The Writer vs. the Pandemic III: The Edits


Section from Evening. Melancholy, Edvard Munch, 1896

by Eli S. Evans

Note: This was written before the events of May 25.

A Problem with the Pandemic

My life is finally exceptional – but so is everybody else’s, and in more or less exactly the same way. Specter of illness and death, increasing likelihood of unemployment, nail in the coffin of the post-World War II order – and it’s not even lunchtime!


A Problem with Writing About the Pandemic

I’m trying, because what else is there to do? But ever since I’ve been working from home (“working” from “home,” I should say), instead of the cafés and cubicles I usually haunt, it seems that whenever I find myself starting to get somewhere, I suddenly have to go to the bathroom. Perhaps this is because it’s my own bathroom, and conveniently located just a few steps away. Or perhaps this is my body’s way of trying to ensure I end on a high note. Undoubtedly, the most valuable contribution one can at this point make to the already bloated body of pandemic literature is to write about something else instead.


A Proposed Form of Solidarity During the Pandemic

If you played an instrument before the pandemic, but so badly that it would not have occurred to you to publicly disseminate videos of yourself playing it, do not start publicly disseminating such videos now. Always wear a mask in public, unless you have gathered to eat the rich. If you have gathered to eat the rich, you may remove your mask for the purpose, provided you replace it between mouthfuls.


An Attempt at Understanding the Pandemic ‘Face-Mask Culture War’[1] by Analogy via Freudian Allusion

Public pronouncements of support for so-called “social distancing” are the pandemic-time equivalent of going slow in a school zone. You’ve got your civilization on the one hand, its discontents on the other, and in between the two a demographically overdetermined disagreement about which hand is which.


One Any night during the pandemic…

…I participated in a virtual hangout with four of my closest friends, all but one of whom live far away from me. It was the first time the five of us, at one point in our lives an old-fashioned “friend group,” had all been together in several years, and it was very nice. We laughed and exchanged memories from the past and observations of the present and theories about the future. It was especially reassuring to see how even as we had all changed we had simultaneously remained the same, like when Tom Cruise’s character kicks a dog at the end of the movie Magnolia, and afterward I went to bed a little tipsy because of the glass of wine I’d drunk during our hangout, and with a good feeling to hold onto alongside all the predictable bad ones. Here, an interesting realization: that social media, which up until now have really done nothing but draw us out of our immediate circumstances, incite irrational and irresponsible consumer behavior, sharpen social and political division, seed disinformation, submit creative expression to the logic of monetization, pulverize affective bonds within a centrifuge of curated displays of achievement and wellbeing begetting envy begetting curated displays of achievement and wellbeing begetting envy begetting more curated displays of achievement and wellbeing ad infinitum, at last appear to actually be good for something. But then, a more troubling realization: if we accept the theory that the corrosion of democratic society in the post-World War II centers of power created circumstances, such as the election of Donald Trump in the United States or the UK’s Brexit, in which the hundreds of thousands of one-in-a-million catastrophes that daily threaten our post-industrial, globalized world system became more and more likely until it was all but inevitable that sooner or later one of them would befall us; and if we concede that, for all of the reasons listed above, social media contributed perhaps more than any other single phenomena of their time to said corrosion of democratic society in the post-World War II centers of power; then it follows that the thing these social media have turned out to be good for is providing marginal relief from suffering they themselves have caused… is pretty much the same as any other: a popsicle or two, perhaps a bit of TV, some light reading, a halfhearted request for intercourse (denied).


A Thought Not Related to the Pandemic

Perhaps communism would have “succeeded,” where we declare it to have failed, if its inventors had prescribed mental labor in the morning and manual labor in the afternoon rather than the other way around (needless to say, I wrote this in the morning). What if the very capacity for reason on the basis of which we humans have for what seems like forever distinguished ourselves from our animal and vegetable counterparts and justified, according to a proto- or pseudo-Darwinian to-the-victor-go-the spoils logic, our relentless plundering of the planet we share with them, in the long run turns out to have been an evolutionary disadvantage?


A Thought Related to the Pandemic

“Until Further Notice” feels more ominous than “For the Foreseeable Future” (albeit for obvious reasons). See above.


One Possible Enduring Image of the Pandemic

In Italy, the jails are on fire, the prison guards have fled, and the inmates are overdosing on methadone from the infirmaries. My face every morning in the mirror, one day older than the day before and one day younger than the next (and, of course, mustachioed, because if a man goes into quarantine and doesn’t come out of it with an it’s-ironic-but-if-you’re-serious-when-you-say-it-actually-looks-pretty-good-maybe-I’ll-keep-it mustache, can that man really be said to have gone into quarantine or, for that matter, to really be a man?).


A Silver Lining?

Positive psychologists tell us that under the right conditions, large scale crises such as the pandemic can bring out the best in us. What they fail to mention is that positive psychologists are the fucking wort.


An Attempt at Understanding the Pandemic Anecdotally

Simultaneously, but from opposite directions, she and the old man turned the corner into the potato aisle, where a single bag of potatoes remained, stalwart or overlooked, occupying a space on the otherwise empty shelves approximately halfway between the two of them. “Even the potatoes,” the old man said mournfully, as though conceding in advance that he could not beat her to them. But then he narrowed his eyes in a way that made her think this might not be so easy, after all. Needless to say, someone else had already reserved it for curbside pickup.


A Possibly Clever Idea for Writing About the Pandemic

A student evaluation type document, of the sort I would have given my students in just several weeks had circumstances not changed the way they have, but one where the questions are not about the professor but the pandemic. For example: Was the pandemic organized? Were the objectives of the pandemic clear? Would you recommend this pandemic to future generations? I’d go on, but nature calls. By quoting Bertolt Brecht who, according to all of the other writers who have quoted Bertolt Brecht during this pandemic, in the year 1939 appended the following “motto” to his final published collection of poetry, the so-called Svendborg Poems:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing
About the dark times.

Or by quoting Richard Brautigan, who wrote:

I’ll be glad when it’s done.

Read The Writer vs the Pandemic I and The Writer vs the Pandemic II 


[1] Megan Garber, The Atlantic, May 27, 2020

About the Author:

Eli S. Evans blah blah blah,