Pandemic Grief (2). “Our” Irresponsible Nature: Affectability and Disappointment in the Pandemic and the Ecological Crisis
Does the zoonotic SARS-CoV-2 pandemic change the outlook onto nature? The dynamics enfolding in pandemic grief is certainly more complex than a mere yes-or-no answer can capture. The sudden and pervasive rupture of global life caused by non-human agents and natural dynamics appears as a compelling occasion to heighten the awareness of human-nature enmeshments. Yet the political and media focus on human, social, and economic losses is prone to push the ecological crisis out of public focus.
The workshop approaches the notion of nature as a seminal trait of human self-understanding that is disrupted in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and elicits grief: “the imaginative loss of a central cultural idea”, namely “of nature as an independent domain” (Ronda 2013, π5-6). Disaster medicine recommends that to alleviate immediate distress, “unceremonious disposal of corpses” should be discouraged and grieving rituals facilitated (Partridge 2012, 761), while long-term solace is provided by “returning to social norms and
routine” with the aim of reinstalling a “sense of self- and collective efficacy” (ibid., 757). The workshop is based on the assumption that both is impossible in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. For insofar as the pandemic has been caused by as response to the irresponsible global destruction of ecosystems, a return to routine is not advisable and impossible: A further destruction of pristine forests and other habitats promises to produce more zoonotic spillovers (Singh 2014, 92-94), while the world of familiar diseases, established cures, prepared medical services, predictable weather, and traditional ways of living through the seasons seems to be gone already. The sense of individual and communal efficacy is a key issue in addressing the global ecological crisis because ecosystem changes happen on a scale that defies individual and communal action in terms of spacial interconnection and the temporal span of developments that have been cut off by human intervention. The erosion of individual agency in the face of global climate change corresponds to the suspension of individual efficacy in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: contagion seems to evade individual control, so do the economic and social consequences of lockdowns, and even quarantine aims not at preventing the spreading of the virus, but at slowing it down. Undermining two
key factors of mental health disaster response ‒ the return to routines and rituals as well as the sense of efficacy ‒ the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic calls for lasting change rather than traceless restauration, and the same is true with reference to the understanding of the human-nature relation as the ecological crisis calls for more than coping measures with a return to usual practices of exploitation in mind.
The workshop invites readings of artistic, media, political, and other responses to the SARSCoV-2 pandemic regarding the outlook onto nature. Of special interest are negotiations of obstacles to acknowledging affectability by the ecological crisis and the disappointment of the concept of a human mastery of the human-nature-relation.
The workshop is part of the research project Pandemic Grief: COVID-19, Communal Loss, and Emotive Responses to the Global Ecological Crisis.
Partridge, R. A. (ed.), Oxford American Handbook of Disaster Medicine. Oxford 2012.
Ronda, M., “Mourning and Melancholia in the Anthropocene”, post45.org, 06 October 2013.
Singh, S. K. (ed.), Viral Infections and Global Change. Hoboken 2014.