All of a sudden we experience a real collapse, this time the world changes so to speak overnight – not in an insidiously imperceptible way, as it always did. Frightened people are cowering in their dens, streets are empty, traffic is at a standstill, airplanes have disappeared from the sky.
This evokes the memory
of times when people were quite used to experience reality as something unpredictable. In Thousand and One Nights, a caravan moves through the desert, and suddenly, like a mirage, the ruins of a palace and the remains of a fountain appear before them. At this sight, people burst into tears imagining the joy and splendor that once reigned in this now desolate place where everything has turned to dust. Nowhere else did I so intensely feel the transience of things together with the deep and strangely sweet melancholy it evokes.
And now, all of a sudden, we ourselves experience
how our own world gets frozen from one day to the next. Had we not insured ourselves against all possible evils from A = car to Z = future? Did we not completely push any feeling of transience out of our consciousness? Everything around us had to be new and shining, what was old was immediately sent to the garbage bin, and yes, that even happened to old people, about whose death we didn’t want to know any more than about our own.
And all this suddenly changed,
now we know what the Arabs were talking about when in holy pathos they moaned about the “destroyer of all joys and separator of unions”. Although our own adversity seems rather harmless by comparison – after all, it is “just” the economy that is collapsing, and “only” the old are really threatened – we may, at such a moment, understand what regularly happened to Jews over two thousand years. At any moment, they had to expect that their world would collapse. As far as I know, they rather used the sharp weapon of wit to defend themselves against suffering. Only in their songs do we feel the same deep melancholy.
We also feel it in the songs of Francois Villon, particularly in that wonderful verse: Mais, ou sont les neiges d’antan? But where is the snow from yesterday? Until recently, this verse and the feeling of transience it conveys was something we hardly noticed. Nobody wanted to see or touch the snow of yesterday, all were dancing around the calf of the new.
But now – no, this will certainly not be the end of the world
Maybe after no more than a year we will have completely forgotten everything we are just passing through, and life will go on as before, only a few among us will not be able to get rid of the memory that all normality is deceptive. This applies to our supposed security, our supposed unassailability, our stubbornly defended certainties, even to our cherished problems of yesterday. These too suddenly seem quite unreal. Yes, when the red rooster sits on top of our roof, even the fight against neoliberalism becomes a thing of the past. All the many bloggers and do-gooders who, in years of peace, were bent on making their fellow citizens aware that they live in the worst of all worlds, will be happy if only they are released from the prison of their homes and allowed to see other people. Because suddenly we have a genuine and most pressing problem, while until then so many problems were just imaginary.
Yes, and even real problems
now disappear as if sucked up by a black hole. Does anyone now ask about Greta Thunberg and all the truant schoolchildren who drew our attention to a much bigger problem, namely the destruction of the globe’s ecosphere? Now, Greta could well sit day and night in front of the Swedish parliament, nobody would pay her any attention. Just listen and you will hear Putin and Trump take a really deep breath: “Thank God, this nightmare has finally gone”.
And what about the European Commission? It no longer talks about green strategies, now it is completely absorbed by much more virulent challenges, namely to prevent the whole Union from falling apart, I mean the European project, because now every state is closing its borders against its neighbor and all are so preoccupied with themselves that solidarity and help for others are just anathema.
I am in constant touch with this mood of doom,
as I am probably the only one in Austria and one of quite a few people in Germany who daily follow the news in Chinese, Russian and Japanese (on CVTV-4, 1TVRUS, NHK and JSTV 2) and also at longer intervals the broadcasts and print articles of our near and far neighbors France, England, Italy and the US. The Japanese and the Italians of Veneto seem to be the only ones, after the Chinese, to come to terms with the virus through a determined policy of containment. The Russian and Chinese comments have a special flavor, they are characterized by a certain satisfaction that the all too arrogant West is on the path of disintegration.
The bombardment with so many bad news
from all over the world does not trigger a doomsday mood in my head. I know, even Italy has in the distant past suffered much worse. Just think of Florence around the middle of the 14th century. At that time death raged in all walks of life, it killed nearly every second inhabitant. People were disfigured by bumps all over their bodies, children and adults, beggars, priests and nobles all fell victim to the disease, and the gravediggers in their black clothes with beaks on their masks turned the city into a surreal hell.
It was in this utmost distress that Giovanni Boccaccio
conceived his Decameron, where some young men and women celebrated the courage to live in spite of, or precisely because of, the doom. Imagine, this was the beginning of the greatest epoch in the history of Italy, it was a real new birth, a “rebirth”, which we usually call Renaissance.
What a consolation even in our current predicament!