The current global COVID-19 crisis situation reveals a key aspect of our contemporary civilization – the role of numbers. It is not a new discovery. In the argument for PIPOL 9 it was already named as the civilisation of the cipher[1]. One of the aspects which is now different are the indicators which are being currently monitored.

Following the best practices of the WHO for naming a disease, the number 19 indicates a new version of the coronavirus disease[2]. It stands for the year, which is recommended to be used “to differentiate between similar events that happened in different years”[3]. We could say that is a sort of an updated version, if we can refer to the operating systems terminology.

Different types of scientists are studying the effects of this new version. Characteristically this happens through the use of numerical values. The number of infected people. The number of the confirmed deaths. The number of the cured ones. This list is not exhaustive. We could also mention the distance from the others which is being measured in meters, the temperature of the people, etc.

In Bulgaria, we also count each city where an infected person with COVID-19 is being diagnosed. The number grows higher each day. It looks like the virus, the threat, grows larger day by day. It also comes closer – it is in our city or within a few kilometers distance.

It seems that all these numbers are growing. In Bulgaria there is a National Crisis-Management Staff which is led by a general dressed in a military uniform. Twice a day he holds a press briefing which is broadcasted live on all national TV channels and emphasizes the numbers corresponding to the mentioned above indicators.

From an analytical point of view the following question could be posed: what is this that is being so thoroughly measured? On one hand, the answer is not very simple because different types of scientists are involved in studying the virus and I certainly lack competence in their areas. On the other hand, it has been suggested that the current pandemic embodies the modality of the return of the real of the 21st century[4]. Many analysts from around the world have already explored various aspects of the relation of the virus and the real in different articles published at the LRO. So could we say that there is an attempt to measure the real?

The real is a complex concept but what we know about it is that it is in fact unmeasurable. Then what is the meaning of all these numbers which are being exposed each day? It might be a message from the authorities meant to calm down the population. A certain version of the master’s discourse that the situation is under control. The numbers represent certain facts and in a crisis situation it is reassuring to have reliable information. Probably an attempt to put some limit to the real? But it cannot completely calm people because these facts are changing every minute. New facts represented in numbers are produced all the time and are soon distributed by the media. There is not a pause or a break in this numerical information overflow. We could probably say that the constant production, spread and receiving of these numbers represent different forms of jouissance. Actually, this does not tell us much because jouissance is an essential part of life for each person. It is more of a general direction how these repeated actions could be viewed and further explored.

Many people report anxiety listening to the news or reading the latest data on the web sites. The virus and the anxiety go hand in hand throughout the world. This leads to the question: what is the place of the psychoanalyst in this context? Clearly there are many ways in which this subject could be explored. I would suggest that one aspect is the place we give to anxiety. The psychological point of view would treat it as a measurable and quantifiable phenomenon. On the contrary, the psychoanalytical approach would suggest that it is beyond the numbers. The anxiety is also unique and subjective, not only global as the current crisis might suggest.

 

SBLP / Bulgaria

 


[1] Vanderveken, Yves, The unconscious and the brain: nothing in common, Argument for the PIPOL 9, 5th European Congress of Psychoanalysis PIPOL 9 http://www.amp-nls.org/page/gb/49/nls-messager/0/2018-2019/3458

[2] Why is the disease being called coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

[3] World Health Organization Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases May 2015, p.3 https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/163636/WHO_HSE_FOS_15.1_eng.pdf;jsessionid=0CF9745E94951BE56ECFD62F8C183F59?sequence=1

[4] Gilat,  Yaron, A Viral Disorder of the Real,  http://www.thelacanianreviews.com/a-viral-disorder-of-the-real/