by John Kendall Hawkins
“I know what you mean, Steve.”
-Jane Martin sitting in a car at Lover’s Lane, The Blob (1958)
“Hideously plausible suspense… [that] will glue you to your chair.”
-Detroit Free Press review, The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Recently, someone online suggested reading Journal of the Plague Year by Willem Dafoe, I mean Defoe. Daniel. I kept looking at an illustration of the 14th century German Plague Doctor, thinking it looks an awful lot like my imagined picture of Dylan’s “Man in the Long Black Coat,” and Zimmy singing, “He had a face like a mask,” and “People don’t live or die people just float she went with the man in the long black coat.” The Germ Man.
Holed up, but internetted, in my no-panic-but-getting-there-room, wondering what the fuck I’d do if the tubes went down, now that they’re shuttering customer service centers, I’m told, and I had to make my way Out There, gingerly, as if the air between here and there were now all jungly with corona vines hanging everywhere, to sift through my paperback collection in storage, only to find one dega book left — The Foucault Reader. Fuck me.
But back to Herr Doktor Daniel Defoe. There I was self-isolating, like Robinson Crusoe listening to his parrot squawk “Poor Crusoe” for 30 years. Me thinking Dafoe, who played Christ, could have played Crusoe (he has that kind of range) in a kind of combined performance. There’s the why-have-you-forsaken-me self-pity that became the Church. There’s that spooky crossover pagan element that comes out at Easter. In fact, at one point, Crusoe, “flung down by corpse evangelists,” ensmirkled by the love-smiling cannibals of transubstantiation, is saved by good Friday. What I want to know is why Defoe has Crusoe, after he returns to England, abandoning his young family for more crazy adventures (Vol.2), and why Dafoe isn’t starring as Defoe in a post-mod TV movie about all this shit.
Some people think Idle thoughts during times of plague and pestilence. Me, I prefer a good lip-doodling frenzy. Strange things happen to people in these global crises of ours — and I’ve had my share of them, starting with the Cuban Missile crisis, when the organic gardening craze began (wink) — strange ways of thinking that bring strangers together worldwide to contemplate the One Thing. The threat’s to the body, but it’s the psychology that fascinates. We haven’t been down this road since 9/11, but there are no politics here, Corona virus isn’t Islamic (Inshallah), and even as we fall like Sartrian flies it feels like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System, like cover for something else, but then conspiracies and pandemics are French-kissing first cousins, another version of the mind-body problem we can’t solve.
I have idle thoughts, too, and I wonder: What happens to the homeless during Corona? Are they given digs to self-isolate in? A Good Will box each, maybe? And if we’ve found a solution suddenly (by necessity), then where are we on this issue all the other days? Also, while we’re idling, if we can come together on Corona, everyone on the same page, then how come we can’t put out a pandemic — issue a public service virus — that forces us to think together about climate change? And, also, is it me, or is Trump looking these days like he’s got a sibling jealousy of Corona?
Too much self-isolating can lead to self-alienation and you have to wonder if we’re all up to nunnery-getting any more, now that God’s Dead. Corona has me thinking about childhood. With Corona, I just want to know what makes her tick. But like Nietzsche said, ‘Hey stupid, if you fuck with an abyss, the abyss will fuck with you.’ But I went ahead anyway, and re-watched a movie I never would have re-watched, if not for you, Corona: The Blob. 1958. It was the first horror movie I can recall watching on TV and I have to admit the corny blob from outer space had my nerves on the rack for a while in childhood. I would have nightmares — imagining swallowing myself, or maybe I was imagining being swallowed by the blob and was still conscious inside.
The blob is a life force that absorbs other life forces it comes into contact with. There have been many interpretations of the blob over the years. The self-evident Freudian theory. (Right?) And the Red Menace theory: At the beginning of the movie, as Steve McQueen is getting nowhere in Lover’s Lane, his girl loves him but she fears he’s a wolf, a whistling meteor comes to his rescue and hurls to earth (bomb whistles were terror tactics, making the meteor a terrorist). The blob was red, and liked to spread — call it a commie comet and kill it dead.
But then, more germane to our Corona problem, there was the We Are Not Alone theory. The blob as an amoeba, an alien form of life that came out of nowhere and confronted civilisation and our biology. Suddenly you’re staring at cytoplasm, cell walls, osmosis in the face. It absorbed a doctor and mechanic, maybe giving it, symbolically, a kind of auto-immune system. Subliminally, if you looked real quick, the found meteor even looks like Corona. It gimme a chill. The kind of movie that makes you think. Think: there but before the grace of God go I: why, I coulda been that. And if it’s up to the Blob, I will be blob. What if I were Corona, I thought?
It got worse. Stupid me, I went ahead last night and watched the old classic The Andromeda Strain. Not the musical (in case there was one), but the Crichton flick. When I think about it, what an evil fucker Mikey could be: Velociraptors that come at you like riveting gangsters and flank you: you look and see them balooppidiloop before you’re taken by the extra-species sadists; terminal people being harvested for body parts; Coma; West World, and Yul Brenner with no face. But Andromeda was a strain from outer space. A “hideously plausible” depiction of how an alien could make its way to earth and, again, the human species-level danger it represents. It’s a crystal life-and-not-life form that mutates and replicates at the same time, and the scientists see it as intelligent, so naturally they want to blow it up.
But what got under my skin about the movie was the little scientist-to-scientist crack about the human species that didn’t go over well in my self-isolation ill-humor (albeit, mellowed by red wine). One doctor says to the other that “the human body id one of the dirtiest things in the known universe.” What else aren’t they telling us? In the end I was reminded of something Stephen Hawking warned about humans being too eager to contact aliens, given we don’t know what we’d be confronting. Blobs, Strains, Cook Books.
And speaking of evil cracks, who can look the other way at Agent Smith’s snide little commentary in The Matrix. You’d go to cold cock him, but you know you’d miss and miss. He said essentially humans are viruses and he’s the solution. (See the disturbing video evidence for yourself.)
But recently, all those fantasies about alien life forms fucking with us in the cinemas took a sinister turn when I began reading about some seriously inconvenient possibilities. We’ve known for a long time that terrestrial life most likely had its beginnings in outer space. But a few days ago I read an article that began a train of thought that has me worried, and if you’re the worrying type, too, you may want to go do something else now. The headline asks: Could Giant Viruses Be the Origin of Life on Earth? Sweet Jesus.
The National Geographic (multiply-sourced) article goes on to ask: What if viruses predate bacteria, rather than the other way around? Here’s a thought-provoker for your isolation:
[S]ome scientists say the discovery of giant viruses could turn that view of life on its head. They propose that the ancestors of modern viruses, far from being evolutionary laggards, might have provided the raw material for the development of cellular life and helped drive its diversification into the varied organisms that fill every corner of the planet.
The two married virologists from Aix-Marseille University say that their “discovery” of the Giant Virus and its existential priority means it was the essence that human being was waiting for along the evolutionary path.
If you’re at all a Three-Aber oriented you’d better look the other way now, because the news for modern man get worse. Now, we’re also being told that “An Ancient Virus May Be Responsible for Human Consciousness.” Isn’t that a kick in the head. That’s right, the crazy quilt of thoughts you’re having right now might be Old Man Virus just fuckin’ with his host. As the scientists tell us in this piece, “You’ve got an ancient virus in your brain. In fact, you’ve got an ancient virus at the very root of your conscious thought.” And here’s more on it. Deal with it, they seem to be telling us.
Well, I was just starting do deal with the organic paradigm shift in my pants, when — what rock through yon window breaks? — could we moderns and Corona be distant relatives? Now, that’s a mind-fuck, achieved without acid or shrooms. Could viruses be behind civilization; civilization a kind of concentration camp of milling ideas? Could art be viral? That would certainly explain some of the abstract expressionism I’ve seen, if a virus were calling the shots. I pictured a cluster of humans for a giffy moment seeming like a virus and cringed at its hypnotic effect. Are we dealing with a Sam Huntington Clash of Civilizations thing? Who’s to say Corona is not a better class of virus than the one science is saying currently controls our brains? Maybe Corona is the “Ubermensch” we’ve been waiting for and we should kow-tow. That crown must be there for a reason.
I don’t know any more. How come I always felt chuffed when Carl Sagan was explaining how we were all “star stuff,” literally, same material, but I felt good afterwards, teleologically-speaking? Maybe it was the Vangelis soundtrack. But also, I liked the Moody Blues back then and that may have added stained glass windows to what might otherwise have a horror show. All I know is,
I’ve never felt more like a water bag with legs, some carbon, and a jelly fish for a brain than now. How do I measure up? Corona did this to me. Hell, maybe all this self-isolating everywhere is the real virus. We’ll be more dedicated to the central internet brain ‘they’ say is coming than ever now. What if Corona slips a mickey in the works and upgrades our collective consciousness while we’re sleeping (and we always are)?
My friend turned to me and said after watching The Matrix years ago, “Who knows, we may already be in the Matrix.” I replied, “Yeah, and maybe we really are viruses.” And he said, “Shut up, Donnie,” because we liked to quote movie lines at each other.
Two Neo liberals talking. At the end of time.
“We’re living on borrowed time. But that gives us a chance to do things we should perhaps have done before.”
– Klaus Stohr (WHO), 15 December 2004
It’s a funny thing, language. Geniuses tell us that it’s what separates us most from the chimpanzees at the zoo who spit at us, unimpressed. One time, I saw a guy spit back and pick up a banana that had fallen from the cage, and made as if to give it back to the chimp with entreating eyes, only to pull it back at the last minute and begin a burlesque peel that drove Bonzo, and his mates, cageshakingly apeshit, and as he ate it, like a one-percenter, I could see in Bonzo’s eyes a vow to evolve — just to get him back. The guy riposted with a finger, and flashed his opposable thumb, and walked away, a stream of ejectile whizzing past his head. Made me ashamed to be a homo sapien.
In these days of Covid-19 we need to be more careful about spitters and spittees, and the language that we use: lives are at risk. Nothing reveals the decline and fall of the American imperial mind better, at Das Kapital’s end, than the inane debacle that took place weeks back concerning the use of masks in our current pandemic. Should we wear them? Or should we not? Which ones should we wear? Can we make our own stylized sputum catchers? Can we mask-up like Jesse James, criminal hero of many childhoods? Are American Muslim women now laughing at us behind fashionable hijabs? Some people got so discombobulated by the mask fiasco, hearing that mouth masks don’t protect eyes from vile ejectile, that they panicked and wore face masks over their eyes and you gave them extra distance.
Well, we could all end up discombobulated by the time it’s all finished, going out masked and looking like Picasso’s Guernica, driven devolvos hoiked into our own spittoons. In a peculiar way, too many ‘folks’ in America seem to be enjoying Nature’s schadenfreude festival in ways that are uncomfortable to observe and may border on some kind of dissociative hysteria that feels like The End is near.
In his preface to The Monster at the Door (2005), Mike Davis calls us out on our special species lack of empathy during catastrophes. He writes,
Unlike certain other social animals, we have no collective sorrow instinct or biological solidarity that is automatically aroused by the destruction of our fellow kind. Indeed, at our worst we find a perverse, often delectable sublimity in Black Deaths, tsunamis, massacres, genocides, and collapsing skyscrapers.
You go to chide such an attitude, but, then, you can’t see how it’s untrue, looking back at history as a series of Bill Murray Groundhog Days (but without the happy ending), and guys going around flashing opposable thumbs at chimps the way hippies used to flash opposable fingers at The Man. We can be monsters, and we just don’t seem to get it.
And that’s one of many salient points Mike Davis makes in his new book, The Monster Enters: Covid-19, Avian Flu and the Plagues of Capitalism. The new book is actually The Monster at the Door redux, with a 45-page Introduction completed in late April 2020 that specifically addresses the coronavirus pandemic. Deflecting the apparent chutzpah of re-releasing a book
largely about the “avian flu” virus (H5N1), Davis offers up, “The [Covid-19] pandemic, according to my current publishers, has given new relevance to my old flu Monster…I should emphasize, however, that the threat of an avian flu outbreak and its global spread continues to be ‘imminent.’” In short, Covid-19 could team up with H5N1 and come at us like Godzilla, with Mothra, in a secondary wave of bio-terror.
That ‘full disclosure’ aside, The Monster Enters is a helpful reiteration of important details regarding the Problem we face: From AIDS to Ebola to SARS to MERS to Covid-19, Davis cites scientists who say we’ve entered a new epoch of pandemics; from now into an indefinite future, we will face waves of these ‘novel,’ viruses: “the species-jumping versions are extraordinary shape-shifters that constantly alter their genomes to foil the powerful immune systems of human and mammalian hosts.” Maybe a shape-shifting virus-tipped spitball from space conked out the dinosaurs, too.
Davis writes, “As a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine observes: ‘It took the genome of the human species 8 million years to evolve by 1%. Many animal RNA viruses can evolve by more than 1% in a matter of days.’” It’s a scenario reminiscent of the alien, crystal-like virus that changes before the very eyes of terrified scientists in The Andromeda Strain.
We’ve known for quite some time that viruses come in different categories. Some have a high mortality rate, but don’t spread easily, so total deaths are down. Others have a lower mortality rate, but spread easier, and can kill more people. Davis says we are in the latter category, and that
Although not as deadly as the SARS or MERS, COVID-19’s currently guesstimated two percent mortality rate is comparable to the Spanish flu and like that monster it probably has the ability to infect a majority of the human race unless antiviral and vaccine development quickly come to the rescue.
Spanish flu ended up infecting a third of the human population and killing up to 100 million people. A sobering fact to get soused to in your solitude.
But there’s more, whether by avian flu or coronavirus human vulnerability to viruses seems to be growing exponentially, especially now that viruses seem to be getting closer and closer to cutting out the middle pangolin and getting at humans directly. Davis fears a perfect storm scenario whereby we are facing a virus that spreads easily and is so lethal that as many as “a billion people” could die. Citing Rene Snacken, leading influenza expert at the Scientific Institute of Public Health in Belgium, Davis mongers up a Doomsday image:
Eight years of research on H5N1 had convinced him that this cunning little Darwinian demon was capable of ecocide—the wiping out of entire species.
Covid-19 may just be the rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem, while we take zoom-selfies of our selfish doom.
So who’s to blame for Covid-19, hypocrite, mon lecteur, as the Rolling Stones once sang about the killing of the Kennedys — after all, it was you and me. Pleased to meet you. Well, it’s that and it’s not that, and not in a quantum way either. We western ords and occidental plebs, who mostly live in gorgeous representative democracies, cede our power as people to roaring dunderheads, time after time. Once they’re in office, Christ! They can be tough to get rid of, like cargo-cult cans of worn-out Spam on the shelves of supermarkets in Papua New Guinea. Davis says the biggest problem is the resistance to change, even at the potential cost of self-extinction. The two main factors of resistance are culture and politics.
He provides an example of cultural resistance in the form of cockfighting in Thailand. Our modern homogenized and pasturized moral minds recoil at hearing of such acts as setting one animal against another for bloody sport. But Davis has bigger chicken to fry: Farmers in China, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam raise chickens, and many of them supplement a subsistence income by grooming cocks to fight for money. When H5N1 broke out among Thai farmers in 2004 the government imposed a kill-down, and farmers with fighting cocks faced immediate destitution. Davis writes,
As they investigated, WHO officials were horrified to find out that it was common practice for the owners of fighting cocks to suck blood and mucous from the beaks of birds injured in a fight.
Strangely, I pictured the Holyfield-Tyson Bite Fight, Evander’s trainer ’s medically laving his ear. If you call reality “sur” long enough he becomes your master.
A more germaine and recent example of culture impacting on public health comes from Wuhan. The “wet markets,” said to be the source of the Covid-19 outbreak (although others have pointed to a research lab a mile up the road that was known to be experimenting with coronavirus before the outbreak), often feature exotic wild animals — pangolin, bats — that bring with them from the wilderness ‘novel’ viruses that come at us like zero-day attacks we have no ready solution for. Tourists and other travelers passing through the wet market took the virus away with them. The first American diagnosed with Covid-19 in January had just returned to Washington state from Wuhan. It is difficult to convince the locals to change their habits. Davis points out that Chinese did nothing to change wet market practices after H5N1.
But the biggest hindrance to solutions to pandemic planning, and all the other clear and dangerous humanity faces, is political will to take on vested corporate interests. Davis writes,
The essence of the avian flu threat…is that a mutant influenza of nightmarish virulence—evolved and now entrenched in ecological niches recently created by global agro-capitalism—is searching for the new gene or two that will enable it to travel at pandemic velocity through a densely urbanized and mostly poor humanity…Human-induced environmental shocks—overseas tourism, wetland destruction, a corporate “Livestock Revolution,” and Third World urbanization with the attendant growth of megaslums—are responsible for turning influenza’s extraordinary Darwinian mutability into one of the most dangerous biological forces on our besieged planet.
Davis provides evidence that novel coronaviruses are equally dangerous.
Covid-19 has already brought to the fore, yet again, the disproportionate suffering such pandemics bring to the poor — the Third World poor — whose conditions are so primitive, in many instances, that the viruses are practically part of their biomes. Davis notes that
Multiple studies confirm that SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] is being shed copiously in feces and accumulated in sewage. In African and South Asian slums, of course, fecal contamination is everywhere: in the water, in home grown vegetables and as windblown dust. (Yes, shit storms are real.)
Similarly, the slumdog millionaires of Mumbai have been economically devastated by the Covid-19 ‘lockdowns,’ as reported recently by The Democracy Dies in Darkness Daily, owned by Jeff Bezos. These “shitholes,” as Trump would describe them, may ironically be the breeding ground of the next revolution.
Davis is livid. He implies that Trump’s leadership inadequacies, including masks, chloroquine, and advising people to skip quarantine (as his economic numbers tumble) could be potentially impeachable offenses:
Trump’s craven abdications, tantrums, lies, and sundry high crimes and misdemeanors during this crisis. For now, it is possible to summarize the major factors responsible for the catastrophic meltdown of the federal response in the first three months of the pandemic.
And this doesn’t even include Trump’s early assignation of blame on a Chinese hoax — now apparently re-assigned to the Democrats, a conspiracy theory that son Eric now appears to be in charge of spreading.
Davis lists six reasons why the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been so disastrous. First, says Davis, “there was no continuity of leadership” from the Obama administration to Trump’s. Two, he cites the “shocking incompetence and poor judgment of the CDC,” specifically in their handling of testing kits. Third, Davis says self-isolating is a back-up plan, not primary, and was “made necessary by the failure to implement early testing and detection.” Fourth — the aforementioned fiasco regardings masks. Fifth, Davis continues, “… the Trump administration … power grab in almost every sense…has consistently rejected power’s responsibilities.” Sixth, “Trump’s CDC, still reeling from the test kit fiasco, has abdicated a principal role in vaccine development as have Big Pharma and the WHO.”
And as if another impending pointless lesser-of-two evils election wasn’t depressing enough a prospect, Davis raises the potential for bioterror. He has suggested that H5N1 could potentially wipe out a billion people. This was known during the GW Bush administration. But, as with the 9/11 information he had at his disposal, he cynically turned around for political purposes. Davis writes that Bush set up Project BioShield which “was designed to build support for the invasion of Iraq by sowing the baseless fear that Saddam Hussein might use bioweapons against the United States.” Not only that, but he set aside funding for “fast-tracked vaccination programs for smallpox and anthrax,” when the focus should have been avian virus. Where do we get these leaders? Oh, right.
Davis says the sad reality is that Covid-19 is here to stay. Antibody testing will be ready soonest, drugs like remsevir, which are largely untrialled, will be given a shot to be a temporary solution, while no vaccine will be ready much before June 2022. In the meantime, the economy will continue to falter, weaknesses in the structure of the American social/political system will continue to blight what’s left of the democratic republic. Who’s in charge? You choose A or B in November. Then imagine if it will matter with the pandemics ahead and Climate breathing down our necks.
Davis explicitly points out that vested interests won’t by themselves change anything soon. They never have. Davis writes,
Today…multinational capital has been the driver of disease evolution through the burning or logging out of tropical forests, the proliferation of factory farming, the explosive growth of slums…and the failure of the pharmaceutical industry to find profit in mass producing lifeline antivirals, new-generation antibiotics, and universal vaccines.
Permanent bio-protection against new plagues, accordingly, would require more than vaccines. It would need the suppression of these “structures of disease emergence” through revolutionary reforms in agriculture and urban living that no large capitalist or state-capitalist country would ever willingly undertake.
TikTok. TikTok. TikTok. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Time is ticking away.
Now that the Monster is comfortably seated in our environs, munching on cell walls, glugging down tins of Precious Bodily Fluids, and checking out the breathless TV epic take-down of a clown legally elected president of a country that rules the world with chutzpah, we probably don’t stand much of a chance. Vaccines are years away. Davis says Covid’s beefier cousins are already in transit. It’ll take a special effort (a universal vaccine, global governance coming together) and we may just not have the wherewithal to get it done. We may have just shot our wads on the wild-eyed vision needed to build cathedrals.
It’s gonna be like all those old Untouchables episodes, Robert Stack machinegunning virus after virus, finally nailing Corona for tox evasion, and looking handsome doing it, while the climate kicks some heinie, and bankers get so toonish with money-lust, that in the final end (as Dylan would say), it’ll be like Nicholson playing a 1-percenter, sitting back, and getting his brains blown at the end of Carnal Knowledge by the 99% service sector, his last exploded selfish thoughts spattered all over the walls of the universe, a big bang, followed by a little whimper, like a God indifferent to it all.
One thing Covid-19 has reminded us, among many things, is how much we spit when we speak, and we must be more careful to ‘say not spray.’
by John Kendall Hawkins
“I used to be Deleuzanal, but, now, I’m not Saussure.”
– Toilet stall wall riddle, next to Nietzsche Is Peachy
Someone must have called Slavoj on his Radphone in the middle of the night and said go over to your window and look up at the sky; he did, and there it was: the Rad-Signal lighting up a silver Z. Some thought it was a call for Zorro; some said Zarathustra. Slavoj is a little bit of both. The voice on the phone continued on loudspeaker, “There’s a virus afoot, Slavoj, we need your wisdom.” He thanked the caller, an anxious acolyte, and hung up the phone. He climbed out of his phone-booth pajamas and raced over to his word processor and typed like a maniac on a mission from the entity formerly known as God.
Because he’s a genius, he was finished in an hour, saved the pdf, and sent it to his publisher: Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World. The exclamation mark there to build up the threat he faced. Could this be his kryptonite?! Or his finest philosophical hour? The world waited for the master’s work with baited breath. Read it and seep.
In his introduction, Slavoj Žižek starts off Pandemic! by quoting from the Bible, John 20:17, “Noli me tangere,” the one where Jesus has Arisen and Mary Magdalen recognizes him and comes a-running to give him a hug, and he says,”Whoa, don’t touch the threads, Mary. I’m a Made man now.” Or, he has a virus; maybe her simplex has rubbed off. We’re all herpes hosts; it erupts once in a blue moon, like original sin, to remind us we still have moral work to do. Žižek says we mustn’t touch each other, but, at the same time, if we use this historical moment properly, “there is a hope that corporeal distancing will even strengthen the intensity of our link with others.”
Žižek makes the all-important point that “we are all in the same boat now.” This is a truism, and explains why he gets the Big Bucks. One pictures the maiden Titanic asea, but, now, without the worry of icebergs ahead. Rather, the worry is whether there’ll be any ports ahead not under water. The Upstairs/Downstairs of Das Boot, held together by a melancholy stringed quartet, Cate and Leo, twin figureheads at the prow of the new flying dutchman we call the world. “Hegel wrote,” writes Žižek, “that the only thing we can learn from history is that we learn nothing from history, so I doubt the epidemic will make us any wiser.” Or, we’ve nothing to fear from history but fear of history itself.
Žižek says, “There is no return to normal, the new ‘normal’ will have to be constructed on the ruins of our old lives, or we will find ourselves in a new barbarism whose signs are already clearly discernible.” This is probably true, if the Plague lasts long enough. We read the pressures are mounting: domestic abuse, already a crisis in America, is bound to go into full swing; jobs are dropping like flies; cantaloupes (meaning all migrant agro) lie unpicked and bleeding in the sun; talking heads buddy up with news broadcasts from their cribs (presumably). One head says, through Žižek, “What iswrong with our system that we were caught unprepared by the catastrophe despite scientists warning us about it for years?” Indeed. Indeed. Indeed. Indeed. Indeed.
Panels pick apart the symptoms and point pingers, and “The usual suspects are waiting in line to be questioned: globalization, the capitalist market, the transience of the rich.” We make bells of our hands and wring them, Bobby Dylan-style, for all of us who are Left. Žižek says, Frank Wells told his brother H.G. that the feckin’ White Devil pommies had wiped out the aborigines of Tasmania, and that’s what inspired War of the Worlds, and that “Perhaps an epidemic which threatens to decimate humanity should be treated as Wells’s story turned around: the ‘Martian invaders’” and that it’s ironic that “we are now threatened ‘by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth,’ stupid viruses which just blindly reproduce themselves—and mutate.”
Žižek asks, “Why are we tired all the time?” Some of the answers are terrifying. But he posits that most folks are so caught up in pleasing The Man, polishing his apples with a smile, and as Wordsworth sighs, “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” Žižek says,
When a medical worker gets deadly tired from working overtime, when a caregiver is exhausted by a demanding charge, they are tired in a way that is different from the exhaustion of those driven by obsessive career moves. Their tiredness is worthwhile.
You don’t want to know how tired I am, nor how seasick.
Žižek takes some time to pot-shot the Israelis. Suddenly, with the arrival of Covid-19, Yahu’s nits are all largesse with the PLA, and are now ‘helping’ in Gaza, “not out of goodness and human consideration, but for the simple fact that it is impossible to separate Jews and Palestinians there.” The new rule: any Palestinian looking to give a hug to a “muscle tough” border guard will be shot. The Kamila Shamsie debacle is noted, the author “retroactively stripped” of a literary prize, says Žižek, ostensbly for “participating in…boycott measures against the Israeli government for its Palestinian policies since 2014.” Nothing to do with the virus (or does it?).
He knocks the Turkish-Russian alliance, calling it “Putoğan.” Žižek blames the alliance for the Syrian refugee crisis. “A perfect storm is gathering,” he says. “Three storms are gathering and combining their force above Europe. The first two are not specific to Europe: the coronavirus epidemic…[and] the Putoğan virus: the new explosion of violence in Syria between Turkey and the Assad regime.” The third storm is, he writes, the refugee virus — “a new wave of refugees organized by Turkey [may] have catastrophic consequences in this time of the coronavirus epidemic.” This is being forced on Europe, thanks to the Putoğan stranglehold on oil to Europe. Žižek predicts that “populist racists will have their heyday.”
In a section he calls Welcome To The Viral Desert, Žižek complains that “The ongoing spread of the coronavirus epidemic has also triggered a vast epidemic of ideological viruses which were lying dormant in our societies: fake news, paranoiac conspiracy theories, explosions of racism.” But Žižek is holding out for the arrival of a johnny-on-the-spot better-angels-of-our-nature virus and that a “much more beneficent ideological virus will spread and hopefully infect us: the virus of thinking of an alternate society, a society beyond nation-state, a society that actualizes itself in the forms of global solidarity and cooperation.” I’m thinking, how about Pax Americana? But Žižek’s all about a manifest commie destiny. I’m conflicted.
To make his manifesto come to life, Žižek says Chinese communism must die (and probably capitalism, too). He believes the death could come suddenly, after a brief bout of violence. Think, he says, the “‘Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique,’ the deadliest blow in all of martial arts.” He references, he actually references Tarantino, Kill Bill II, Beatrix (playing Covid-19) striking Bill, and Bill, played by the aging David Carradine (who kinda looks Asian and American, so fits the bill), takes one for the team, and after a teary ideological goodbye with his killer, dies. I’m welling up now, as I think of the simultaneous deaths of communism and capitalism. Music in my head, “My Corona.”
Next, he brings up Dr. WHO and “capitalist animism” and, out of nowhere, he adds, “Do not play with yourself.” Excess is the road to the palace of wisdom, Blake tells us, but damn. Anyway, Žižek manages to move on and leads us, like a google-eyed Virgil, through the Inferno, to a version of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, and applies it to epidemics, on our way to the beatitudinal Beatrix. As we recall, the stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Žižek asks rhetorically: “And is this not also how we are dealing with the coronavirus epidemic that exploded at the end of 2019?” It’s a hoax; China did it; well, at least it’s not SARS; we’re fucked; okay, let’s work this shit out.
Ever the optimist, because he’s got tenure, Žižek insists we can get over this pandemic and looks to historical precedents and seemingly refers to Foucault’s History of Sexuality (you can’t always tell) when he brings up medieval times and plagues and how they got past it all to finally produce Us. He adds a Step here, between depression and acceptance — “orgies.” Because, they reasoned, says Žižek that “since our lives are over, let’s get out of it all the pleasures still possible with lots of drinking and sex.” I thought, for no particular reason of the beginning of Foucault’s Sanity and Madness, and the reference to Narrenschiffen (Ship of Fools), and the transport of the mad from port to port on seasick asylum ships, and that recalled the Janus film classic, The King of Hearts, instant Carnival and a near-Corona.
He asks, “One interesting question raised by the coronavirus epidemic, even for a non-expert in statistics like me, is: where does data end and ideology begin?” This is a fair, if unelaborated query, given the Age of the Algorithm we’ve entered. He adds, mysteriously,
Many dystopias already imagine a similar future: we stay at home, work on our computers, communicate through videoconferences, exercise on a machine in the corner of our home office, occasionally masturbate in front of a screen displaying hardcore sex, and get food by delivery, never seeing other human beings in person.
Medieval porn, one presumes, and, um, why the objectification of the Dominos pizza guy?
Žižek says, “ I caught myself dreaming of visiting Wuhan. The abandoned streets in a megalopolis—the usually bustling urban centers looking like ghost towns, stores with open doors and no customers, just a lone walker or a single car here and there, provide a glimpse of what a non-consumerist world might look like.” This reminded me of a book by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, who in The Digital Age (originally titled The Empire of the Mind), described a holograph machine of the near future set up in the den, where you could send your bratty, privileged kids. Schmidt asks: “Worried your kids are becoming spoiled? Have them spend some time wandering around the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.” Wuhan? Maybe a coronavirus view of things for the brats?
Žižek references famous activists and reckons that that’s what’s missing. He honors the memory of the whistleblowing doctor who alerted the world to the virus before he succumbed. He writes, “Li Wenliang, the doctor who first discovered the ongoing coronavirus epidemic and was censored by authorities, was an authentic hero of our time, something like the Chinese Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden.” And, “A Chinese Julian Assange is needed to expose to the public the concealment in China’s response to the epidemic.” This response could include “doctoring data” to show recovery where there is none. They may be commies, but they know das kapitalist strategies.
The ever-optimistic Žižek cites potential temptations we need to be aware of:
From a cynical, vitalist standpoint, one could be tempted to see coronavirus as a beneficial infection that allows humanity to get rid of the old, weak and ill, like pulling out the half-rotten weed so that younger, healthier plants can prosper, and thus contribute to global health.
He tells of “three wise men,” Magi coming not to celebrate new life, but grim reapers grinning down. “Under a so-called ‘three wise men’ protocol,” says Žižek, “three senior consultants in each hospital would be forced to make decisions on rationing care.” Damn, who’s gonna tell Grandma that the nice smiling doctors want to kill her?
Žižek is not advocating the Three Wise men approach here, although he does support euthanasia. He writes,
I want to assert that I am being an utter realist here: one should prepare medicaments to enable a painless death for the terminally ill, to spare them the unnecessary suffering. But our first principle should be not to economize but to assist unconditionally, irrespective of costs, those who need help, to enable their survival.
So don’t panic; Žižek has not gone over to the Other Side.
And then, lo and behold, he cites a phone conversation (unreported by the MSM) that Greek politician and writer Yanis Varoufakis had just a few days ago with Julian Assange, who weighed in on the Covid-19 crisis during a phone call from Belmarsh. Assange told Varoufakis that “this new phase of the crisis is, at the very least, making it clear to us that anything goes—that everything is now possible.” Varoufakis tells Assange, “Whether the epidemic helps deliver the good or the most evil society will depend, of course, on us – on whether progressives manage to band together.” Fuck, are we that desperate for change that we’re putting allour eggs in Covid-19 basket? That’s deplorable.
And that leads to his final section, Communism Or Barbarism, As Simple As That! What does the future hold for humanity? Following on from the Three Grim Reapers scenario, Žižek visions up:
I don’t think the biggest threat is a regression to open barbarism, to brutal survivalist violence with public disorders, panic lynching, etc.. More than open barbarism I fear barbarism with a human face—ruthless survivalist measures enforced with regret and even sympathy, but legitimized by expert opinions.
A kind of global Velvet Revolution! Featuring communism, without the tanks; a brotherhood of sisters; the 1% diluted; Animal Farm, the sequel (Boxer, the glue of society, graciously remembered); everybody sharing shit, the return of peer-to-peer networks. Man, imagine that! I got your pandemic: I got your pandemic right here.
By the time Z. ‘s finished, a half-mad globe is put back in some semblance of order. Our “avowed Christian atheist” has convened a new world order of fresh-faced Communism; Corona has abdicated, Climate Change has been biff-bam-boomed. That was the Plan, anyway. But, lo, after all is said and said, Z. is back in his phone-book jammies and half-asleep, when there comes a rap-rap-rappin’ on the windows and a knock-knock-knockin’, actually a loud banging, on the door.
Outside, his acolytes — deconstruction workers, panpsychists, old school existentialists, sordid coprolaliacs, and Derrida — are coming at him, the walking dead, and he waits, like Vincent Price, in The Last Man on Earth, he waits, with all the answers, as they chant, “Zizek! We’re going to kill you, Zizek!” and he falls and he falls into an opioid slumber, a white hole event horizon, where no darkness can escape.
By John Kendall Hawkins
…but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
– W.B.Yeats, The Second Coming
Hive-mindedness seems to be growing — at the same time that bees are heading towards kaputzville. DARPA’s got a fix for the bees, they say. Then again, (D)ARPA gave us the Internet, which is where the hivemind is located. On the other hand, Al Gore ‘claims’ to have invented the Internet. Some people say he invented Climate Change, too. Riddle me this: If a guy can be that clever, then how come he can’t win his home state in 2000, without the need to blame Nader? And how come Watergate felon Charles “Dirty Tricks” Colson can be given back his voting rights by Jeb, but not all those Black voters? Is there a koan in a haystack locked up in all this? Or is it all rhetorical?
End Days thinking really, isn’t it? You gotta tamp that bong shit down. Anyway, I was thinking if Christ came back to Earth today, all swaddled again, which three Wise Men would show up in Bedlamhem to report on it. Would it be Old Schoolers like the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post? Or would it be the Upstarts — Amazon, Google, and Facebook?
Some things are certain: they are all pushers, dealing in cut info, trying to slide you into that crystal blue persuasion dream; and they are all in it for the frankincense and myrrh, baby. And all of them are spies for the Mighty Whitey, either directly or in- in- indirectly. And God help us if He came back black: They’d up and lynch Love all over agin’. Eternal recurrence, amor fati, my ass, Mr. Nietzsche.