Theater of Cruelty

The more positive aspects of Corona

Steffen Moestrup
Steffen Moestrup
Regular contributor to MODERN TIMES, and docent at Denmark's Medie- og Journalisthøjskole.
CORONA / Nothing is in a hurry anymore. Illness, death, and economic ruin are the hallmarks of the pandemic, but in corona-the time also arises cognition and insight, which we should take with us further.


This writing is a thought I have been circulating for a long time. Yes, probably almost since the pandemic hit us back to March 2020. When the first astonishment had subsided, I began to have other thoughts and feelings. A feeling that time was also something special and could offer something that we – or at least I – had not noticed before. I have thus repeatedly had the experience of standing a little next to the opinions I otherwise have heard of the time of the pandemic: That the pandemic took our freedom. That it curtailed us and made our room for maneuver smaller. That it created unnecessary bureaucracy and exposed citizens' submissiveness to authorities. That pandemic on the whole, some damn shit is just about to go away and that it can only go too slowly.

It has been the kind of utterances I have mostly met and continue to encounter here in these moments where Danish society is gradually beginning to reopen. But that's not how I felt. At least not only. Now I will try to put some more words on that feeling.

The Black Death partly laid the groundwork for the Renaissance.

Yes, there are millions of deaths worldwide and thousands more are arriving on a daily basis now that several of the world's populous nations are being hit extremely hard. Yes, there are still many sick people – also seriously ill. Yes, there are bankruptcies and financial ruin. Yes, there is a huge bill to be paid in the future – not just caused by ailing economies but perhaps also because an entire generation is plagued by dissatisfaction and mental deroute. But for now, let's dwell a little on the more positive aspects of corona, look at the happy, the surprising and all that I had no idea could take place before the world was put down by a virus.

The interruption created cohesion

For me, I think the astonishment was replaced by fascination shortly after the arrival of the pandemic, perhaps a few days after the Danish shutdown in March 2020. I felt a fascination with the impressions that the new situation threw off. To begin with, it was perhaps the strangeness itself that fascinated. That this was different. A break from the habit. Just not having to do the usual, or not having to do it the same way – caused something alluring. At the same time, more emotions and thoughts appeared on the field. One of these was the experience of cohesion.

Vitus plays the piano. Hugo does math. Laura German. I help her with chemistry experiments
in the kitchen.

Initially, there was a cohesion with the immediate surroundings, with the closest people. I had a clear experience of that corona brought me closer to my family. That we got a new kind of common ground. In the everyday life of repatriation, new communities and a new understanding of each other's everyday life emerged. I gained more knowledge about my children's school life when I had to assist with homework and Zoom connections. I got a better and more nuanced impression of my wife's work when she performed it partly from home, and I thus could not help but overhear conversations, meetings and collegial discussions. They also got to know my work – the writings, the reading, conversations with colleagues. They hear me teach the journalism students at Teams. And they can see me through the webcam and behind me are all the movie books, essays and my bottles of vodka, Ricard and schnapps. It all became a pear mash of the private and the professional mixed together.

We met each other all the time in the apartment we live in. It is quite spacious and on two levels but no bigger than that we five people constantly ran on each other. My youngest son and I went out into the garden several times a day to play football, sometimes with the overboon boy. The days are similar. There are so few things we need. The calendar is almost empty. It brings out a simplicity, and it eliminates the need for coordination and the logistical exercise it can also be to live in a family. On good days, I thought we now have it just like the self-sufficient families who homeschool their children must have it. Vitus plays the piano. Hugo does math. Laura German. I help her with chemistry experiments in the kitchen. I make the omelet. My wife is having a conversation. My wife cuts Hugo. We live a life together, not only in leisure time but also in the time that usually takes up the most space, namely working time and school time. It's common life. This is how family life should always be. The old thing was wrong.

However, the presence with the family has not only been a stream of warm feelings. Of course, it has been the frustration that it could be difficult to find the necessary time to work, when you now also have to be homework help, help the children at Zoom, present lunch and what such a family with children's everyday life also holds. But even worse have been the repeated experiences of not succeeding as a parent. To have failed. That the race is now over. It happens when I go on my hike in the University Park. We are alone in the apartment, my eldest son and I. The rest of the family is with my in-laws this day. But he does not take me out to walk. He stays in front of the screen. He does this most of the day. I know he's a teenager. That I probably also withdrew from the family as a teenager and would rather be alone. Nevertheless, it hurts. What kind of life is that alone in front of the screen? How is it that I have failed when he just sits there? We should have been more together when he was smaller. I should have played more. Showed him things, taught him something. Now the years have passed, and on days like this, it may seem like we have nothing together anymore.

The living wander among the dead

The new presence – and perhaps also the pain that follows – at the same time creates a new look at not only the close relationships and the family, but also at myself. It is as if the gaze is cleansed of the pollution that a lot of activity creates. When you do many different things, you do not easily discover yourself. You are torn along. One is something for others. You have something you need. You do not stand still. All that disappears with coronalife. Corona thus also creates a closeness to the self in itself.

I start going to most things. I leave the bike. Nothing is in a hurry anymore. And in the hallway, I rediscover the near world. I walk 4 kilometers to pick up a breakfast. It takes an hour but so what? The city is still asleep, but even if I leave late, the city is still empty. The people are not in the streets. They stay inside. Other days it can suddenly be crowded with people.

I remember a bitterly cold day in February. Everything is still closed down, but on the streets here are now lots of people. They walk around or they run, exercise. Moving in small groups, in their circles as the authorities call it.

Winter let an extra damper down all over it. The clear, sharp frost air. An air that you can almost cut yourself on. But also an air you are refreshed by. Like a shower in oxygen. One day the snow came. Then the world is enveloped in yet another layer of silence. The sound of the foot hitting the snow. I started walking another route at the cemetery. Away from the trails and out towards the areas where the snow lies. Where the crackling sound can be heard. We walk around there. The humans. The living among the dead.

Several times a week I now walk across the cemetery and through the University Park to pick up or drop off books. It's a simple act, but it's becoming an action I'm still looking forward to more and more. This is probably due to the need to get away from the perpetual screen, where all the work eventually takes place, but it is also due to the alluringness of the walk. It is well known that thoughts abound in the journey itself. Darwin reportedly devised his theory of evolution on his many walks in the meadows south of London. Rousseau wrote that he could only think if his body was in motion. In recent times, several scientific studies have documented increased creativity and better memory for those who walk than those who stand still.

It reminds me of Thoreau

In the hike, I experience an encounter with the self. It's like I'm thinking of myself over and over again. It is not about self-realization or development. It's just seeing oneself and perhaps oneself in relation to the surroundings. You see the routine. All that one has walked around and done, and which now seems superfluous and inappropriate. In the view of this self, one also discovers the world in other ways. I see the surroundings in a different way. Small details stand out: Small cobwebs in Uniparken's grass.

Something is growing more clearly because it has now been given more space. One senses that nature has been given a much-needed break from humans. Pushed us a little to the side and in this disregard we have spotted nature again.

The importance of nature is increasing. It becomes a place to seek refuge, care, reflection. The encounter with the self also holds an opportunity to disregard oneself. Ignore the self and just be in a collective organism that is both trees, lampposts and refrigerators. Be in the world without the gaze directed towards oneself and our actions. No development, chores, no focus on meeting the demands of work, the family, our own. It is the special calm of the pandemic that we hear.

It reminds me of Thoreau, the American thinker who moved out into a cabin in the woods and wrote lines like these: “I moved out into the woods because I wanted to live consciously, deal exclusively with the basic facts of life, and see if I did not could learn what it had to teach me. ”

Corona have exposed these basic facts of life. The world emerges more clearly.

Rediscovery of the eye, of the world

The cohesion also stretched further. Suddenly the whole world was in the same boat. High as low, rich as poor.

Well, we can clearly say that the pandemic exposed differences and that the rich and lucky could avoid feeling too much for the disease, all the while the poor and the neglected had to fight hardest and die to a greater extent. All of that is correct and deeply tragic. But I also sense a collective preoccupation. Everything is now about this one phenomenon. This preoccupation also contains a feeling that we are common about the world and in the world. We face the same thing. And in this preoccupation with the same, we may see each other anew. We see each other. Suddenly I get a certainty about how central a role people have in society. Maybe especially the ones I don’t usually notice; the garbage man, the clerk in the supermarket, the nurse – they have become crucial to our existence. We realize we need each other. The longing for togetherness is probably also formative in the sense that there is something important in learning what we love and that we learn this in a special way by feeling the lack of it.

What kind of life is that alone in front of the screen?

Then comes the mouthpiece. We all get a closed expression. There is something unapproachable about it. It becomes more difficult to decode the fellow human condition. But with the arrival of the bandage, there is also a reunion with the eyes of fellow human beings. Now that the rest of the face is closed, we see the eyes all the more. I never think I've looked so many people in the eye for so long at a time. Preserved the gaze for so long. It's something mysterious, alluring over the hidden. Maybe that's why we let our eyes rest on the eyes of strangers. And in a way, no one is a stranger anymore because we have achieved a collective cohesion through the pandemic.

The imagination gets a renewed role. We can not travel anywhere, so we have to imagine places and meetings. Imagination and time are set free. It gives other thoughts, other possibilities. Never before have publishers received so many manuscripts as below corona. Man has had time again but perhaps also rediscovered his own imagination. The value of dreaming.

With the coming of the pandemic, we are reminded that something is bigger than us. Out of our reach. We cannot control everything, not master it all. Don’t just get it the way we want it. There is something rewarding in this experience. Not in the form of resignation but in the form of a disregard for the eternal focus on ourselves. And a renewed sense of necessary humility towards life and the planet. The pandemic can thus also be seen as one wake up call. The globe has given us a second chance.

What time is it coming?

In a little while we will be back to life again. What does it offer? Are we just returning to the old or is something constantly changing? What did we learn from corona-time? Are we going to work less? Are we staying more at home? Wondering if we'll ever get into the office five days a week again? Will it be the case that going to work is only for those who do not bother to work. Only in the workplace do you find so many breaks and small talk. At home, on the other hand, you can focus and be effective. It is at home that the work can truly take place. Coming in is just an excuse to be with people.

Do we stick to a different kind of hygiene and will the new era become a time with constantly recurring pandemics and associated shutdowns? Do we spend more time with our close relationships? Can we even find out to be with other people again? I notice a certain nervousness in myself, as the principal of the school announces that we will probably soon be physically back at work. Is it a kind of longing for corona-the time I track?

And in the bigger picture: do we want to close ourselves more about ourselves, do we become closer to ourselves? Are we going to take things home and start the rich nations re-industrializing to avoid being too dependent on other, more distant countries? Or will we, on the other hand, realize that the world is connected, that we were all affected by this and thus a completely different and richer sense of community is established?

Never before have publishers received so many manuscripts as below corona.

In the weekly magazine The New Yorker I read, yes, it is also a change in corona-the time that I actually get to read that magazine from end to end, well, but I read somewhere that the black death partly laid the groundwork for the renaissance. Could something good come out of it too corona in the long run? Just as the Black Death at least partially laid the groundwork for the Renaissance. If so, what time is it coming? A new round of roaring 20s, where man goes crazy in sensuality and missed company? Or is it a more reflective, green time marked by cohesion and recognition of our relationship to nature?

I hope we keep cutting off the superfluous. I hope we remember that the world needs us to do good. I hope we remember the humility and value of silence. I hope we will continue to look each other in the eyes, keep our eyes peeled. I hope I will continue to go. Most of all, I hope we remember that it's not all about ourselves.

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