The Quarantine Diaries — 1. The suspended reality
What is like to live under quarantine, that’s is a bit strange and unprecedented
The most alienating impression generated by these strange and difficult days is that urban life is holding its breath. One way to describe it is this: people walk and move as if they don’t want to make noise.
I wake up In the morning and wonder if it’s Sunday: I hear very few cars passing in the street below, I see only a few people isolated or in small groups. For the rest, our cities — at least some of them (I don’t live in the red zone, even if we are all there, but whatever, it’s to give an idea) have fallen into a silence, let’s say, unusual. I don’t like dramatizing at all, so I don’t think there’s anything sinister or nefarious in this reality. It’s natural to perceive the very sharp fracture between the before and the after. Between the previous normality and the — momentary — normality of today.
If we want to refer every thought to the present and the current moment — and without projecting it into the imminent and very probable next economic crisis, as if we had risen up from the previous one — one would think that the entire city, any city in which self-imposed or non-imposed limitations are adopted, has become like a theatre in which the director has not yet decided precisely what movements the actors should do. We are actors who cross the stage describing somewhat random trajectories, some pretending to know exactly what they have to do, others simply walking.
The time of the theatre is the one imposed by the author, the time of this unprecedented urban theatre is the one imposed by the health authorities. Only that the performance will last indefinitely, for now.
Like a lot of people, I read a lot of things. Too many, so many so that I have come to the conclusion that I have to carefully avoid reading others. I respect the rules and advices, I look at the titles but do not go into them in depth, more to avoid the ruthless emotional carousel. The mood already finds its own ways to vary as it likes, better not to give it other reasons to do so.
Having reached information saturation, I began to look at this new reality with different eyes. Which is not so new: it is very familiar, only now people don’t make noise and there is much more silence. The news tells us that there are people trying to save others very close to us, people who don’t care, people who quell riots in prisons, people who emotionally can’t take it anymore. A bit like it used to be or always: terrible things happen in the world but life goes on. With the difference that today they happen a few miles away from you and the one who didn’t make it is your friend’s uncle or one who is not very far from you.
It’s like playing naval battle: you know where you are but you don’t know where the bomb or torpedo will come from. You hope for the case and pretend it’s all normal. But unlike the naval battle, you can’t shoot. You just have to hope you don’t get caught. It’s a very asymmetrical naval battle.
Everything is familiar but a little less familiar than usual, they said.
I have a bit of the tare of time and so I read everything under that lens: since I consider it the most important variant of our lives — not in terms of hours and minutes but as a philosophical greatness — I am curious how its perception has changed in these days. Nobody talks about temporal horizons anymore. That beautiful astronomical expression, “The horizon of events” — is no longer even mentioned.
I can’t remember who I used to talk to about “suspended time”. I remember writing it down and then realizing that it was the exact expression to describe this time.
Suspended time is a time when you don’t know what will happen and you hold your breath. In this time you don’t have much power and you can only make as little noise as possible.
Then I was reminded of De Chirico and his urban spaces where there are arcades and shadows and inanimate puppets and a lot of metaphysics. I often think about it when I walk around the city in August and there is no one there but me and the sun-baked stones. It’s just that August is in a season that lasts a few months and now there’s still a bit of cold and no one knows how long it will last.
Thinking about the silent and dechirican city made me see it in different ways. Seeing it with the eye of art or through the eyes of artists who have shown familiar things as no one had ever seen them (one of the most beautiful things in art) has made me think about how much art helps to see a future that is not yet and could be as it could not be. Not all art, but in short, let’s say that certain art has the ability to do so and there is no other human expression that can do it so precisely.
De Chirico certainly did not paint these times but painted something similar: an absolute (suspended) time in which humans are inanimate machines or sometimes they are not even there at all. All that is left is the city and the memory of what man did, but without mankind anymore.
However, I did not want to talk about De Chirico. It came back to my mind because he described a very precise human condition so well and now we are living in it. Things happen, many of them are horrendous, they are just beyond the buildings of that city, just beyond that metaphysical reality. Everything else is very little metaphysical, unfortunately: it’s real and it hurts a lot. Time is what remains in our hands: is it a lot or not enough? We don’t know: it’s suspended. It is beyond all criteria of measurement. It lasts for days, hours, seconds, but we don’t know how long it will last in all.
It’s a strange condition. Very few have ever lived there, whole generations don’t even know what it is. No plans are made, the future is a desire, a hope, an entreaty: that it is better than now and more like the past, thank you.
Or you don’t even think about the future anymore, or not like before. It’s there, it’s coming, it’s somewhere. Now we are here, in the present alone.
It’s not really a philosophical present: it’s not the here and now, it’s not a condition sought after with meditation. It has to be, we’ve found it. It’s suspended, precisely. De Chirico had already painted it, now we’re in it.
The Quarantine Diaries — 2. The city of men without men
We’ve been isolated for a few days: from everything, from everyone.
The Quarantine Diaries — 3. What’s the day today?
It’s the third week of quarantine and the days of the week no longer have a name