A virus that can move swiftly from body to body has startled us into recognizing the radical and vulnerable equality of being human beings. The quotidian time tables which structure lives and cultures of existence into a reassuring familiarity have been disrupted.
The systems that normalize the projects of being in the world have become defunct. In the sudden stillness of a social shutdown, the normality that structured a cruel and destructive inequality of peoples is unravelling.
Walking on empty roads
Migrant labourers who built and serviced the accumulating unlived accommodations, of the middle class and the rich in far-away cities, have been flushed out of these cities. They walk and die on hot empty roads carrying their poverty and homelessness with them.
Their vulnerability of not belonging and not having any belongings allows them to be violently disciplined for transgressing the laws of quarantine. Their bodies are disinfected as the markers of poverty and hunger that corrode into their skin and flesh are deliberately misread for the disease.
How do they who have no privileged access to or possession of space claim for themselves the space of quarantine? How can they whose bodies have been made porous to the different appropriations and inscriptions of power close themselves and make themselves impregnable to a virus that is indifferent to the social ordering of bodies?
The regimentation of buying and hoarding through the regimes of shutting down and opening up of public spaces, what sense does it make to those who cannot buy anything because their bodies’ labour is no longer sellable. And we who have a space of our own to be regulated and shaped by quarantine, we perpetuate our old rituals and create new ones through which we struggle to constitute a common sense of humanity. Tenuous humanity, structured through brittle templates of belonging that is slowly crumbling at the edges.
In the isolation of our homes
The invisibility of the virus drives us into the loneliness of our paranoia. The multiple and changing recognitions of people collapse into that one single recognition of the other as the virus infected. We shut our doors to the outside and the authority of law shuts us in from the outside.
If we were to be confined to that isolation for too long it would dismantle the normalities that structured and affirmed our social existence. It would drive a wedge between the politician and his politics. It would dismantle the polarities of religions and castes. It would explode the daily acts of violence of the patriarchal family. Hence, into the isolation of our homes, the world is streamed in through our television screens.
Lulled and sedated by these images the familiarity of known social identity is reaffirmed. The politicians’ address to the nation telecast at regular intervals soothes us and provides us with new rituals to reassert an imagined sense of community.
Those walking the hot summer roads are invisible to this community and within this community.
Experts discuss the aetiology of the epidemic reaffirming known polarization of the human and structuring new social hierarchies. Television anchors provide an image and interpretation of the world strengthening familiar prejudices and reassuring us that the world is as it always was.
But the props that sustain an inegalitarian and violent social world will collapse as bodies succumb to dis-ease, as hospitals collapse under the demand, for treating and healing sick bodies, that is incommensurate with their resources, as the virus spreads from the body to body indifferent to the social distinctions and status markers that classify corporeality.
The politician and his rhetoric will go their separate ways leaving before us an empty grimacing mouth endlessly moving. Then the rituals through which we were told to recognize our common humanity will crumble and all that was and is familiar will dismantle piece by piece revealing the assiduous and deft ways in which our realities were structured. Then we will be forced to struggle to form a new humanly recognizable and livable world.
A world where spaces cannot be quarantined into the private and the public. A world where healing and caring spread as quickly and widely as the virus. A world which bears the ineffable memory of the radical equality of bodies and structures itself around this memory.