I read with amazement an interview sent to me via WhatsApp by Alejandra Glaze, whom I thank. In it, the Spanish newspaper El Confidencial calls on Sergio Romagnani, 81 years old, immunologist and internist, Professor Emeritus of the University of Florence. He was one of the first to alert public opinion about the risks of Covid-19, caused by the coronavirus and its great speed of transmission. Romagnani was consulted by the authorities of the Tuscany region, who immediately adopted the practice of testing health workers, unlike the residents of Lombardy.

His disciple Andrea Crisanti, was “repatriated” to the University of Pádova in Italy, by no more nor less than Imperial College London – now renowned for the report published in March by Neil Ferguson and his team, orienting a whole strategy of modes of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus – where he worked as a researcher. This report has been recently commented on by Eric Laurent and Elena Levi Yeyati.

The interviewee – Romagnani – highlights the different evolution of the disease in zones that are very close but which adopted different policies and strategies against it. On a small scale, the Professor Emeritus points out the enormous difference between what happened in the town of Vo (Veneto) and that of Codogno (Lombardy), both red zones since the start of the pandemic.

In the first, advised by Crisanti, the authorities decided to test all the inhabitants. The result of the small sample was that a large number of asymptomatic citizens – who later developed symptoms – were carriers of the virus and a source of contagion. Based on these results, the strategy consisted in isolating all positives, symptomatic or not, with which the spread was drastically stopped. None of this happened in neighbouring Codogno, nor was there – now on a large scale – an equivalent to the so-called Battle of Veneto in neighbouring Lombardy. The data are overwhelming and can be read in the interview.

So far it is simply – as if the number of lives at stake were something simple – a question of different policies against the disease and their results. But the striking thing, the phrase of Romagnani that really impacted on me is the following: “Veneto is controlling the coronavirus by not following the WHO.” How can that be? Undocile and successful!

I immediately recalled Lacan’s warning in British Psychiatry and War: “…that this war has sufficiently demonstrated that it is not from too great an indocility of individuals that the dangers for the future of humanity will come.” The paragraph continues with a reference to the “dark powers of the superego” that are linked to “the most cowardly abandonments of conscience”, which I dare not continue here.

But what is clear is the indocility of the measures taken in Vo (Veneto) in relation to the recommendations of the health authority (WHO). How is this to be explained? Did the experts at the WHO not know what two Italian doctors and researchers were clear about from the beginning?

Romagnani answers this question in a way that is as clear as it is terrifying: “I think that fundamentally they failed because they are bureaucrats who have made a career in their offices, but have not lived the experience in the field, they have not been in the laboratories handling viruses nor involved in epidemic situations in other countries. The politicians have let themselves be advised by bureaucrats rather than experts.” Nooooo! Lapidary.

To the difference so well pointed out by Miquel Bassols between the real of the virus that follows its laws and the lawless real of the epidemic in speaking beings, we will have to add the real of pandecracy or bureaucracy. Ridiculous names, of course, but what was an invention to try to plug the hole of contingency has become a true lawless real that – apparently – can say anything and generate any counterproductive and deadly effect. A true spoke in the wheel. We always knew that bureaucracy was an obstacle, but we never thought that it was an obstacle to life itself. Kafkaesque, or the next thing, is to go even further.

If we make the people of Vo, the subject Vo – authorized as we are in what this pandemic is teaching us about the relations of the collective and the individual – that subject, undocile to the tyrannical will of the figures handled in the offices, has proved to be more on the side of life than his docile neighbour in Codogno, verifying Lacan’s idea.

It is clear that there is no properly human life, at least as we understand it today, if it is not for the singularity of each member of the collective who, grouped according to their particularities, make up a universal. I find in this a great little lesson.


Translated by Roger Litten


Published originally by Grama Ed., in #Crónicas XXI-20. Available online.
Photograph @ Manuel Silvestri/Reuters