Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Posts from the Pandemic

Since early March, Critical Inquiry has been publishing a series of short pieces about the global outbreak of the coronavirus. “Posts from the Pandemic” features critical writing by Lorraine Daston, Bruno Latour, Catherine Malabou, Slavoj Žižek, Achille Mbembe, N. Katherine Hayles and others, many of whom are frequent contributors to the journal. Sometimes speaking alone, but often in conversation with each other, these blog posts have touched on the environmental, political, and economic consequences of the spread of Covid-19. The online response to the series has been overwhelming. With over 200,000 views so far, the blog is being read and commented on by readers all across the world. We’ve never seen anything like this. And we hope to keep posting as contributions to the series continue. Thank you for reading and writing!

W. J. T. Mitchell’s “Groundhog Day and the Epoché”

An introduction to the series

Slavoj Žižek's "Is Barbarism with a Human Face Our Fate?" (3/18/20)

These days I sometimes catch myself wishing to get the virus – in this way, at least the debilitating uncertainty would be over. . . A clear sign of how my anxiety is growing is how I relate to sleep. Till around a week ago I was eagerly awaiting the evening: finally, I can escape into sleep and forget about the fears of my daily life. . . Now it’s almost the opposite: I am afraid to fall asleep since nightmares haunt me in my dreams and awaken me in panic – nightmares about the reality that awaits me. . . .

Nikolaj Schultz's "The Climatic Virus in an Age of Paralysis" (3/21/20)

The collective reaction following CoVid19 seems to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the state of exception continues to generate fear, panic, anxiety, in all of their respective differences. On the other hand, to more than a few people, the fear strangely enough seems to go hand in hand with a feeling of relief. . . .

Catherine Malabou's "To Quarantine from Quarantine: Rousseau, Robinson Crusoe, and 'I'” (3/23/20)

In May of 1743, a vessel from Corfu carrying bodies of dead crew members who had died of a mysterious disease arrived in Messina. The ship and cargo were burned, but cases of a strange new disease were soon thereafter observed in the hospital and in the poorest parts of the town; and in the summer, a frightening plague epidemic developed, killing forty to fifty thousand people, and then disappeared before spreading to other parts of Sicily. . . .

Kyle Stevens's "When Movies Get Sick" (3/25/20)

Space is never just space. Sometimes we think of it as the air around us. Sometimes we think of it as a thing in which to find a WiFi signal. Sometimes it’s what we need when we’ve had an argument with someone we love. . . .

Bruno Latour's "Is This a Dress Rehearsal" (3/26/20)

The unforeseen coincidence between a general confinement and the period of Lent is still quite welcome for those who have been asked, out of solidarity, to do nothing and to remain at a distance from the battle front. This obligatory fast, this secular and republican Ramadan can be a good opportunity for them to reflect on what is important and what is derisory. . . .

Joshua Clover's "The Rise and Fall of Biopolitics: A Response to Bruno Latour" (3/29/20)

How swiftly do genres of the quarantine emerge! Notable among them is the discovery of the relation between the present pandemic and onrushing climate collapse. The driving force of this genre is not holy shit two ways for a lot of people to die but the realization, or hope, that the great mobilizations of state resources currently being unspooled to address COVID-19 prove the possibility of a comparable or greater mobilization against ecological catastrophe, an even greater threat if somewhat less immediate. . . .

Michael Taussig's "Would a Shaman Help" (3/30/20)

A friend in the Midwest asks if a shaman could help in the present crisis? Given presidential grandstanding and the run on toilet paper and guns, it seems like a reasonable question. But it all depends on what kind of shamanism and what kind of help. . . .

Andrea Brady's "Hanging in the Air" (4/1/20)

Daniele Lorenzini's "Biopolitics in the Time of Coronavirus" (4/2/20)

In a recent blog post, Joshua Clover rightly notices the swift emergence of a new panoply of “genres of the quarantine.” It should not come as a surprise that one of them centers on Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitics, asking whether or not it is still appropriate to describe the situation that we are currently experiencing. . . .

Carol J. Adams's "Anticipatory Care" (4/5/20)

I’ve been talking to my dogs more frequently these days because, as I tell them, they have no idea about the coronavirus pandemic or at least aren’t communicating their thoughts about the issue to me. . . .

Norman MacLeod's "COVID-19 Metaphors" (4/6/20)

In her 1978 essay on Disease as Political Metaphor, Susan Sontag demonstrated that the trope of the infectious malady has been used through human history as a metaphor to represent, describe, and critique failures of the polis by critics of culture and politics. The present COVID-19 crisis is ripe — some might say “rife” — with further examples that embody the complete spectrum from profound to ridiculous. . . .

Alexander Garcia Düttmann's "A Letter to Olvider Vogel," translated by James Fontini (4/8/20)

Many years ago, the press you work for published a book of mine with the subtitle Thinking and Talking About a Virus. If I were to write about a virus again today, about this virus called corona, I would conceivably choose a similar subtitle, only slightly altered. The subtitle would read: “That a Virus Is Thought about and Spoken Of.” The first subtitle should indicate that the discourses emerging from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) were indeed of different sorts, but nonetheless developed into specific discursive patterns, which in turn minimized the disparity. . . .

Lorraine Daston's "Ground-Zero Empiricism" (4/10/20)

I am used to waking up in the seventeenth century. As a historian of early modern science, that’s where I spend a lot of time. But it is strange that everyone else is suddenly keeping me company there. . . .

Achille Mbembe's "The Universal Right to Breathe," translated by Carolyn Shread (4/13/20)

Already some people are talking about “post-Covid-19.” And why should they not? Even if, for most of us, especially those in parts of the world where health care systems have been devastated by years of organized neglect, the worst is yet to come. With no hospital beds, no respirators, no mass testing, no masks nor disinfectants nor arrangements for placing those who are infected in quarantine, unfortunately, many will not pass through the eye of the needle. . . .

Peter Szendy's "Viral Times" (4/15/20)

Despite the warning signs, despite the news from China, it was as if we had woken up overnight in a completely different world. Wholly different but exactly the same. . . .

N. Katherine Hayles's "Novel Corona: Posthuman Virus" (4/17/20)

The novel coronavirus is posthuman in at least two senses. First, and most obviously, because it is oblivious to human intentions, desires, and motives. . . .

Emmanuel Alloa's "Coronavirus: A Contingency that Eliminates Contingency" (4/20/20)

The mechanism is sadly familiar: each crisis has its designated culprits. For the sovereigntists, this pandemic is to be blamed on deregulated border crossings; for the anticommunists, it is the negligence of a Chinese government that would rather see its citizens die than assume its hazardous initial response; for conspiracy theorists still, it is an American chemical weapon over which secret services have lost control. . . .

Irina Dumitrescu and Caleb Smith's "The Demon of Distraction" (4/22/20)

When we first heard talk of a quarantine, we thought about open spaces closing down: travel bans and militarized border enforcement on an international scale, isolation orders that would restrain movement closer to home. The collective endeavor to flatten the curve seemed to entail drawing smaller and smaller circles around ourselves. . . .

Charles Bernstein's "Covidity" (4/24/20)

Bill Ayers's "OK, Zoomer" (4/27/20)

It’s weird for me, but I’ve got it (I think) and, against my will and better judgment, I feel a little thrill and a burst of relief each time class ends without the internet exploding. I push all the right buttons, issue all the appropriate commands. Oh, joy! . . .

John Wilkinson's "After Lucretius" (4/29/20)

Bernard E. Harcourt’s “On Cooperationism: An End to the Economic Plague” (5/5/20)

Over thirty million Americans just filed first-time unemployment claims as a result of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, pushing unemployment to its highest levels since the Great Depression. . . .

Chiara Cappelletto’s “Arguments for a New Aesthetic of Presence,” translated by Samuel Fleck (5/13/20)

The dominant narrative of the COVID-19 illness plays into the most conservative iconic order. . . .

Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s “Net-munity, or The Space between Us . . . Will Open the Future”(5/20/20)

Networks dream of communication without community. pandemics reveal all that must be erased--nodding strangers, infrastructures, habits and hierarchies of recognition--in order to produce clean connections and agents. . . .

Lydia H. Liu’s “The Incalculable: Thoughts on the Collapse of the Biosecurity Regime” (5/26/20)

For the first time, I feel as vulnerable as my eighty-eight-year old mother who is locked down in another part of the world. Neither she nor anyone I know has ever, in living memory, been through a moment like this. . . .