Being Real in the Time of Coronavirus – III

Image Source: Springer Link

What if we cough the end of humanity on this planet earth? This is exactly our predicament for today. We can clearly see the crack in our consistent universe that we had built around us. It is as if the Cartesian evil genius is operating behind our backs. The virus has disrupted our reality. The wound is refusing to heal. Everything is out of the joint. Aristotle’s chain of beings where every being had a palace and purpose has exploded. No thing is in its place. We ourselves have lost our place. A little virus has pulled down the world under our feet.

Old Wittgenstein adage has become ‘whereof we cannot go, therefore we have to stay at home’. Our world has become an object that is seriously objecting to our place within it. The virus has introduced an X. It is an unknown variable. It is an excess, the extra that has derailed the order of things. Life seems to have hit a hole that we cannot fill. We have lost the thing that somehow assembles our life in symmetrical harmony. We are now forced to live with asymmetry brought about by the unknown excess that we cannot drink.

We have lost something precious, the thing that put together our life. This loss is unbearable and we have the imperative to recover it. The table of our life is fast clearing and we have the dilemma of setting it up again. We cannot do something about this restless sense of being unhomed. But we can begin to think about our predicament and bring about thoughtful reflections. The question that we need to ask ourselves is : Are we looking for the resemblance of our life that we enjoyed before or are we looking for one part of it or a piece of it and investing into what we deem as our past happy days?

This means we have to ask ourselves: are we looking for a metaphor or metonymy of our life that we deem as lost? There is an excess in the past that we have lived in. We cannot drink up the sea. All that we have is a bit or a piece of life. Now our hyperbolic elevation of the piece into a whole is understandable. But how we want the piece of life to come into a new condition that we find ourselves is a crucial question. Do we imagine it in a mode of likeness or do we piece together disconnected pieces of life in a mode of a synecdoche? Most of the time we seem to choose synecdoche over likeness or resemblance. We do not seem to be living by metaphors but by metonymy. We have to deal with our metonymic enchantment while we try to recover the lost.

Maybe an example will help us to come to terms with what are metaphoric values and metonymic values. The recent Palghar tragedy in Maharashtra has become a metonymy for some of the far right-wingers in our country. We could clearly identify this in the social media and the propaganda channel with its anchor ranting hateful accusations. One can see how the disconnected pieces are put together into a narrative that is reduced to become one more scar on the much-maligned and hated minorities in our country.

Image Source: The Indian Express

We cannot find any resemblance in the pieces that are put together. We have an exterior excess that weaves the narrative into a scar or stain on our face and we then feel compelled to remove. This is why the future that we seem to be designed can be closed as we try and give a future to a past that is nothing but simply imaginary. This means we need to address the metonymies that we live by. The poet in us was dead long ago. We have only a few metaphors to live by. We seem to be feeding ourselves on the metonymies.

The choice of a metaphor is a choice of substitute. We chose a substitute because of its resemblance. Unlike metonymy, metaphor stays open. When we look at the past with a metaphoric eye we stay open to the future. The future is not closed and sealed but can be reproduced by an imitation of the past. The metonymic eye just wants to repeat the past into the future and even in the present. This suggests that both the future and the present remain closed for the metonymic eye. The right wing almost everywhere is found on the side of the metonymy.

Maybe it is opportune to remind us that Hindutva is metonymic and is closed while Hinduism is metaphoric and hence is open. Now the question is how are we to leave our metonymies in the past and step into a post-covid-19 world with metaphors? The lethal virus has not closed the future on to us? It can potentially infect about 60% of humanity. After that herd immunity will catch up with it. This means we cannot cough the entire humanity to death. The future is still open. It is metaphoric and not closed metonymic.

This is why we have to be real at this time of coronavirus and come to a critical discernment about the future that we wish to enter. Our present is distrusted and the past is resourceful. It can teach us lessons about our sins of commission and omission. We can bridge our past that is resourceful and emancipative through metaphors from the past.

Coronavirus is a metaphor and not a metonymy of destruction and disruption. We are certainly under its siege but we have not run out of our options. We can face it and it to a halt. But life will not be the same post-covid-19 . We will have to learn to live with the virus as well as learn to live on our metaphors and mark not just social distance but put a firm Laksman Reka to our enchantment with the illusion of metonymies. Metaphors will give us wings to live and freedoms to love, to trust to be poets again. Let us embrace them with open arms and step into the future. Let us not allow our metaphors to die into metonymies.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao