Walking through the streets and shops, across television channels, we conclude that civilization has finally produced its maximum measure of unity, the pandemic. It overcame right-wing and left-wing ideologies, dictators, media giants and religions. It silenced the streets around the world, in short, causing the semblants that covered the structural vacuum of the new millennium to vacillate. Impossible to see the situation only as a medical situation, it would be the same as thinking of September 11th only as a terrorist attack. The effects of the coronavirus, beyond the public health questions, will leave an irreversible impact on the culture. I have been reflecting on what I have heard in recent days from the Lacanian theory of what is real, symbolic and imaginary, and especially from the last phase of Lacan’s teaching.
What is a virus? A being that is not alive. A virus affects the real of our body precisely like this “nothing of life” that is added to the living and threatens it. Lacan said that the hole in the real is life, and the virus is what realizes this hole, it is the vacuum around which life falls apart.
On the other hand, its invisibility makes a hole in the imaginary body, because it is not added to the body image. By itself, the virus does not amputate, or make scars, that is, it does not leave positive traces. “Being with a virus”, what does that mean? When we look in the mirror we do not locate it, it is as if we have the worst in us, the most threatening otherness, without being able to extirpate it. I could say that it is the smallest scale of the Lacanian “a” object, a “minimal” rest of what, in us, we are not.
And, without a doubt, there is the great baroque movement of the symbolic. It is when the anguish of the viral alterity meets the semblants, the novels, the fabulations, the memories and theories that try to give a symbolic treatment to this anguish, making it preferably a phobia. Our alcohol gel, our gloves and masks curiously create a surface that, by separating, confers an unprecedented mirage of visibility to the invisible real of the virus, we are almost able to see it going away when we rub the alcohol on our hands.
There is no shortage of projection screens. The current pandemic, a decade after SARS, has found an infinity of series about zombies and the living dead to remind us that hyperconnectivity hides a growing desert of really worthwhile experiences. Such is our immersion in the universe of consumption, excessive work, and the search for the perfect and healthy body.
And then we return home, a curious exile inside out, we are trapped in the place where we should be freer, among our own, with our books and music, with our memories and our caresses. My vote is for the pandemic not only to be a cult of the death drive, but mainly a lesson in life.