I have been following closely the stories of the coronavirus outbreak since the lockdown of Wuhan and Hubei. Reading those writings and diaries from Wuhan, I was imagining the disaster. It was too unreal not to feel excited, frankly speaking. Recently, after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a 21-day lockdown of the entire country, where I have been living for a decade, I was shocked by the photos of thousands of migrant workers on the national highway, carrying bags and kids, walking hundreds of kilometres to their hometowns.[2] For a lot of people, these images resemble those of the massive displacement of populations in the 1947 partition of India, the traumatic birth of the nation. Did anyone anticipate this? Is the government also in shock? Isn’t the exodus of workers all over the country an irruption of the real for us? Isn’t it the case that not only the virus is the real? Do the reactions against the virus also make the reals irrupt? Suddenly, I feel, the reals are everywhere – the social real, the political real, the economic real, the bodily real, etc.

The exodus of the migrant workers is making holes in the cities. The chains of economic and social exchanges are broken.[3] Those chains are vital and as a whole are mysterious. How will it affect my life? I don’t know. We will encounter them here and there, piece by piece, when we find some vendors vanished, some services stopped or something out of stock. Or, even, some diseases coming from emptied places. Like dengue – why not? After the outbreak of coronavirus, Singapore faced an outbreak of dengue.

A friend who supports the lockdown sent me a message saying “Corona has saved about 850 Road Traffic Accidents per day! Till now, in India, it is saving more lives than it’s claiming.” She said “This was confirmed to me by a trauma doctor at one of the largest public hospitals in Mumbai” to prove that it is not a joke. But it is indeed a joke. Like all jokes, it tells an unconscious truth: Traffic kills, cities kill, capitalism kills, every day.[4]

What is the logic of the decision-making behind the lockdown? It starts killing the poor even before the virus does, but without being able to really stop the ones who are really spreading the viruses from roaming around, like those youngers returned from the UK or the US. It reminds me of the demonetisation in 2016. In the name of anti-corruption, money lost 86% of its exchange value. The entire country was pushed into a total disaster overnight. It has been proved by now that the “surgical strike” brought no benefits to the people. It did not serve any purpose but the logic of power. What is this logic of power? It is beyond the abuse of power. It is the power of abuse. The more pain it causes, the more it is believed. Isn’t it that in suffering and being tortured, people tend to choose to believe that there must be some reasoning and meaning behind it all? How can all this be meaningless? It is not possible. Doesn’t Lacan tell us that the impossible is the real?

Then there is the question of neighbours. My neighbours start showing hostility towards me, a Taiwanese woman in India. However, it was less scary than the fact that one day I found two of my FaceBook posts blocked – “violating community standards.” Am I being targeted by the Indian right wing? The paranoia turned into curiosity as it turned out that the two posts were from Lacanian Review Online.

About our neighbours – we have a new global law of “social distancing.” “Thou shalt distance from thy neighbour as thyself.” “Don’t touch!” it commands! (Any)body is the neighbour. Between the virus – which is symbolically simple and imaginarily global – and the neighbour, there lies the space of (mis)fortune. Is Covid-19 like a flu or SARS? It is a question of tyché/tuché at the level of the neighbour. Isn’t it because of that, so often we find the compulsive repetitive acts of touch?

What would Lacan have said in this time of crisis? On 18 May 1960, after the ruthless repression of the Algerian resistance to the French occupation which caused social and political crisis in France,[5] Lacan began a lecture with the question “have we crossed the line?”[6] What line? The line of the world of the good/goods. I was fascinated by this question and every sentence in the lecture. Don’t we often want to be good and hold the goods even more in the time of crisis, but Lacan was pushing us “to cross the line,” to touch “the good that mustn’t be touched.” Instead of asking how to maintain the good, he asked, “what will enable us to cross it?” The answer here was “the beautiful.” I am not sure what “beautiful” means here. Lacan said, in the psychoanalytic sessions, one would see references to the aesthetic register appear sporadically and peremptorily. A quotation, a dream or a piece of music. They belong to “the register of a destructive drive,” something that seems to me to be darker and aggressive. A place from where one may enter the enigmatic field of beauty and desire.



[1] (*) This piece of writing is a product of a cartel. Thanks to our Plus-one Janet Haney for the encouragement and the partners-in-cartel, Arunava Banerjee, Debasri Rakshit and Wing-Kwong Wong for the company and the productive discussions. Thanks to Roger Litten, Nazia Amin, Mohana Mukherjee, Satyabrata Mitra, Anik Samanta, Koustav Mondal for reading the draft and the responses.

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/29/world/asia/coronavirus-india-migrants.html?fbclid=IwAR2uIFRKb8tbH-iaKAs5sUjNqHUhVrqTK97yqQIhBeZR5ijzbyrbzPTiu5o

[3] Wing-Kwong Wong gave a comment: “Is this like the signifying chain of the unconscious that we are unconscious of? (the earlier people like Hegel would say the society is the unconscious).”

[4] https://www.deccanherald.com/amp/national/mystery-of-indias-lower-mortality-rates-seems-to-defy-coronavirus-trend-829301.html?fbclid=IwAR0MV2QKOWDrcHTgNCWJaX8RdGsECyqu2xILkWAU7sJpahoclxeITQjs41c

[5] Thanks to Dr. Santanu Biswas for the important information.

[6] Seminar VII, Chapter 18.

Image credit: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images