So the other day I saw that a couple of different, highly intellectual, elite publications had both, apparently unbeknownst to the other, crafted similar special sections for their periodicals. Each contacted a number of well-known, much published, much respected intellectuals, writers, academics, and so on and asked them to write short essays about their experiences with Covid.
I looked at these. They were excellent. Superb writing. Insightful. Thoughtful.
Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that they were also disastrous.
Here’s why: each of them, all the different little essays, dwelt on how oppressive it was for the writer to be in the quarantine, or afraid of catching the disease, or actually having the disease.
Which is fine.
But there’s the rub. We’re all there. We are all in quarantine. We are all afraid of catching Covid, or of having our loved ones catch Covid. Some of us already have had Covid and are dealing with the consequences.
Okay, but the essayists, for all their undoubted skill, frequently acted as though they, alone, might catch the disease, or could be oppressed by the circumstances arising from the pandemic.
And it was particularly appalling because many of them are clearly not suffering a whole lot. Several have rather large amounts of money and the ability to flee the problem, a bit like the characters in the Decameron, for very comfortable quarantines. One particularly maddening writer explained how dreadful it was to spend her exile in her little country place on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where she had to drive several miles to get her favorite brand of tofu.
Oh, how she suffers!
But let me move away from the envy of which, I’m sure, libertarians would be happy to accuse me. Rather, let me look at how we, as a culture, write essays these days. I would submit for the last few decades, maybe for almost a century, intellectuals have tended for focus on unique experiences—particularly (albeit not exclusively) when those experiences are those of the intellectual class itself.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with writing in such a way. But, sometimes I fear we have gone a bit too far in that direction. Sometimes I fear that, at least among elite writers, and in the elite periodicals that publish them, you find a kind of self-regard, even a narcissism, in their writing. You find the authors focusing on themselves, and leaving the rest of us in the cold.
Which is unfortunate, because right now that’s the last thing we need. Right now, we don’t need celebrity insights, or celebrity intellectuals, sharing their oh-so-unique experiences from their pied de terre in Paris or wherever.
We don't need him.
Right now…right at this moment… we all know pain, and sadness, and sorrow. We have all lost someone we loved. We have all known want, or at least desperately wanted what we could not have (for example, personally, Martha and I can pay the bills, but we cannot see our child and his child without risking their well-being. That hurts). We have all known shame, and fear, and loneliness. Right now, we all know the real terrors of the pestilence.
And, at this moment in our shared history, we need someone to express our shared terrors and sorrows. We need someone to be the common voice of our common pain.
We do need you.
Which, maybe, is to say to you, my friends and readers. It is to say the times require you…you!…to be our literary heroes.
Maybe…maybe…we need you to write, or create videos, or produce paintings or another works of art, that express our unique, horrible, wonderful…shared experiences.
Thus to comfort us while we wait…
For a better…a wiser…a healthier and happier …
Until next time.
Onward and upward.