Žižek on Covid temporalities

This is the last thing I’ll post about Žižek’s Pandemic! eBook but I thought these observations about what I’ve come to think of as Covid temporalities, the distinct temporal experiences of crisis and lockdown, were very useful. On loc 396 he considers the inevitability of ‘dead time’ during those who can lockdown during this crisis (and don’t have extra caring responsibilities) and what the psychic significance of this might be:

Many of us remember the famous conclusion of the students’ Situationist manifesto published in 1966: Vivre sans temps mort, jouir sans entraves (to live without dead time, to enjoy without obstacles). If Freud and Lacan taught us anything, it is that this formula, the supreme case of a superego injunction (since, as Lacan aptly demonstrated, superego is at its most basic a positive injunction to enjoy, not a negative act of prohibiting something) is in fact a recipe for disaster: the urge to fill in every moment of the time allotted to us with intense engagement unavoidably ends up in a suffocating monotony. Dead time—moments of withdrawal, of what old mystics called Gelassenheit, releasement—are crucial for the revitalization of our life experience. And, perhaps, one can hope that one of the unintended consequences of the coronavirus quarantines in cities around the world will be that some people at least will use their time released from hectic activity and think about the (non)sense of their predicament.

On loc 548 he considers the dominant framing of these measures as a temporary interruption which will precede a return to normality, obscuring the shift in our outlook and expectations which will be necessary to cope with what comes next:

What I find especially annoying is how, when our media and other powerful institutions announce some closure or cancellation, they as a rule add a fixed temporal limitation, informing us, for instance, that the “schools will be closed till April 4.” The big expectation is that, after the peak, which should arrive fast, things will return to normal. In this fashion, I have already been informed that a university symposium I was to participate in has just been postponed to September. The catch is that, even if life does eventually return to some semblance of normality, it will not be the same normal as the one we experienced before the outbreak. Things we were used to as part of our daily life will no longer be taken for granted, we will have to learn to live a much more fragile life with constant threats. We will have to change our entire stance to life, to our existence as living beings among other forms of life. In other words, if we understand “philosophy” as the name for our basic orientation in life, we will have to experience a true philosophical revolution.

On loc 774 he considers the difference between voluntary and involuntary confinement. I really identified with this, as someone with a tendency to slide into being a hermit if there aren’t extrinsic elements in my life which prevent it. However this was the significance of his advice elsewhere from my perspective: if we live as if this is a life we have chosen, an ascetic retreat from the world in order to immerse myself in writing and nature, it becomes much more bearable. Though in writing this I recognise the immense privilege in being able to find this meaning in current events, as my life actually has become a lot simpler whereas for many people there lives have become more complex and risky:

Let me begin with a personal confession: I like the idea of being confined to one’s apartment, with all the time needed to read and work. Even when I travel, I prefer to stay in a nice hotel room and ignore all the attractions of the place I’m visiting. A good essay on a famous painting means much more to me than seeing this painting in a crowded museum. But I’ve noticed this makes now being obliged to confine myself more difficult. To help explain this let me recount, not for the first time, the famous joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka: “‘Waiter! A cup of coffee without cream, please!’ ‘I’m sorry, sir, we have no cream, only milk, so can it be a coffee without milk?’” At the factual level, the coffee remains the same, what changes is making the coffee without cream into coffee without milk—or, more simply even, adding the implied negation and making the simple coffee into a coffee without milk. The same thing has happened to my isolation. Prior to the crisis, it was an isolation “without milk”—I could have gone out, I just chose not to. Now it’s just the plain coffee of isolation with no possible negation implied.

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