A Journal of the Plague Year : Day 3


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March 14, 2020


Last night Trump declared Coronavirus, a “National Emergency.” For a virus this must be like winning an Oscar. Congratulations, microbes!

We should understand that these contagious viruses are not something visited on us. They are diseases produced and conveyed by historical civilization, and contemporary society. Human beings living and working in close quarters, in cities and factories, produce contagion by providing convenient hosts and ready lines of microbial transmission, just as we produce cars, films, and espresso in crowded cafes. Pandemics are not the exception, they are the rule; we can only hope one infrequently exercised. Quarantine and isolation, now felt as burdensome are the other side of our desire, perhaps our need, to live closely together. Or the need of the economic system which requires it.

In Defoe’s London Plague year, authorities, upon discovery of the disease in a household, ordered all the inhabitants to stay indoors under lock and key and the threat of legal penalties. But residents picked the locks, desperate to escape the illness they were to carry with them everywhere, and from the isolation of confinement itself. The authorities then padlocked infested houses from the outside and stationed a watchman to guard each house. Desperate residents broke through walls to adjacent buildings, escaped through back windows, climbed down from second stories, pistol or sword in hand to hold off the terrified watchmen, or simply bribed their way out. Residents disappeared into the streets, and escaped belatedly to the countryside, many to lie down and die alone  from the disease in the fields and forests. Isolation with a deeper plunge into loneliness and alienation might prevent contagion but can hardly be thought a cure: it is a disease of its own.










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