Pandemic (Part One): Tragic reconciliation and the fall of the Private Sector

Underlying the tragedy that the Covid-19 pandemic is, lies a conflict which is quite clearly revealed, if not yet resolved, by the extent of that catastrophe. We’re referring to the political/economic conflict between the public and private sectors of our lives.

For decades neo-liberal thought has argued the superiority of the private sector in terms of quality and efficiency, and yet, now, when put to the real test, that private sector has shown itself completely incapable of tackling the most pressing problems (health and security) created by this crisis. In fact, the pandemic has stripped the private sector bare of all its lofty pretensions, revealing its absolute impotence, while promoting the power of the public sector as the only force capable of dealing with crisis.

In a few months, the pandemic has dealt a crippling blow to our private-sector-friendly world, throwing the system into a melt-down, and exposing its failings in such a way that it has to be asked who the system was built for in the first place. If it was built for society, why has it proved so incapable of protecting society in times of crisis (not just in this crisis but in any tragic time)? The answer is clear, the private sector is not designed for the authentic needs of a society as a whole, but for the surplus needs and fantasies of the wealthy, who are the only ones who really benefit from the private-sector economy.

This revelation has to be taken seriously, and regarded as a positive lesson as we approach the challenges of the greater tragedy within which the pandemic has emerged – the tragedy of the climate emergency.

Like all tragedies, the pandemic generates both fear and pity, but also the idea of reconciliation, which, as Hegel points out in his Aesthetics, comes from “the glimpse of eternal justice”[i] that it affords. Hegel goes on to say:

“In its absolute way, this justice overrides the relative justification of one-sided aims and passions because it cannot suffer the conflict and contradiction of ethical powers which according to their concept must be unified to be victorious and permanent in true actuality.”[ii]

According to Miguel de Beistegui, Hegel believed tragedy to “awaken in us the feeling of the necessity of the reconciliation of the powers of ethical life.”[iii]  

The pandemic is not a tragic work, but a tragedy experienced, endured and suffered by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. Nevertheless, this real rather than fictional or literaryform of tragedy does not diminish the level of calamity with it, rather it exacerbates it.

Of course, writing from the very midst of the real, may seem to argue against the author’s credentials by accusing him of a severe lack of objectivity, but the very act of analysing the crisis from the point-of-view of the aesthetics of tragedy does, in fact, proportion an objectivity.

What the tragedy of the pandemic has shown us is that the tragic figure lies in the private area whilst the hero of this epic disaster is the public sector. This is not the typical tragic tale of the fall of an over-ambitious individual, but that of the collapse of a whole, over-ambitious system. That is the great revelation and hope that this current disaster affords us.

The shock we are experiencing today, is an age-old one that exists in all tragic art; it is the clash between rights and duties. But once exposed, the weaknesses of one must succumb to the virtues of the other in order for a necessary, mutual co-existence to be feasible in a sustainable way in harmony with the natural world and its laws. A natural world that will, like the gods, destroy us if such a co-belonging cannot be resolved.

As Beistegui says in his essay on the tragic in Hegel: “The revelation, the true stake of tragedy, is the proper mark of the Destiny which imposes itself as the absolutely rational in which Spirit is reconciled with itself.”[iv]   

Our actual world, smitten by a profound nihilism that has been seeping into its fabric for the last hundred and fifty years, seems bereft of Destiny … Perhaps it is, or has been, but the current tragedy has unveiled the enormous errors of our system and the desperate need for it to reconcile its most antagonistic forces. In this way, the tragic scenario we are currently immersed in has to be seen as intrinsically necessary and, because of that, essentially positive.  

We have evolved in a rapacious way, away from the natural world which also constitutes and ultimately conditions our own natures. It is now time for humanity to look for an authentic destiny through which our own sapiens’ dimension can be realised and developed. We stand now exposed as a species, and despite the horror, we need to understand that we can, we now have the opportunity to, elevate ourselves through this challenge by allowing the heroic-side of our societies, the public sector, to take the lead.

The tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is the tragedy of the audaciousness of capitalism. Capitalism has a tremendous pride in itself and pride attracts the wrath of hubris, which paints all cruel self-satisfaction with the tar of tragedy. Like Oedipus, capitalism has perverted the laws of nature with its arrogant own laws of perpetual growth. It has ravaged and slaughtered in a consciously self-profiting way, like Macbeth, which is also an unethical way. Our world is like Hamlet’s Denmark and we all know something is rotten in the State. However, after the pandemic has left the State stripped naked and infirm, Fortinbras arrives in the form of the public sector to rebuild the empire. In this sense, the reconciliation has to come through the off-stage reconstruction. After the tragedy the revolution.    

Read PANDEMIC (Part Two): our tragedy https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/pauladkin.wordpress.com/3354


[i] Hegel, ÄSTHETIK III: 526

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Beistegui, M. & Sparks, S., PHILOSOPHY AND TRAGEDY, Routledge, 2000, p. 11

[iv] Ibid.

Melancholia – Lars von Triers’ depression

melancholia-planet

What could be sadder than the idea that the only life in the universe is about to be extinguished? Or perhaps not. But then, what kind of heart could not be saddened by this idea?

Lars von Triers spreads the idea out before us in his film Melancholia: should we feel sad? There is no chance for deliverance in Melancholia, the Earth’s destruction is a purely cosmological matter, a question of physics. It is beyond our control and because of that it does not matter. But still the dilemma stays with the spectators – should we be sad?

The fact is the film is certainly not a tear-jerker, despite the powerful feelings generated by Tristan and Isolde’s tragic love theme, pounding us incessantly with the gut wrenching chords of Wagner’s emotional masterpiece. But it is not a tear-jerker because the characters are hardly endearing and this removes most of us from any audience-character empathy at the moment of the final tragedy. Also the perspective is insular, the characters themselves are isolated individuals which cuts us off completely in any emotional sense from the rest of the world that perishes with them. And this is the brilliant thing in the film’s art – we are alienated from any deep involvement in the tragedy and left with the debate. Should we feel sad? Or, perhaps even – what is the difference between sadness and melancholy? Between sadness and depression?

Von Trier’s film is about depression, with a narrative and composition that is rich in symbolism. Depression itself could be seen as a rejection of the outward experiences with the world as something pointless and absurd. The depressive’s journey is an escape to the world within and von Trier’s is right in suggesting that it is not a fear of an antagonistic world – as is the idea of the naked man alone in nature – but of the absurd human creation we are immersed in that torments the depressive. It is the human specular existence that the depressive flees from not the cold laws of nature.

Von Trier’s film is the tragedy of all tragedies and we are told by the protagonist that it is this tragedy of tragedies which is going to be the great liberator from the evil of life on earth. But through alienation techniques the film is also testimony to the great absurdity of our specular human reality, a tremendous eschatological paradox that tells us that it is impossible to escape from the horror we have created except via our absolute annihilation.

Despite attempts to find religious significance in the film it is deeply nihilistic (but then again all religions are also deeply nihilistic). The depressive’s antagonism to the absurd and pointless must succumb to the absurdity of salvation. If all endeavour is rendered pointless by an Apocalypse, why go on? Why go forward? The only escape from the ridiculous is an autistic regression, an instinctive sinking back into the Uroboric, prenatal state of a pure self-satisfied existence, without will.

melancholia-indie

HAMLET REX

SHORT EXCERPT FROM ACT TWO: SCENE 1

CLAUDIUS:

A life’s work

A life’s agony

This life of the desk has been agony

This constant exploration

this digging

Digging into the abyss

Writing is an abysmal excavation

We go further and further away from the light with each jolt of the spade

with each stroke of the pick

(HE REACHES FOR A CIGARETTE LIGHTER & BURNS THE NOTE IN HIS HAND, DROPPING IT INTO THE WASTE-PAPER BASKET)

A miner in need of a cave-in

(HE POURS HIMSELF ANOTHER DRINK. TAKES A SIP.

HE OPENS THE DRAW AND TAKES OUT A TAPE RECORDER AND A MICROPHONE. HE PLUGS THE MICROPHONE INTO THE RECORDER, TURNS THE RECORDER ON AND TALKS INTO THE MICROPHONE.)

I, Claudius

being of sound mind and body

sounder than I’ve been for a long time and as sound as I’ll ever be

fully conscious of the fact that I am moribund

that within twenty four hours I will be dead

killed by the habitual consumption of foul kippers

day in day out

putrid

rotting

stinking

kippers

This is my last will and testament

my last decree

I

who have never decreed anything

and now

have nothing left to decree

I have destroyed everything

or am in the process of it

By tomorrow

there will be nothing left