As of writing this, there are 315,992 cases worldwide of coronavirus. In the United States, the cases have skyrocketed, and experts are suggesting the number is much higher than the current 26,747. We simply do not know because of a lack of testing. Researchers at Columbia University suggest that we could see up to 650,000 infected in the next two months.
The failure here is in the ability to detect the body, what the body is doing, and what that means for other bodies.
For a long time, we have had issues with separating the mind and the body in a kind of dualism that did little to improve our vision of society than develop plenty of neuroses and encourage the eating of fast food.
The idea that the body and the mind were separate entities meant that we would be allowed to sleep 5 hours a day, we could discourage exercise, we could run from our bodies in a way that shocks us only years later, when we’re over the edge, and all hope of coming back into a sort of full presence wouldn’t be without a lot of sacrifice and pain.
There are few artists out there who so expertly and energetically combined the mind and the body into expression quite like Robin Williams. I have started Dave Itzkoff’s biography today, and what fascinates me is that despite the fact that Robin moved to six different schools over a span of eight years, he still managed each time to invest himself into extracurricular activities. His grades were good, but he also found time to play football, soccer, track, and even wrestling. Coupled with the healthy childlike imagination of pretend with toy soldiers, and what we see is the burgeoning comedic mind. Many can attest, years later, to the hours on end he could hold a crowd in stand up comedy, his hairy body sweating profusely, yet with a never-ending reservoir of energy. He had an intimate understanding of his body and what he could do with it.
This virus, whether we like it or not, tests our psyche through our bodies as well. If you’re sick, you’re quarantined. If you are not sick, you are social distancing, and you feel yourself as little more than a receptacle for news and information.
The highly-acclaimed Zadie Smith said something along these lines in her Louisiana Channel interview.
On the one hand, she mentions that writers become so because they could do some other art well, but they did not succeed far enough to break into the public sphere. They arrived at writing “secondhand.”
But also she lets spill another interesting tidbit, which is that her younger writers have conflicting relationships with their body. She mentions how mild self harm is a recurring theme, where characters pinch themselves, or clench their fists until their palms report little indentations of their fingernails.
Anyone who has seen shows like Riverdale knows there is a character, like Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) who does this very thing.
What is going on with our bodies? Are they simply meat sacks on this world to take in visual stimulai and to send out cortisol?
Or are they opportunities for artistic expression?
I would like to think that, like Robin or Zadie, I have a healthy appreciation for my body. Its sensuousness and its desires, its capacity to see into people and to smile with others, its touch and its desire to reach out. Yes, even its vanity: looking into a mirror as I get older is an increasingly dangerous proposition.
Try not to think of being stuck where you live as the beginning and the end of the story. There are multitudes of people waiting to be unlocked inside of you. There is love and laughter and sexuality and fitness. There is just as much a capacity to run as there is to bike or dance. You can reach out beyond the screen, beyond the device.
You are the device.