Categories
Essay

Resurgence of the “New” Discourse

By Ria Banerjee

As the world is teetering on the brink of collapse, we are collectively participating in a mass elegy for a lost world.  The custodians of that world-security, stability-have receded into the archives of our memory. In Heath Ledger’s inimitable performance as the insouciant Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), he nudges a shattered Harvey Dent to “introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order.” It is precisely this order, a sense of clinging on to the last dregs of meaning that has gone for a toss in the wake of the pandemic.  And yet, the trajectory of human evolution bears testimony to mankind’s relentless quest to forge meaning out of chaos, to seek an eternal consonance amidst the cacophony of dissonance and dissent.

This propensity to fall back on fragments and carve something concrete is the momentum behind the establishment of a new regimentation. Human agency strives, unabated, to discover measures and means in an endeavour to engage with this pathogen in a new way- it is the mechanism of co-existence. But such cohabitation involves the resurrection of a ‘New’ normalcy altogether. Currently, the pandemic has unearthed a fertile field of scholarly inquiry into this domain of the multiple “New” discourses that offer some semblance of a revamped normalcy in the post-Corona world. But what are the challenges encountered as we navigate through this? Are these measures available for and accessible by all and sundry? What are the prerequisites for activating such measures and who are the intended recipients of the ‘New’ normal?

The virtual space in the prelapsarian state (the pre-Corona world that is) was a universe of frivolous escapades; it offered us the much needed succour to unwind at the end of a long day. It was a space to visit and revisit in between the rigmarole of life. And yet, we were acutely aware of the disjunction between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. The lockdown phase has completely blurred that demarcation- the ‘virtual’ is now the ‘New’ real. Virtual classrooms on virtual platforms are instrumental in ensuring that quality education continues to be imparted without any hindrance. But here is the catch.

Conducting online classes is based on the presumption that everyone is equipped with the necessary amenities. In third world countries where thousands of people are knuckling under crushing poverty and falling prey to unemployment, education becomes a luxury that exists in imaginative spaces. Thus, in effect, the right to education becomes a prerogative of the select few, of the ‘privileged’ coterie who dictates the dominant ideology. While online education has become an imperative in the present scenario, it is equally necessary to ensure that it does not end up magnifying the digital divide and depriving a section of the “basic” right to education.

The pandemic has also aggravated, if not exposed, another kind of lethal contagion. Alienation and estrangement, as studies show, are no longer literary motifs that dominate the creative space — it has a tangible presence and form now. The attendant mental repercussions of being cocooned in our homes for long has escalated the sense of loneliness- the definitive offshoot being bouts of depression, anxiety, angst and a restlessness.

Many have succumbed to emotional meltdown during these volatile times. Ensconced in a world bereft of the comfort and sanctity of human “touch”, we are gradually being sucked into a treacherous whirlwind of monotony and repetitiveness from which there is no respite. Deliberating on mental health at a time when we are compelled to make a ‘world” of our ‘home” is slightly paradoxical.

Home makes for a good cameo appearance, retreating into oblivion for most of the time. The pandemic has catapulted the “home” from relative anonymity into limelight but such is the quirk of fate that we can longer acclimatise ourselves to such an orientation any more — as if, ‘home’ exists in contradistinction to the ‘world’  and has no existence outside of it. Needless to say, the pandemic is exposing before us the chink in the armour. Social distancing might be an imperative now, but a fundamental element of disconnect had long infiltrated the bond between the “home” and the “world” and ruptured it.

 And perhaps, even when we are negotiating the unprecedented changes in our socio-cultural spheres, the greatest challenge is to be with our own selves. The hustle and bustle of life, as it were, had demolished the aspiration to confront the individual in us. The “Me-time” myth was an illusion. Self indulgence (to chill, as they say in common parlance) was never about rejoicing in the sole company of oneself but to unleash the beast in us in the company of others. But self-isolation had interrogated those deeply nurtured ideas. The lockdown had compelled us to shun our non-confrontational demeanour. Looking inward, forging a communion with our lost and suppressed identities had proved to be an art that takes time to master.

While our lives hang on a precarious rope of appeasement and adjustment, the gradual movement from a world dictated by chronological time to one bereft of it has proved to be unnerving. Life was an assortment of events, bound by minute strands of temporal gradations — our approach to life was economic and measured.

The Corona crisis had ended up shattering that temporal yardstick against which we would construct and consolidate the flux of life. Longing for a heartfelt interaction with your beloved in a different time zone can be accomplished through video calls no doubt; online teaching can be smoothly conducted by mastering a bit of technical know-how and yet, does it feel real? Can one accommodate the pulse and throb of life in the click of a button?

So, what are these “new discourses” advocating for? The protocols and maxims we had lived by before the pandemic can no longer contain the crisis we are now encountering. The “new” normalcy is a call to refashion ourselves. Perhaps it is time for us to embrace an emerging world order that will mould us to become better versions of ourselves. Like all the other epidemics, the Corona crisis will remain in the historical imaginary for transmogrifying the world into a dystopian wasteland; the resurgence of the “new” discourses will be a quest for and towards a different utopia.

Author’s Bio: Ria Banerjee is an M.A in English Literature (First Class First) from Shri Shikshayatan College, affiliated to Calcutta University. She is currently engaged as a faculty in Prafulla Chandra College, Department of English.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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Categories
Musings

Three months later, Florence restarts. But not quite

By Ugo Bardi

The epidemic is almost over in Italy. After almost three painful months of lockdown and the loss of about 30,000 lives, the daily number of victims of the coronavirus is slowly dwindling to zero. In a couple of weeks at most, the epidemic will be completely gone. It is time to restart, but the damage has been terrible.

The lockdown is over and the Florentines are back, walking in the streets, wearing face masks, but free to go wherever they want, provided that they don’t form groups (“assembramenti“). A few tourists can be seen, slowly walking around, a little bewildered. Below, you see a picture of a few days ago with two lone tourists taking a picture of the “Porcellino” (Wild Boar) (the boar looks a little bewildered, too.).

Many shops have reopened, but not all of them — maybe 30% are still closed. For what I could see this morning downtown, all the open shops are empty of customers. The restaurants also look empty. The buses are nearly empty, too. Here is a picture taken this morning, with me and my wife the only passengers of a bus that used to be packed full before the epidemic. Note the signs saying “You cannot sit here!” They don’t seem to be necessary, given the situation.

To pass to you some idea of the somber atmosphere in Florence these days, here are two fragments of conversations I had or witnessed in the street. Maybe these people are too pessimistic, but I have a feeling that they have correctly evaluated the situation.

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First, an exchange I overheard a few days ago while waiting in line at the entrance of a supermarket. I don’t know the names of the protagonists, two men in their 50s. The one who said he had a shop I recognized later standing at the entrance of a small clothing shop in Via Romana, in Florence. I am reporting from memory, but the gist of what they said is there

– Hello. How have you been doing? I haven’t seen you around, recently.

– Oh, nice to see you! Of course you didn’t see me! I was at home, like everybody else.

– Yeah, I was at home, too. But are you reopening the shop? I saw it is still closed.

–  Yes, it is still closed, but I am reopening on Monday.

– That’s good, right?

– Not so good, really.

– Why?

– What do you think I can sell? There are no more tourists.

– Well, you didn’t sell just to tourists. They don’t come here so often.

– No, but you see. Someone from Spain would come and buy something. Then someone from America would come and buy something. And so on. See? It made the difference.

– I see….

– So, I am opening yes. But I am just selling off the stock I have. Then I’ll close for good. In a month or two, I think.

– Really? Are you sure?

– How do you think I can pay the rent and the taxes? And for renewing the stock?

– Well, I think the government will help us.

– Yeah, sure.

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Now, a conversation I had this morning with a man who had a kiosk selling used books downtown. Again, it is reported from memory, but I tried to reproduce the sense and the tone of what I was told.

See? This kiosk has been around for a long while. Really long, see, it was here during the war already. The woman who had started this business sold the license in 1946. Oh, yes, and I have been selling books here for a long time. Sure, I am 66 now. Last year I thought I could retire, but then I decided I could keep going for a little longer. But they have been ruining me. First, there used to be an antique market right behind the kiosk, you know that, and then the city decided to send them away — not elegant enough for the city of Florence. Sure. Before, people would visit the market and then stop here and buy books — I had some good books, even antique ones. I was known, people knew that I had those books. I still have a few. But the antique market is gone — they sent it somewhere out of town. Yes, it was not elegant enough for here, they said. They call it “decorum” of the city. Sure, and the people of the market are not selling anything anymore, where they are now. And I wasn’t selling anything, either. Well, a little I was still selling. Not much, but a little. But then this. I have been forced to close down for three months. And I told them that I couldn’t pay the license and the tax. And they say, fine, you don’t need to pay for three months. Then you have to restart paying, and that’s final. And if you don’t pay, they said, you bring back your license to us and we’ll give you a compensation of Eur 600, and that’s it. And good riddance. You understand? They are happy that I close. Perfectly happy. A kiosk is not elegant enough for the decorum of the city, they say. Maybe they think that when tourists see my kiosk they run away screaming. Tourists like fancy shops only. And I have to pay 54 Euro per day — yes, 54 euros in taxes and fees to the city. And I have to sell books for more than that if I have to eat. And to buy more books to sell, otherwise, what am I going to sell? Don’t you see? There is no way. Nobody walking around, nobody buying anything, no tourists, they have gone. I should have retired last year, but I couldn’t have imagined…. how could I have imagined this? And the city helping us? Ha! The mayor says he is furious, yeah, sure, he said that. I read it in the newspaper. He said he is furious because the central government didn’t give him any money for the epidemic. That’s what he said. And what should I say, myself? If the mayor is furious, how about me? I have been giving money to the mayor for 30 years and the mayor now is furious because he has no money to give to me. Aw…. even if he got some money from the government, I am sure he won’t give any money to me or to the people who have shops and who need money. Like me, that’s it. And so I’ll be closing down. I’ll be just selling the books I have and then good riddance. This square will be empty: no antique market no kiosks, nothing. I figure they’ll be happy. It is what they wanted all along, decorum, yes. An empty square, and that’s it.

(*) The owners of the Calzoleria Leonardo Tozzi in Via Romana were kind enough to give me permission to publish the photo you see at the beginning of this post. If you happen to be in Florence, and you need a shoe repair job, you can find them in Via Romana 135r, just a few steps from the clothing shop mentioned in the first conversation reported in this shop.

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Ugo Bardi teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, in Italy and he is also a member of the Club of Rome. He is interested in resource depletion, system dynamics modeling, climate science and renewable energy. Contact: ugo.bardi(whirlything)unifi.it

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This article was first published in Countercurrents