For many of us during the coronavirus pandemic, self-isolation describes the extent to which we can act to protect ourselves and others, solitude describes the best we can hope for, and loneliness describes what we actually feel. By “us,” I mean people who have the luxury of self-isolating, and the luxury of striving for solitude. Those who are not self-isolating—the doctors and nurses, the delivery workers who make the self-isolation of others possible—are, for most of their waking hours, often in a state of both isolation and loneliness, because they are deprived of the ability to choose their own company.
体育投注平台The most complicated and precise descriptions of isolation, solitude, and loneliness are offered by Hannah Arendt, in the last chapter of “.” Loneliness, Arendt posits, is the defining condition of totalitarianism and the common ground of all terror. Isolation and solitude flank loneliness as two related but distinct conditions. Arendt’s examples—slaves and the subjects of modern totalitarian states—are both isolated and lonely, but not alone. Isolation, she writes, “may be the beginning of terror; it certainly is its most fertile ground; it always is its result.” Isolation is the inability to act together with others, which, according to Arendt, is the source of a person’s political power. Isolation renders people impotent.
One can be lonely and not isolated, or isolated and not lonely. A person who is isolated cannot act with others, but still can act—still can create and send those creations out into the world. Loneliness is the inability to act altogether, either with others or alone. Arendt links loneliness to the states of uprootedness and superfluousness: having no place in the world, nothing to give to the world. This, in turn, is linked to the loss of what she calls “common sense”—the shared reality that allows us to know ourselves, to know where we end and the world begins, and how we are connected to others.
“We live without feeling the country beneath our feet // our words are inaudible from ten steps away,” the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote, in 1933, summing up the state of totalitarian loneliness, the loss of sense of time and place, the disappearance of society and of any hope of being heard or seen. When there is no connection to others, there can be no voice. Arendt writes about isolation and loneliness as the preconditions, instruments, and products of tyranny. We, in the virtual “here” today, are not the subjects of a tyrant or a totalitarian regime, and the terror we have experienced is not wielded by human hands, although it is exacerbated by them. Yet Arendt’s observations on isolation and loneliness have a piercing resonance today that they didn’t have eight or twelve weeks ago.
Every Sunday, I meet my best friends in Moscow on Zoom. The loss of sense of time and space means that a seven-hour time difference has little impact on our ability to drink simultaneously, and the distance between us—a distance that used to be measured in kilometres, hours, and dollars required to traverse it—has become an abstraction. My friends in Moscow are functionally as close and as far as my friend whose house is a short bike ride away. (Her house体育投注平台 is, but she is an image on the screen.) More strikingly, it has been a long time since my friends in Moscow and I have inhabited a shared reality—have had as much of a “common sense”—as we do now. We experience similar isolation, fear, helplessness, and anger. We compare notes on schools that do not teach, hospitals that do not heal, and governments that betray us.
Our conversations revolve around absences. We talk about the ways in which we don’t see people. I have been staying in the same town as my father and my oldest friend, without seeing them. When I finally saw my father, after seven weeks, we wore masks and stood far apart, making the familiar details of our faces invisible. Our muffled voices were barely audible ten steps away. With my friend on Zoom, whom I see more clearly, as long as she stays in the frame, we talk about the not seeing, the many ways of not knowing: what the tests mean, if anything; when this pandemic will be over; what the world will be like when it is.
Gradually, though, the ground seems to be seeping out from under those conversations. Our common sense is wearing thin. Or perhaps it’s becoming too thick: what we experience during our weeks of isolation may be a matter of common sense in that we are experiencing similar things, but these things are internal, intimate, difficult to articulate—it’s difficult, too, to know whether they should be put into words. For the first few weeks, we traded news and impressions of our lives, updating one another on the speed and manner of the shutdowns in our respective cities. We traded notes on experiencing shock or nostalgia at the intrusion of a sound or a sight from life before the pandemic, such as hearing the voices of a few drunken men together out in the street. Then the world faded away.
What constitutes a new experience now? A man I barely know tells me, during a professional conversation over Zoom, that he has not touched anyone in weeks and that his sexuality is atrophying. Another acquaintance, the art curator Ruth Noack, posts, on Facebook, “I just realized that I have not touched another living being, nor have I been touched, for more than 4 weeks. I wonder whether we will later on have split humanity into those who were touched and those who were not.” Those who are self-isolating in the company of others, meanwhile, have fights, doubts, highs and lows in their relationships, clashes about child rearing—all of the ways in which happy, unhappy, and fluctuating families, following a finite number of patterns under quarantine, create what common sense we have. We have always had these fights, fears, and heartaches in the intimate sphere, but they were generally shielded from the eyes of others. Now private lives are the only ones we are living. What does this do to friendship, which always, in its many meanings, straddles the boundary between private and public? Where is the boundary now, when all communal space is gone?
And what happens to the physical public spaces, while we leave them vacant? At the dawn of the era of self-isolation, in the initial burst of memes, songs, and other cultural productions, a Russian Web-based cartoon called “Masyanya,” which is now in its twentieth year of existence, posted an episode on the coronavirus. In it, the titular character, an eternally grumpy and sarcastic stick figure, self-quarantines for a year with her husband and two kids. They nail boards across their door, leaving only a thin horizontal slot for pizza deliveries, and Masyanya ponders the Russian word for “outside,” snaruzhi, which she converts to a noun: naruzha. It sounds repellant. “ ‘Naruzha’ is violence, illness, politics, filth, viruses, rudeness, crime, and other crap,” Masyanya announces, at the beginning of the family’s self-isolation. At the end, they peek out of their house. “What is that?” Masyanya asks. “The sky? That’s a piece of crap. Screw it, this naruzha—it’s nothing but trouble. I can show you the woods in V.R., and it will blow you away.” With that, she nails the door shut again.