned to literature to try and gain deeper insights into the times we are living through and, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic. I know I am not alone in reading Albert Camus’, The Plague. Early in the lockdown Stephen Downes linked to a post about it in his newsletter, OLDaily, which contained this video
The question of what can literature (in the broader context of the humanities) do for us at times like this, was discussed by Professor Sarah Churchwell, Dr Kate Kirkpatrick and Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge in an excellent online conversation ‘On Politics and Plagues’ at the end of last month. This was organised by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, as a precursor to the Being Human Festival, due to take place on November 12-22nd November.
Read also What Hannah Arendt can teach us about work in the time of Covid-19
Re-reading Camus’s “The Plague” in pandemic times
With the specter of a New Great Depression hovering over most of the planet, realpolitik perspectives for a radical change of the political economy framework we live in are not exactly encouraging.
Western ruling elites will be deploying myriad tactics to perpetuate the passivity of populations barely emerging from de facto house arrest, including a massive disciplinary – in a Foucault sense – drive by states and business/finance circles.
The December, 2019 coronavirus disease outbreak has seen many countries ask people who have potentially come into contact with the infection to isolate themselves at home or in a dedicated quarantine facility. Decisions on how to apply quarantine should be based on the best available evidence. We did a Review of the psychological impact of quarantine using three electronic databases. Of 3166 papers found, 24 are included in this Review. Most reviewed studies reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Stressors included longer quarantine duration, infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, inadequate information, financial loss, and stigma. Some researchers have suggested long-lasting effects. In situations where quarantine is deemed necessary, officials should quarantine individuals for no longer than required, provide clear rationale for quarantine and information about protocols, and ensure sufficient supplies are provided. Appeals to altruism by reminding the public about the benefits of quarantine to wider society can be favourable.
In a time where global warming, pantoxicity, pesticide pollution, resource scarcity, and a whole host of environmental problems regularly appear in news headlines, the perennial question about what the relationship between humans and nature is and should be, is more pressing than ever. While it may seem trite to focus on questions of narrative, representation, agency, and subjectivity in the face of more “pressing” material concerns, the environmental crisis is more than a problem for scientists; it is a problem of narrative, ontology, and epistemology. It is as much a failure of imagination as it is a technological problem, arising from maladapted social and political ecologies that fail to establish healthy and sustainable networks of kinship imaginaries  that are capable of addressing the competing needs and desires of multiple actors within the biocultural networks humanity always inhabits. Kinship imaginaries are the foundation of how we relate to others, and thus are the ground upon which (bio)politics are based. They are the basis of how we imagine ourselves to be connected to the world around us, and the myriad organisms that populate this increasingly shrinking and sullied world.
It was just the two of them: on a raft, lost, floating off the coast of Africa—the lone survivors of a shipwreck. Years before, struck with stupendous boredom, Hymie Basteshaw decided to become boredom’s master. He read what others wrote about boredom, studied its physiology, and discovered its secrets in the wavering folds of human cells. Mid-sea, he now shares with Augie March his first and “obvious” findings. Boredom is “the shriek of unused capacities, the doom of serving no great end or design, of contributing to no master force. The obedience that is not willingly given because nobody knows how to request it. The harmony that is not accomplished.” Basteshaw is but a minor character—a psycho-biologist, a carpenter, a genius, a “maniac”—in Saul Bellow’s long picaresque novel, The Adventures of Augie March. He offers not a minor or obvious feature of boredom, but a discerning appraisal of its intimate nature. Boredom, Basteshaw tells March, although not in these exact words, is hybrid, both personal and social.
The Boredom Pandemic
IIt’s May and many of us have fond memories of springtime when we were in high school. There was some stress from exams and final papers to be sure, but also more outdoor activities, sports, banquets or awards assemblies, proms, and most of all, looking forward to the summer. High school students today, however, have lost all of that. Seemingly in an instant, they are confined at home, with little access to friends, no organized sports, arts, music, journalism, or other activities. Education via teleconferencing is of variable quality and is no substitute for the interactive learning with other students and a skilled educator. Most of all, our students face an uncertain future. It is especially difficult for teens to foresee or plan for a future with the current disruption. Adolescents may well not be able to deal with these multiple concerns, so it’s predictable and understandable that many high school students are struggling with anxiety and depressed mood. Even before the pandemic adolescents had high rates of clinical anxiety and depression. We are facing an enormous mental health crisis.