Coming Out of Covid

by David Theo Goldberg

COVID will be with us forever. As an index or reminder of dis-ease if not as disease. As history and harbinger, stories we tell about having lived through it, as semi-fictions about futures. About what we were precedently, what we wanted to become as a consequence, and who we became in the aftermath. As the ghosts of fears and anxieties, and the dreams and fantasies of possibilities. And as the extension of long-simmering, entangled tensions between public health and personal liberty, science and disinformation, inequality and power, race and class.
In short, the Virus serves as an index. Of time and place, response and failure. Of extraordinary efforts and solidarities, denials and refusals. Of aspirations and divisiveness, care and carelessness, abundance and shortage. It has surfaced not just inequalities, but their deep structures of reproduction, the built-in inevitabilities of their repetition and death-producing impacts.
Beyond the immediate struggles over who gets tested and treated, how tracing compromises privacy and to what ends and in whose interests, there remains the ever-present but almost endlessly postponed question of tomorrow. Not whether coming out of COVID will be different from its pre-history but how structures will shift, and to whose purposes and profit? How will the ordering and reproductive social arrangements be remade to address and avoid the failures, refusals, shortages, and inadequacies? So that the inequalities will be flattened. The injustices erased. The caring extended to social life generally. The institutions more inviting and inhabitable. The key social infrastructure renewed. The knowledge necessary appropriately revised and properly respected. The political and economic investments mutually borne and shared.
COVID-19 has brought us, locally and globally, to the boiling point. Of social and resource exhaustion. Of economic and political resources. Of control and anarchy. Possibility. Truth, evidence, believability are torched repeatedly. We are at the boiling point of patience and predictability, believability and possibility, medically, economically, politically.
And yet, amidst the flames licking at the social edges, the ruins and rubble in the wake, the challenge of possible worlds remains. To remake our world together, for all. To address our resource exhaustion and sustainable reproduction. To shift from competitive destruction to mutual sharing and caring, for each other and for the state of the world we inhabit. To consider, even speculatively, what the Virus will mean for the social cultures of touch, for smell and taste. To understand the changes in common, taken-for-granted social practices such as modeling and testing, counting and tracing, in work and subjects like emergency workers, in supply chains and disruptions. For who and what counts as essential and inessential, in people, services, infrastructures, goods. In common materials such as face masks and cell phones. In space and time, in and at home, at and for work. To consider what it will take, not just in material resources but in the knowledges necessary, the engagements it presupposes, the institutional remakings it calls for.
Boiling Point: Coming Out of Covid invites thinkers for our time to address some of the pressing concerns with us as we widen horizons to face futures beyond the immediate wake of this coronavirus. It is a call to think together across disciplinary divisions about the futures we are for. For the human sciences to think through the virology, the sciences to think humanistically, the arts enabling technology to think artfully, technological design to be humanistically fueled and implemented.
This is a call to think the possible as futures we can sustain together, for the betterment of all. It is a call to think differently, together.
In the background:
[ConTactos] • Critical Inquiry, Posts from the Pandemic • e-flux, Letters Against Separation • Los Angeles Review of Books, The Quarantine Files: Thinkers in Self-Isolation • n+1 and Verso Books, There is No Outside: Covid-19 DispatchesNetwork of Concerned Academics, COVID-19 and Higher Education • New Frame, COVID-19 • Positions, episteme issue 2: covid-19 pandemic • Social Science Research Council, Covid-19 and the Social Sciences