In the middle of the second wave of the covid-19 pandemic in Europe I’m leaving for Athens. What am I honestly thinking? I’m not a risk seeker, though. I’ve just been caught in my own company for too long. I’m thinking to escape claustrophobia. Maybe I’ll succeed. Maybe not. Never in my lifetime, perhaps apart from the surreal filmic event of the 9/11 crashes, have I had such an eerie, gloomy feeling about the state of the world. Let me set the stage: I spent the first month of the annus horribilis in Marais where the weather allowed us to drink coffee outside, on the local corner café, La Perle. How, in retrospect, undisturbed and fragile the normality of the scene was. Yet, the Paris metro was interrupted by workers’ strikes the entire month due to Macron’s new pension laws inspired by the Scandinavian labor market model but implemented typically authoritatively in a French top-down manner. It didn’t matter to me. I prefer to walk and stay above ground. My niece came to visit me, for my birthday, which I had managed to sort of escape in France. Never enjoying the personal attention too much, the pressures of an expectation to be happy for being born and remaining alive. Not really my feat. She got off at Gare du Nord where a heavily armed group of gendarmes ran through the station. People running in the opposite direction of her, shouting. She doesn’t understand what they are saying and is afraid for her life. She calls me. “Take a taxi. Get out of there!”
One of the last days in Marais I offered myself the treat of dining out alone at the Clamato, a sea food restaurant I had had recommended. On my way, crossing Boulevard Diderot, I hear an immense blare, not exactly sure of the source I kept walking, in effect straight into at thick cloud of tear gas. A couple of minutes later, I figure out what caused the ominous sound: A group of yellow vest protesters, of which I only glimpsed the very tail of the procession, had turned a glass container upside down. Jump to March: Most of Europe is shutting down for the second time, not Sweden, still, where I reside for the time being, in Linköping, – it’s an ethnographic study in its own right to try to comprehend the official Swedish reaction to the pandemic; the calm stiff-upperlip of hard science scorning the politicized and overly dramatic responses by the World Health Organization and the rest of the world, at least according to public health official Anders Tegnell. Former alumnus of Linköping University I find out when I see he is awarded something-or-other and is invited to speak on campus. Notifications for the announcement have been turned off. Very little has changed at home in Sweden in public space: people are not wearing masks, they are not keeping a distance because they are not asked to, over the summer young people are celebrating their “nollnings” dancing and drinking in the streets. After some significant time, plastic shields are put up in my local grocery store Priso, and a hand sanitizing dispenser. Which nobody uses. The employees wear gloves, smiling as always. Although, to be sure, all university meetings and seminars are now conducted via Zoom. After a couple of weeks on these new terms all the privileged people in my international network suffer from Zoom fatigue. It’s a thing. It’s physically and mentally draining to sit in front of your square-shaped computer and watch yourself watch others through their own little window into the large shared screen window. As we sit at home delivered to the now pixeled face of the other. A new Lebensraum, indeed. The next half a year, give or take a week or two, I don’t see my colleagues on campus. In fact, I don’t set my foot on campus. At all. I get up in the morning and turn on the computer. I live through this device, and the love-hate relationship to my cyborg extension intensifies to an abnormal degree. My life-work balance (which I honestly couldn’t call a balance, even before Covid) is now in total ruins: I continue to gain weight and consume too much alcohol while posting cat videos on facebook during my time off.
Now, it’s November. It would be too exhausting to recount what has happened in the meantime: How many new laws have been passed, how the elderly have died in large numbers in their care homes in Sweden, how health personnel must be worn down by now, how regulations of movement internationally have been imposed, lifted, and re-imposed. I regularly follow morning seminars at Duke in the afternoon in my time zone. A treat in the tedium of solitude. But I was supposed to have attended a conference in Puerto Rico in May, and then from there onward to the US Virgin Islands to conduct fieldwork for my research. All travel postponed indefinitely. From global to local is really the lesson of the pandemic! A stay at the Danish Institute in Athens being the exception to quarantined life. A life saver, or nostalgia for the past? You remember, when we traveled the world and spread vira through touch. In the good old haptic days of 2019. Trump has just lost the election, by the way. I thought he wouldn’t! Is it a sign of better things to come? I didn’t mean to write all this. I wanted to say: I’m in Athens. For the first time in my life. Friday, I went to the Acropolis and the Roman and Ancient Greek agoras. A marathon through the ancient world. I had to see it all before the second lockdown in Greece. In effect from the day after, Saturday, and until the end of the month. Encompassing my entire stay at the Danish Institute. Alright. I accept. I have plenty of work to do. What else? They are slaughtering mink in Denmark out of fear for a cluster 5 mutation in the already immensely gross animal factories which would impair the effect of a vaccine, still expected to be cleared for the world market around new year. Northern Jutland, near where I grew up is at risk of becoming a second Wuhan, they say in the news. I shake my head in disbelief. Not buying into the fuss, remaining somewhat skeptical toward the Danish prime minister’s seemingly enjoyment of being in total command, which doesn’t mean I’m not taking all this seriously. I am. Keeping my distance, wearing face masks. Filling out an official formular whenever I go out in Athens. Trump’s tweets are removed by Twitter due to the company’s relatively new strategy to remove false information (even the fun false, such as flat earth memes), and Steve Bannon has been permanently suspended after talks of beheading Dr. Fauci! Say, what? Are we finally at the endpoint of the long story of barbarization also known as modernity, or what is in stall for us? I don’t even know if my body could manage a long stretch of time without being wrapped around the laptop any longer; eyes scrolling the newsreel in the dark. What I actually did want to say: I cried in the cradle of the Western world. In what would have been the parodos of the Dionysus theater. This minor decolonial scholar at the so-called birthplace of democracy. I couldn’t hold it back. I must have bought into the fiction, then. Standing there, at the beginning and end of the fiction of our so-called universal culture and humanism, since the renaissance. This place, this landmark. The greatness of it. ”It really exists!” as Freud writes in a letter to his friend Romain Rolland. On the Acropolis he was caught by a feeling of déjà-vu and disbelief. He had been on his way to Cyprus when plans changed, and he and his brother instead were recommended to take a boat to Athens. In the letter he explains the feeling of guilt and disbelief which struck both brothers before embarking. As always with Freud, you can track any psychological reaction back to the father. The blame, the guilt. Whatnot. By going to Athens, he managed to surpass his father: in a geographical sense (his father had not been able to travel so far away, let alone bring his children with him) but also in his potential for a deeper appreciation of the place through his superior schooling. Athens as a site of citation, as it were. So much begins here, and so much ends, too. Apparently. In the medi-terranean, the middle of the earth, literally. I’m here, now, the water is crystal clear. All the rest pretty muddy, I’d say.