I got a message from my friend and colleague in Belgrade. As in large parts of Europe, outdoor movement is restricted, and completely banned between 5 pm and 7 Am. Violation means a 1500 Euro fine or 150 days in jail. For some, these regulations might just add to arbitrary measures of control. For others, like me, situated as I am in a privileged corner of the world, even small restrictions come as a shock. While still being able to move relatively freely, the limitations appear as hollows, offensive depressions in the texture of the everyday, provoking postponements, deferrals, suspensions. From my point of view there seems to be no sense to what is happening – a reaction that – I reluctantly have to admit – might be due to what commentators now frequently refer to as “our collective unpreparedness.” Spared from crises and wars, embedded in welfare rather than warfare, “we” seem to have developed not immunity but a pathological innocence.
What comes to mind is arbitrary, but also telling. From within my relative confinement, I am hearing the eerie voice-over of the Situationist movie Critique de la séparation (1961):
“ON NE SAIT que dire.”
“WE DON’T KNOW what to say. Words are formed into sequences; gestures are recognized. Outside us. Of course some methods are mastered, some results verified. Quite often it’s amusing. But so many things we wanted have not been attained; or only partially and not like we thought. What communication have we desired, or experienced, or only simulated? What true project has been lost?”
Something, everything, is paradoxically unsettling. But amusing? While we ‘ought to’ do something (and I am thinking now of the aspirational dimension of this notion and the way even my relation to it is unsettled); we should indeed turn this sinkhole into a ‘music’ source of energy. What would it mean to not only ‘make use’ of the situation but to ‘muse’ on it – to acknowledge the paradoxical amusement of being locked up in one’s own artifactual construction, to face the irony of having to accept the introduction of a curfew for humanity, to recognize the burlesque of a ban on embodied encounters, to make the best out of the absurdities upon which ‘our civilisation’ now seems to put its faith?
It is in a way paradoxically logical. Yet, “so many things we wanted have not been attained; or only partially and not like we thought…” The spatial sickening that my friend expresses in her message is amusing only in the negative sense. What does it do to us? Can the flickering glow from endless numbers of screens replace an extinct horizon? Everyday life is drooping, and it makes it hard even to articulate questions. I do indeed lack a language, a vocabulary, to cover experiences that do not at all correspond to preexisting imaginaries of crisis. While the imposed curfew and our obedient shelter-in-place might give the environment out there a break, some respite, I wonder what it does to our ability to interact. In the midst of this, the very performance of questioning the blind spots presented to us as infectious, is such a decisive activity – a matter of self-respect. And yet my friend’s questioning reaches me as a translocal echo, the direction of which escapes my grasp, reverberating beyond location.
It comes down to some basic ‘issues.’ We could for example ask what nature means in this situation of total distancing, or what the ‘music’ art of formulating meanings or translating divides into bridging movements. In the message, my friend raises such questions but hesitates to answer. How does it even sound, she asks, to pose such questions?
Contagious, secluded, surveilling, imprisoning, diverting, austere, transitional, retarded, serious, pleasurable, arresting, confusing – I DON’T KNOW what to say.