“We need a designated verb tense for this indeterminate present. What day is this, we wonder, what month? The one thing we’re not foggy about, however, is the time. You’d think that the presence of sorrow and danger everywhere would have a galvanic effect, but here in 2020, it’s always exhaustion o’clock, as though the very air has grown dense; those of us who now have some hours to spare intended to fill them by learning Portuguese online, or practicing calligraphy, or digitizing all those old photos, but how can we do so, when each of us keeps falling into a sequence of enchanted slumbers.”—Claire Bateman
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—15 May 2020—Dear People of The Future, Here in 2020, the vast territory of what was allegedly the near-past seems distant, diffuse. The clasp of a hand, the kinetic buzz of a crowd, the lightest contact with a shared surface—these must have been eons ago. Paradoxically, on the other hand, “right now” is extremely constricted, yet it engulfs us so we can’t see beyond it.
That’s why we need a designated verb tense for this indeterminate present. What day is this, we wonder, what month? The one thing we’re not foggy about, however, is the time. You’d think that the presence of sorrow and danger everywhere would have a galvanic effect, but here in 2020, it’s always exhaustion o’clock, as though the very air has grown dense; those of us who now have some hours to spare intended to fill them by learning Portuguese online, or practicing calligraphy, or digitizing all those old photos, but how can we do so, when each of us keeps falling into a sequence of enchanted slumbers?
At first I inferred that this was merely my own coping strategy, and then I theorized that it was my body’s personal exit plan—if I could manage to sleep deeply or long enough, or curled tightly enough into myself or flung out sufficiently far, limbs sprawled past the mattress edges, then my absence from waking life could exert a propulsive force on the time/space continuum, and I could eventually open my eyes in the real universe instead of in this alternate one where the virus runs rampant across the continents
But now I see that we’re involuntarily immersed in one shared continuous sleep, as though we’re all walking together (the requisite six feet apart) along the dimness of the ocean floor. There’s nothing inside our heads—we’re numb and dumb—but looking down, we glimpse our thoughts scuttling and crawling around us. See, that one is missing an eyestalk, and something has gnawed off one of the claws of that other one. Still, we find them not unbeautiful, with their eerie phosphorescent glow.
Just as I couldn’t have anticipated this universal fatigue, I’ve found myself surprised by my inexplicable familiarity with the rhythms of daily pandemic logistics—as soon as quarantine began, it was with a bizarre sense of déjà vu that I slipped right into the disinfecting, the donning of mask and gloves, the maintaining of social distance, the counting and stacking of precious canned items, and the washing of clothes in the sink so as to not brave my apartment complex’s common laundry room.
Though it’s not unusual for me to be flummoxed by even the simplest life tasks, with this there was no learning curve; it was as though I’d done it all many times before. So here in 2020, between naps I’ve been researching Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, the notion that we all carry within us the archetypes and recollections of everyone who has come before us. Sailing from Europe to America in 1909, he dreamed he was descending the stairs in a house in which each floor was filled with the furniture and artifacts of an progressively earlier era, all the way to the down past Roman times to a kind of sub-basement level with “scattered bones and broken pottery” and “two human skulls, obviously very old, and half disintegrated.” Decades later, he would write, “The existence of these archaic strata is presumably the source of man’s belief in reincarnations and in memories of ‘previous experiences.’ Just as the human body is a museum, so to speak, of its phylogenetic history, so too is the psyche.” Of course, as Jung’s critics have pointed out, the theory is non-falsifiable and therefore non-verifiable; nevertheless, it seems that our plague-savvy ancestors have risen up from my subcortical shadows to offer their gifts and make their presence known, just as now we’re embedded in the strata of your collective unconscious. Theoretical people of the future, can you sense us there?
If not, there’s still no dearth of information flow in your direction, for here in 2020, we’re encouraging each other to bear witness for your sakes. “Document this historic time for later generations,” we exhort each other. “Make a list of all the daily changes you’ve seen around you since quarantine began. Keep a journal. Write a letter to your great-great-grandchildren.” But surely (assuming you exist, and assuming you’re not post-literate, crouching around a fire gnawing the half-seared haunch of whatever hunk of megafauna you’ve managed to bring down) you need only the scantest cross-section of this prodigious and extensive historical record we’re creating now, this flood of our editorials, opinion pieces, blogs, web journals, emails, texts, and Facebook posts with their endless comment threads, our entire narration of this moment.
Do our stories buoy you up or are you drowning in them, choking and gagging, so that you labor to expunge, delete? If it’s the latter, that’s no tragedy, for all this activity isn’t really for you; it’s for ourselves, an attempted counter-charm to this spell of heaviness and dissociation, a stab at magic as we wait for science to make a way.