Confinement, as thought about in its current form, accomplishes the reactionary destiny of eradicating all non-familial relations. It supports the psychological economy that, de facto, symbolically devalues these forms of living and qualifies them as superfluous, causing psychological suffering which no one takes seriously when evaluating the benefits of confinement. For example, only a very few articles have worried about the total absence of reflection on how sex work has been rendered brutally precarious.
Since misfortune never comes singly, the epidemic is giving rise to a multiplication of confinement journals published by writers.
Many mock them because they accumulate, which is true, all of culture’s racisms: the staging of oneself at home, listening to music, reading, writing, working, playing with one’s cat or children… But beyond naive expressions of the bourgeois satisfaction of being oneself (which have for a long time now defined what we call French literature), these texts reveal a tendency at play in all social classes: the presentation of this moment as one of re-centering on the essential, on life and family’s simple pleasures, against the artificial and corrupting pleasures of our previous lives ‘beforehand’: going out, drinking, etc. We must beware of the values of anti-modernity which we resort to in order to give meaning to our way of experiencing confinement.
Finally, we must beware of the resurgence of a national affect: the diffusion of the epidemic risk produces a frightening intensification of one’s need to belong to a national body to which it obligations are owed, with all the authoritarian consequences that always follow such perceptions.
We already observe the pleasure which some derive from exerting power over others in the name of this “collective spirit:” a generalized surveillance of behaviours has been put in place: we’ve seen many instances of the reporting of individuals who were not respecting a strict confinement. I myself saw someone being yelled at because they were walking down the street without a mask. This intolerance of small differences and this overreaction to deviance are typical of traditional societies which see a rise of collective consciousness over individual ones. Understanding the situation as requiring a “national mobilization” explains why governments feel authorized to put the most regressive measures into place without limits: sending people to work in the fields, undoing labour rights for the most exploited, derogating from the constitution, dismantling penal procedures and the rights of defence, reinforcing powers for the police.
In that sense, it is possible that all the scenes of clapping for our health staff, which we witness in France and other countries every night at 8pm, no matter how well meaning they are — although they are highly exasperating, because many people who take part are the same ones who voted in the parties whose programmes worked to dismantle the public health service, and who are also responsible for our current situation — constitute one of the modalities of reinforcement of this purely fictional aspiration to fuse into a tight-knit community.
Thus, they intensify affects which go less in the direction of the formulation of oppositional, rational politics and more in the direction of the implementation of authoritarian measures, depriving us of individual liberties and sacrificing dominated classes in the name of the national interest. This is the reason why so many right-wingers applaud: they know that the affects ensuing from such scenes generally result in policies which are in their own interests.
There are always multiple ways of traversing a crisis and experiencing what is taking place. The rightward shift of societies, which accelerated before the epidemic, did not come to a magical halt a few weeks ago: this process is still taking place. It’s even growing: our way of relating to what is happening to us marks a triumph of the values which define it: “suffering,” familialism, naturalism, intolerance of small deviations, nationalism… This epidemic is scary today because on top of the physical damage it wreaks, everything indicates that it moves us towards the emergence of a governmentalism which destroys life through the triple means of moral cannibalism, anti-modernism and nationalist submission.
Collective English translation by Mona Varichon and Jacob EisenmannPrint