Pandemical Discourses 3: weekly digest- Thresholds of pain, of gain and that coronaviral strain…

from Covid Conversations by Johnny Rodger
20th April 2020
BOND: JSFMBOE, FOHMBOE and TDPUMBOE by Owen Dudley Edwards
24th April 2020

In this week’s roundup we broaden the panorama and look beyond the dailies, the websites and the blogs – it seems that the virus is infecting all the forms…

Firstly then, an important announcement from Creative Scotland. Recognising the tremendous pressure the pandemic puts on artists and creatives as projects are postponed or cancelled altogether. their Bridging Bursary scheme offers artists working in Scotland support of up to £2500 to weather lockdown and be in the best position possible to carry on working once lockdown is over. The initial £2m fund has now been extended by another £2m. Details on the (very simple) application process can be found here –

The value of art – even if it is limited to what our Smart TV and the black mirror in our pocket can show us – is harder to question in what is on every level, a collective existential crisis. But this goes beyond its value in transcending our cocoons and bivouacs: these are times that need to be observed, documented and translated. If there is an art form suited to our stripped back, silo’d logistics it is surely poetry, as per Carol Ann Duffy’s call to mobilise the poets in the cause of chronicling corona (Guardian – ‘Carol-Ann Duffy leads British poets creating ‘living record’ of coronavirus)

As if to spite us all being stuck indoors the spring weather has been spectacular. But if we can’t get to the sun, then is lockdown in some ways a hindrance in the fight against Covid-19? Here’s a short letter in The Guardian about the importance of Vitamin D to keep our immunity system fully functioning…

And while we are stuck indoors, what is happening to the rest of the city – to the non-residential buildings, to the streets in commercial areas, in industrial areas? An article in Building Design the architecture weekly, examines the effect of epidemics on the built environment. It’s brief, although some facts like 48% of the population died in the Black Plague in London in 1348 are of eery moment. It’s also pretty London-centric, which means that sadly there’s nothing about Mary King’s close in Edinburgh which was completely sealed off in the seventeenth century to contain an outbreak of bubonic plague, and is now reopened as a tourist attraction… Who knows what infrastructural aberrations coronavirus will bequeath to posterity …? (Eleanor Joliffe – ‘A short history of pandemics and their impact on the built environment’ )

And how will we physically, get to that posterity? Our ability – or indeed, right – to move through
space and over the surface of a newly constricted, contracted world has come into ever sharper focus. Will the essential worker letters issued by companies and organisations become a mere artefact of troubled tomes – or as typical as car keys and bus pass? Only survivors of totalitarian regimes, with their internal passports, rubber stamped papers and furtive bribes could speak with real authority of how the current situation compares. George Monbiot – a Drouth contributor way back in our earliest day – considers our right to roam post-Corona and how the politics of lockdown dovetail rather too neatly with the political traditions that sustain mainstream western conservatism. (Guardian – Lockdown is nothing new. We’ve been kept off the land for centuries)

Given that conservatives – or to use the correct term, far right extremists – have been at the
forefront of anti-lockdown comment and as of this week, street protests in the US, Monbiot might seem to be behind the times. What would a survivor of the Soviet era say to the pro-Trump activist whose darkening roots and uncut fringe led her to call for the ‘liberation’ of her state from prudent public health policy? In the USSR, freedom of speech was famously limited to small clusters of trusted friends muttering in kitchens, where astute and careful dissection of state propaganda was elevated to a high (you might say root-dark) art. Today, on Twitter the mindless, lazy and superficial hot take resounds so loudly we might mistake the fringe for the whole cut. As New Yorker journalist John Cassidy reports (New Yorker – ‘Fringe Protests Can’t Distract from Trump’s Failures ) most Americans could give a damn
about blonde highlights, be they presidentially decreed or not.

It’s often said that the only press organ that delivers the truth about the capitalist system is the Financial Times. Nice work if you can get it, because they appear also to be one of the few dailies that keep their coronavirus news behind a paywall. Too bad for all of us then if you can’t get to this study of the effect of the pandemic on the economy –for it’s quite devastating stuff…

Equally worrying, and also, alas, FT- paywalled, are the many threats posed to the food supply chain, especially in the developing world – (‘Warnings of unrest as coronavirus hits food availability‘). Unconstrained by paywall lockdowns, we can return to the New Yorker and Isaac interview with world-renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs on the Covid-economy. (Isaac Chotiner – ‘The Catastrophic American response to Covid-19. )

And around this new arrangement of capital, supply and demand politics inevitably – and always belatedly – comports itself – because Marx and McLuhan were never wrong about that. Often showing itself to be ahead of the commentary curve, the London Review of Books podcast has several enlightening offerings on Covid culture – the theory and practice of political states of emergency, the endemic nature of American’s pandemic vulnerability and here, on changes we might expect to the British political paradigm (David Thomson, Helen Runciman and Tom McTague – ‘British Politics: The Big Reset?’)

For both a consistent critique of the capitalist system and an unceasing proposition of more humane alternatives however, there are few critics so dependable as Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Here he is in e-flux with his rejection of economic solutions, as per the 2008 crisis. This is about bodies failing, he says.

And to return to poetry, but stay with Berardi with the metaphor of the threshold (umbral in Spanish, although Berardi is Italian…) . We’re sitting right here in the framework that leads to a new future from an old defunct past, but it’s not actually a real place