“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 19)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 19
April 2nd, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Hope

Well, the days keep on rolling—hopefully for not much longer. Sitting at home and contemplating life has broadened my perspective on what truly matters; however, not going to work, not talking to people (the general isolation from life) has at the same time built a long tunnel around my newly acquired insights. In other words, I was traveling in a tunnel and now I’m in another one; it seems like I see a tiny light at the end of it, but in the great wisdom of Metallica: “Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel / Is just a freight train coming your way.” I certainly hope that’s not the case.

Frankly, I don’t really know what I’m talking about so let’s move on to something more concrete: Apparently, yesterday Italy recorded its lowest one-day death toll; this would be more encouraging if the article didn’t mention that it was “the lowest number since March 26th.” Ah, Italy … while I don’t have any words to describe my love for you, I do have some words to describe your willingness to shower praise on yourself too quickly and these words happen to be the following: March 26th? Are you fucking kidding me?

In more precise terms, the lowest one-day death total reported yesterday was “4,782 more coronavirus cases and 727 more deaths in the past 24 hours.” Congratulations, you’ve been conditionally accepted to Harvard; that’s all very good and well but now satisfy the other requirements to get in, fucking graduate, and then we’ll buy you a Maserati.

I don’t know why I’m so high-strung lately. When people are clinging to any shred of optimism that comes their way, I find every excuse to be pessimistic. I guess when you’re sitting in a self-imposed prison, there isn’t much use for hope; as I write this, I’m thinking of The Shawshank Redemption and Red’s response to Andy’s statement about the need to have hope in jail: “Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” This paradox of seeing hope as something that causes more damage to the psyche than good has also been echoed by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Human, All too Human.

Unlike traditional Greek interpretations of Pandora’s box, which saw the only thing remaining in the box (hope) as a blessing for mankind, Nietzsche believed that hope itself was just another evil that didn’t manage to escape before Pandora closed it; thus, Zeus left this last “evil” inside to ensure that man could still exist in a tarnished world; in that sense, for Nietzsche, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” Well, it’s good to know that you can count on Germans to make good cellmates and roommates—for the former it would help if you’re serving a life sentence; for the latter, going through a quarantine is quite enough. By the way, that’s Friedrich Nietzsche telling people he’s not a misanthrope—he just likes to self-quarantine when there’s no pandemic.

Tedious though it may be, I’m not done with pessimism and Germans; my favorite in this regard is Arthur Schopenhauer. Although he didn’t use the word “pessimism” anywhere in his most famous work, The World as Will and Representation, “hope” does appear and there’s plenty of pessimism (which I thoroughly enjoy and agree with) to be found whenever that word is used to indicate a longing for something.

Unlike Kant (I’ve also talked about him), whose concept of transcendental idealism posited that humans can’t know the true essence of objects (das Ding an sich—no, this isn’t a heavy metal band) because space, time, and causality aren’t part of the outside world, Schopenhauer believed that that the thing-in-itself did exist, but that it resided within each person—the manifestation of which was the will; the inner will, thus, resembled or perhaps even symbolized the world’s essential nature. Thus, according to Schopenhauer, we can, to some extent (though not completely) experience the true essence of the world, not just “perceive” it, as Kant thought.

Sounds kind of positive, huh? Wait a minute—don’t go anywhere just yet; like anything German, I haven’t talked about the pessimistic aspect yet, which is guaranteed to be there in anything related to German excellence, especially when that excellence is Schopenhauer’s philosophy. I mean look at the guy: He’s just eaten twenty-five Thüringer Bratwürste in one sitting and he still doesn’t feel like following the quarantine.

As you can see by my idiotic happiness in the picture below, I’m a Weißwurst man myself, which is why I bought six packs of the best average quality white sausages.

Anyways, getting back to the more boring side of German excellence, Schopenhauer believed that the will was always striving for something—whether it’s for survival or in expectation of something, the will is always in a state of eternal hope and desire. He stated that even plants have a will—a desire for movement, to grow, to extend themselves, to move upwards; it’s precisely this force generated by the will which Schopenhauer believed to be the cause of torment for man; the only things which are excluded from this curse are inanimate objects.

Thus, hope, ambition, and desire are at the heart of what cause human suffering; the only way to alleviate this torment, according to Schopenhauer, was to embrace the Eastern philosophy of renunciation: “The concept of freedom is thus properly a negative concept, for its content is merely the denial of necessity.” A great piece of art can also mitigate the effects of desire by allowing the viewer to fully enter a contemplative state whereby the complete devotion of our consciousness to the artwork has the power to make the will disappear “so long as the pure aesthetic pleasure lasts.” There’s no permanent solution, however; in other words, unlike in Eastern philosophy, the “enlightenment” only lasts so long as the engagement with the artwork does.

Nevertheless, pure perception can be achieved through contemplation, which according to Schopenhauer is the mark of genius for those who can enter such an enlightened state, which is based on renunciation of the will: “Thus genius is the faculty of continuing in the state of pure perception, of losing oneself in perception, and of enlisting in this service the knowledge which originally existed only for the service of the will; that is to say, genius is the power of leaving one’s own interests, wishes, and aims entirely out of sight, thus of entirely renouncing one’s own personality for a time, so as to remain a pure knowing subject, with a clear vision of the world.” Truly, I’m fascinated, and this is all good and well; however, where do you find art in a quarantine? Well, there’s answer for that, too: Listen to music; according to Schopenhauer, that’s the purest form of art.

Are we about done with art and the Germans? No, we’re not, actually. After reading this article, I’m not sure anyone takes art more seriously than people do in Berlin. Many great cities (I won’t mention any names, or will I?) talk about their artistic legacies, claim to encourage art, and attempt to bring even more artists to their streets, but when times are tough, which one of those cities really takes care of their artists? Paris? New York? Rome? Barcelona? Of course, it’s Berlin.

What other city besides a German one would set aside 500 million Euro for artists in this tough time? Indeed, talk is cheap and unlike the other so-called cultural capitals, only Berlin has really proven their belief in art as something truly essential. It’s not difficult for Parisians—just as an example—to put a plaque in front of Les Deux Magots, stating that so-and-so famous artist was here; it’s in the benefit of the business to do that. What city, however, cares about art to such an extent that they’re not only willing to support their famous living artists, but also their living artists who aren’t famous?

I visited Berlin last summer to do a CELTA course, and, to be honest, besides the WWII history, I didn’t think much of the city at the time. Besides the touristy sights, I also visited the German-Russian Museum, where the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces occurred on May 8th, 1945.

Another interesting out-of-the-way sight is the House of the Wannsee Conference, where the SS met to discuss the so-called Final Solution. Touring the premises, I could not help but notice the extreme contrast—the peaceful setting in which the house was located  (overlooking a beautiful lake) and what was discussed there.

Here I am in front of the Reichstag, which, at the time of the Soviet entry into Berlin, hadn’t been used for twelve years; the taking of it, however, represented a symbolic victory over the Germans.

Indeed, besides the amazing history, I wasn’t too impressed with the many young “artists” I saw, who weren’t so much concerned about art itself as they were about leading the artist’s lifestyle; in other words, an excuse to be wild and reckless—like a bunch of Rimbauds or Van Goghs who had never written or painted anything and weren’t interested in doing that either.

None of the people I met had actually accomplished much as artists and it didn’t seem like (at least to me) they were interested in their own creative development. Before I go any further—in no way am I trying to be arrogant by saying that I’ve accomplished a lot (I haven’t at all), but these so-called Berlin bohemians (who were really just hipsters) didn’t strike me as particularly interesting.

However, this recent news has made me realize how wrong I was about the city and about the artists who live there. I had forgotten the oldest truth in art: It’s easy to denounce and to dismiss an artist, but how many examples do we have of such people attaining fame later on? Indeed, it was precisely people like Rimbaud and Van Gogh—mocked and derided during their own time—about whom we speak today.

Although I myself won’t be on the receiving end of a five thousand euro check issued by the city of Berlin, I’m very happy to know that there are people in government who don’t just “talk” about the importance of art, but actually consider it important. Schopenhauer would indeed be proud of his people. In addition, measures like this are encouraging for all artists, even if they’re not directly benefitting from them. Someone has to care about art for people to make it; I hope I can continue doing that here.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

“En un edificio de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires,” por Flavia Propper

 

En un edificio de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (o de cualquier lugar del mundo)

 

Marzo de 2020
20.45

 

Flavia Propper

 

1er piso  Rebeca

Hola, nena, ¿cómo estás? Yo, muy bien, no me puedo quejar, hoy pasaron por la tele un montón de recetas, todo tipo de rellenos para tartas, brócoli, espinaca, también budines y qué sé yo, tantas cosas que ya ni me acuerdo, y cociné toda la tarde, así que tengo el freezer lleno para cuando termine todo esto y puedan venir a casa… no te preocupes, tengo de todo, Carlos y Lorena son un amor, me trajeron el pedido a casa, compraron para ellos y me trajero a mí, sí, sí, quedate tranquila, todo con lavandina, tengo anotadas las cantidades, y lo diluyo, todo como me dijiste, ¿y cómo andan los chicos?, hace días que no sé nada de ellos, ni un llamadito me hacen… y, claro, mucha tarea, pero eso está muy bien, así tiene que ser, cada uno con su responsabilidad, ay, pero qué bien organizaron en la escuela, esperá un segundo que huelo a quemado, esperame, no me cortes (…) ay, nena, justo a tiempo lo apagué, casi se me pasa pero no sabés qué delicioso se ve, un pollo relleno, ya no me acuerdo de qué porque hice tantas cosas hoy, pero lo copié de la tele así que seguro sale bien, ¿y tu marido, nena? ¿cómo? ¿trabajando? ¿pero salió a la calle?, ah, claro, la computadora… es una maravilla la tecnología, imaginate si pasaba esto cuando yo era chica… nada teníamos y nos arreglábamos igual… ay, nena, tengo salud, esta familia hermosa, un hogar, comida, ¿qué más puedo pedir?, somos afortunados… bueno, ahora, te dejo, ya escucho los aplausos, tengo que salir al balcón, sí, claro, ustedes también… bueno, chau, mi amor, besos para todos, sí, sí, hasta mañana.

 

2do piso  Carlos, Lorena y Tomy

Ay, se me colgó otra vez, esta internet me tiene harta, Tomy, ahora no puedo, andá con papá, ¡Carlos! Vení, llevate a Tomy un rato, por favor, tengo que terminar la clase para mañana, dale, que no llego y se me corta Internet, gracias, mi amor, dale, Tomy, andá con papá, vayan a jugar un ratito, o leele un cuento, ¿cómo era esto? ¿qué tenía que apretar?, odio las plataformas, la virtualidad, quiero ver y oír a mis alumnos, quiero hablarles, hasta el griterío extraño, Carlos, fijate la comida en el horno, pinchá una papa a ver si ya están tiernas, Tomy, no grites que no me puedo concentrar, Escribí un texto que tenga las siguientes palabras, ¡Tomy! cuidado con el enchufe, ¡salí que te podés lastimar! ¡Carlos! hoy te dejé toda la tarde para que termines lo tuyo, ahora necesito concentración, gracias, mi amor, sí, por turnos, como dijimos, bueno… las siguientes palabras… ¿Y la mesa ya está puesta? dale que se hace tarde, ¡Carlos! ¿escuchás al loco de arriba? está a los gritos otra vez, pobre chica… las siguientes palabras… uy, ya son las nueve, ¡todos al balcón!

 

3er piso  Horacio y Noelia

¿Fideos con tuco? ¿pero vos pensás que me vas a arreglar con esto? ¿cuántas veces tengo que decirte que yo como carne?, carne, ¿me entendés?, vos comé todo lo vegetariano que quieras pero a mí me servís carne, ¿entendido?, y a mí qué me importa que no te trajeron el pedido, vas y lo buscás, si tiempo ahora te sobra, sí, sí, la cuarentena, ya me tienen podrido con la cuarentena, todo el día en estas cuatro paredes aguantándote a vos, esto es una pesadilla… ese tonito de voz que tenés… no lo soporto, Noelia, no lo soporto más, eso, quedate así en silencio, uy me llegó otro video, hoy no paró de sonarme el whatsapp, esto sí es divertido, ¡ja!  cómo se mueve, y con el barbijo, ¡ja! qué imaginación tiene la gente, Noelia, fijate si quedó algo de carne de ayer, prefiero recalentado y no esta porquería, dale, apurate, no querrás que me enoje, no? Mientras, voy a dar una vuelta, ya no aguanto más, ¿sabés? sí, salgo, salgo todo lo que quiero, no, tontita, no me voy a contagiar, si no hay nadie en la calle, ¿no te das cuenta?, ¿quedó alguna cerveza?, me voy a dar una vuelta con la cervecita y un cigarro, vos apurante que tengo hambre.

 

4to piso  Laura y Germán

Sí, Germán, estoy con los ojos cerrados… te juro, no espío, ay, ¡qué linda sorpresa! entra justo en el balcón esta mesita… Y pusiste velas, sos un divino,  ¿y viste? me maquillé, qué rico perfume te pusiste, me encanta, es como una cena de gala pero en casa… ahora que no podemos ir a un restaurant es como una salida especial, y qué pinta tiene eso, tenés que cocinar más seguido, me levantás el ánimo así… hoy estuve toda la tarde cancelando todo, salón, disc jockey, catering, sí, ya sé que lo más importante no es la iglesia ni la fiesta, pero hace un año que estamos con todos los preparativos… perdoname que todos los días esté con lo mismo pero yo tenía tanta ilusión… sí, vos también, pero… tenés razón, por suerte vivimos juntos, imaginate si nos agarraba la cuarentena cada uno en su casa, eso sí hubiera sido terrible, me encanta que pienses en todo lo positivo, mirá allá, sí, ahí, abajo, está el loco del tercero, sí, sí, estoy segura, es Horacio, el otro día la vi a su mujer en la farmacia con anteojos oscuros y se le notaba por debajo un moretón, tenemos que aprovechar, llamá al 911, no, mejor al 134 y denunciamos que no cumple la cuarentena… o al 144 por violencia de género, qué sé yo, llamamos a todos, rápido, dale, que ya casi es la hora de aplaudir.

 

Flavia Propper es Magíster en Educación, Lic en Cs. Pedagógicas y Prof. de Yoga. Es autora de “La era de los superniños. Infancia y dibujos animados“ (Alfagrama, 2007), “En boca de todos“ (Azul Francia, 2020, en imprenta) y numerosos cuentos publicados en diversas obras colectivas.

“DESDE LA TRINCHERA,” por Yamila Musa

Yamila Musa

 

April 1st, 2020

 

DESDE LA TRINCHERA

Yamila Musa

 

La situación es compleja. Un virus sin escrúpulos nos cambió la vida. Una pandemia que arrasa con todo, que hace temblar al planeta. Quedamos prisioneros de un enemigo invisible, poderoso, latente. Estamos atrapados en una especie de lucha silenciosa. 

Luego de varios días de encierro, veo las calles vacías, la ciudad desolada, extraña. Jamás pensé que me tocaría vivir esto. Cambios en el sistema social y económico parece que se avecinan. Eso me provoca una enorme ansiedad de saber cómo seguiremos transitando la vida, pero con la ilusión de que pronto volverán los días de ensueños, de maravilla, de libertad, de solidaridad y amor. 

En mi caso en particular me encuentro en la ciudad de Córdoba, a unos km de mi ciudad natal, Villa María, y un poco más lejos de donde resido actualmente. Son casi las doce del mediodía, se escucha el canto de los pájaros y un fino rayo de sol de otoño se asoma por la ventana. La naturaleza nos muestra su supremacía.

En fín, decidí crear un espacio en esta revista para compartir miradas y reflexiones con diversas personalidades del mundo del humor, la política, la economía, la filosofía, la música y las artes, entre otros. Estas líneas van dirigidas a ustedes, estén en el lugar que estén. Desde mi trinchera y desde sus trincheras, seguramente tenemos mucho en común para compartir ¿se suman a esta experiencia?

 

BIOGRAFÍA 

Yamila Musa nació en Villa María, ciudad de la provincia de Córdoba. Con sólo tres años, comenzó su formación en Declamación y Arte Escénico. Esto la llevó a proyectarse en la comunicación integral, por lo cual concretó sus estudios de Licenciada en Comunicación en la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Al finalizar su carrera universitaria se trasladó a la Capital Federal en búsqueda de nuevas oportunidades. Realizó diversos trabajos relacionados al sector de la cultura, entre ellos como Directora de Producción de la Película “La Invención de Borges” del Director francés Nicolás Azalbert. Actualmente es Periodista & editora de la revista The International Literary Quarterly,  y colaboradora de la Fundación Cineteca Vida.

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 18)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 18
April 1st, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Risk

It’s April Fool’s Day but unfortunately I don’t have any pranks for you. Turkmenistan has banned use of the word “coronavirus,” which regrettably doesn’t fit the criteria of a prank; meanwhile, the Italians have stopped singing from balconies, and on top of all that, the country has extended the lockdown until Easter—cases are falling, however, which is the best news so far.

Unlike Chaucer, who began The Canterbury Tales by using April’s sweetness and grace to describe its liberating force from the harshness of winter, T.S. Eliot started his own poem, “The Waste Land,” like this: “April is the cruelest month….”

There are many speculations one can make about Eliot’s aesthetic choice: He didn’t like Chaucer; he liked Chaucer but not his poem; he liked Chaucer’s poem but felt that his own world wasn’t the same as the one described in that good medieval poem; he was a modernist and thus disillusioned with everything, not just Chaucer’s world and Chaucer himself; he simply wanted to make fun of Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Last, but not least, he was from St. Louis, which is enough to drive anyone insane, even in April, and perhaps even Chaucer. I don’t know and I don’t care—leave it to the French literary critics who believe the author is dead because both of them are anyways, including the guy who believed the author was dead.

Despite how much my own first day of April actually resembles April, I have to go with Eliot’s opinion on this one—it’s definitely the cruelest month.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is really happening (not the fact that Italians have stopped singing from balconies or that Turkmenistan has banned the use of a word—these things are quite believable, for some strange reason). What’s, in fact, difficult to perceive is that in 2020 we’re talking about things like plagues (what a medieval word), quarantines (this sounds like WWI), outbreaks (that’s a little more modern), and epidemics (ah, there’s the scientific word I was looking for).

There’s something funny about the word quarantine; it doesn’t have quite the bombastic, apocalyptic immediacy of plague, but there’s a certain historicity associated with it—a distance in the sense of a past that’s so far we no longer have to worry about it; that’s what I meant by the difficulty in believing that this is really going on in the present. Quarantena. Καραντίνα. Карантин. Կարանտին. Karantæne.

Every bet is off and all niceties are put on hold. If I see you walking down the street, it’s no longer a personal insult to step off the sidewalk, maintain some distance, and then resume my journey to the supermarket. Of course, why else would you be outside?

Ah, yes, I do enjoy staying in and writing these diaries but I hope this thing will come to an end soon; nevertheless, I don’t just want that to happen so I can move on to other writing projects that interest me or because of my own selfish desire to go outside (I do anyways), but because I can’t imagine how hard it is for others—I don’t really have it that tough.

My brother’s presence, online classes, this diary, and my guitar are just some of the things that make going through the day pretty easy. It seems like there’s nothing to do, but apart from going outside, there’s still much to accomplish—emails that I still haven’t answered, classes that I’ve yet to study for, articles that I’ve got to put on Interlitq, cook, buy food; no, modern life doesn’t stop in a quarantine—like I mentioned in my last entry: There’s too much technology keeping it going.

Speaking of technology, I had a presentation for one of my classes (Migration and Human Rights) today. My job was to summarize a World Development Report from 2014, issued by the World Bank. The main topic of the report was that, as a society, we must see risk in a positive way because it can help us improve our conditions; in other words, we must embrace taking responsible risks which can bring greater security and progress to developing countries. The goal of risk management, thus, isn’t to eliminate risk, but rather to decrease losses and increase benefits while also building resilience to cope with adversity.

Theory, however, rarely works well in the real world. As I said in another entry, the miracles of the free market and the camraderie of communism only exist in libraries. Risk, likewise, is a romance novel that’s not based on real life; it makes a lot of sense for the rich because even when they lose, they don’t lose much, but how do you gamble when you don’t have any chips?

Uncertainty is such a relevant topic right now, isn’t it? As I’ve stated before, this virus has made us forget about all the other risks that we were dealing with before. Eating junk food, drinking alcohol, driving a car, even the simple act of going outside (antevirus) posed dangers, which have all but been forgotten because life is on hold.

Burger Kings are closed, drinking alone is no fun, and you can’t go anywhere—for God’s sake, you can’t even go outside. Even the risks that have some positive rewards (besides just releasing dopamine and making us feel good) have been put on hold. No new marriages are conducted that can end happily or in divorce; there are no family reunions that will conclude in laughter or conflict; dates that might go nowhere or will lead to marriage are definitely off the table. Stopping a stranger and getting to know a good friend or your worst enemy is also postponed for the future.

I miss the risk of going on dates that may end well or badly, family reunions that could be good or bad, speaking with strangers that might become friends or enemies—all those risks no longer exist; there’s only the coronavirus and we risk making that our only risk worth being afraid of. In the midst of everything, the planet continues going to hell; wars are still being fought; people remain hungry; but all of this isn’t really a problem. So long as you don’t go outside, there’s nothing to worry about, at least for now. You’re safe—the coronavirus can’t touch you and if the coronavirus can’t touch you, then the world can’t either. Poor people have been victims of social distancing way before any pandemic because society considers them a virus.

Indeed, the invention of houses has made the outside world obsolete—that’s why they’re so damn expensive. Not everyone can afford to run away from the society. Secretely, many people are enjoying this lockdown because it gives them a convenient excuse not to focus on the real problems that do and will continue to persist after all this.

And who could’ve thought—even the ability to quarantine is a luxury for the middle class; it’s something you must be able to afford, as many poor people living in India know all too well. What kind of risks are they facing just by keeping the quarantine when they have no clean toilets or even soap? There’s not much room for social distancing either.

Risk has always been a topic that’s interested me; even antevirus, there were many dimensions to it besides just danger. One of the best Twilight Zone episodes, “A Nice Place to Visit,” provides one of the most compelling artistic arguments—in my humble opinion—for why humanity can’t live without risk and loss; people need it like water and bread. Living in a world that’s completely predictable is equivalent to being in hell; at least that’s the message we get at the end of the episode.

Pretty strong point on my part, you might say; well, let me defend it. In the episode, a petty criminal, Henry Francis “Rocky” Valentine, robs a pawn shop and is shot by the police. He lies there for a while but eventually wakes up and meets a man named Pip, who promises to give him everything he wants.

Since Pip is dressed in all white, Rocky assumes he has died and that Pip is his guardian angel. Subsequently, Rocky’s every wish is granted: He receives a lavish apartment, all the money he asks for, and his commands are obeyed.

When Rocky asks to visit the casino, however, the perfect world in which all his wishes are granted starts to affect him negatively—he can no longer “gamble” because the ideal world which he inhabits is devoid of all risk; this is just one aspect of “A Nice Place to Visit,” and for me it symbolizes the height of Rod Serling’s genius.

After watching the episode, I never looked at risk and uncertainty in quite the same optimistic—almost redeeming—way again. For me, it’s become less of an uncertainty and more of a guarantee that sanity can’t really exist without risk.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 17)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 17
March 31st, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Games

As I was writing yesterday’s entry about the possibility of freedoms being eroded under the guise of the coronavirus, this was developing. I guess Hungary is a dictatorship now: The parliament is suspended; journalists can be punished for “inaccurate” reporting of the coronavirus; and there’ll be heavier penalties for violating quarantine laws; these are just some of the measures, according to CNN.

On the national Hungarian radio, Kossuth, Viktor Orbán declared the following: “We cannot react quickly if there are debates and lengthy legislative and lawmaking procedures. And in times of crisis and epidemic, the ability to respond rapidly can save lives.” Speed and efficiency have always been emblematic features of dictatorships. Perhaps, in the spirit of containing the coronavirus, Hungary too is operating on these mathematical principles.

Maybe someone needs to remind Prime Minister Orbán that the wonderful idea to fix problems quickly and efficiently has already been taken up by the most ruthless dictators, including Stalin; his fear of falling behind the industrialized West led him to proclaim the following in 1931: “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this gap in ten years. Either we do it or they will crush us.” Well, he did do it, and many of the five-year plans were met in four years, but instead of avoiding being crushed by the developed world, Stalin crushed his own populace to achieve industrialization.

In all fairness, according to data in David R. Stone’s article, “The First Five-Year Plan and the Geography of Soviet Defence Industry,” Stalin’s industrialization did prepare the country to some extent for WWII; in that sense, like Stalin, Orbán too will probably use his authoritarian privileges to achieve good results for Hungary in terms of containing the coronavirus, but at what cost to his people?

Just to shower some more needless praise on dictators, in her book, “Stalin’s Apologist,” Sally J. Taylor argues that Walter Duranty, whom she described “as the No. 1 Soviet apologist in the United States,” was a key figure in getting Roosevelt to recognize the Soviet Union in 1933. His coverage of the five-year plan contributed greatly in getting FDR to pronounce his decision in 1933. Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, which, according to Taylor played a big “part in helping to achieve US recognition.”

Later, the New York Times called his denial of Holodomor “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”

Another relevant story developing last night was the growing concern about UK police officers “overreaching” to enforce the coronavirus lockdown. Some so-called democracies will be slower in adopting authoritarian policies than others, but if things do indeed get really bad, no free country (to save its own ass) will able to resist the temptation of fixing problems quickly—all for the good of their citizenry’s asses, of course. Naturally, all this is quite relevant, but it’s best not to repeat the same thing over and over. I’ve made my case and these recent events have only confirmed my suspicion about the direction in which this pandemic is taking us.

Let’s forget the future (along with the past) and focus on the present. My brother and I took one of our late-night walks very early at night today, not returning home until about half-past one in the morning. We’ve done this a few times already and never saw anyone else; this time, however, we saw a crowd of two. I wonder what the situation will be like in a few weeks when more people will decide they’ve had enough. We reached the banks of the Adige, and my brother took this picture.

Ah, beautiful, it’s a sign which tells us where walking is permitted. It’s comforting to know that signs still aren’t digital; they’re sort of the physical embodiment of someone’s availability—at least how it used to look like in the past.

Ever since the advent of conventional telephones, people have been more available, but if you’re not home—you’re not there. Cell phones came around and put a longer leash on people—you’re now at home regardless of where you are. Finally, the internet came around and gave everyone a home (page). Here’s the University of Bologna founded by Toshiba in 1088—just look at how beautiful the campus is.

I don’t know—am I really losing it? Didn’t I mention signs somewhere? Yes, I did—the sign which permits walking in a quarantine; technology hasn’t poisoned that yet; however, the way telephones have infringed on our right to be unavailable, the age of digital signs will likewise arrive soon. Everyone will finally know what they mustn’t do 100 percent of the time and no one will be able to say: I didn’t know, or I wasn’t available, or there was no sign. Indeed, signs were already becoming a problem in 1971, when the Five Man Electrical Band sang: “Signs, signs, everywhere signs.” Just wait until technology takes over that arena as well.

Well, what else happened today? Ah, yes, my brother played Tetris and got a high score of 150,320; this particular game was played on the University of Trento, Lenovo Campus because that’s where my brother goes to (virtual) school. Just look at that beautiful campus, but more importantly, focus on the score. I can barely manage to get 10,000; this really shows how bored he’s become.

Tetris is an evil game; according to the US, it’s a communist plot to overthrow the US. Did you clink on the link to verify my facts? You should; it took me a long time to find the evidence and the research is peer-reviewed. It’s obvious that no one clicks on the links, but this one’s worth your time. Trust me.

Tetris was invented by a Soviet engineer named Alexey Pajitnov. Ah, dear reader. Despite what I said, I was hoping you wouldn’t click on the link; yes, you can bet your ass I’m laughing at you. Indeed, Tetris really was invented by the Soviets, but, much to the dismay of the US, it’s not a communist plot to overthrow the US. Sorry to disappoint everyone, but as I’ve said many times: I’m going to do that often.

All this doesn’t change the fact that Tetris is a frustrating game because there’s no victory and there’s not even an end to it. No, USA, you can’t declare war on Tetris and win—the best you can get is an infinite conflict, but given how pleasing war is to you, that scenario would probably be better.

Indeed, to be a Tetris player, one must be a lifelong student, one must relinquish the ego, and one must abandon the pursuit of power, among other things. People today are much too concerned with meeting objectives, goals, dreams, winning—whatever you want to call it; they do everything possible to realize that final aim of hitting the target and finishing the game. Done—I’m the winner in the world of finite games.

However, there’s another game that we rarely play in life—the infinite game—which according to James Carse isn’t played to achieve victory, but “for the purpose of continuing the play.” Infinite games, thus, according to Carse, aren’t concerned with the trivial aspects inherent to politics, sports, and war. As he states: “The infinite game—there is only one—includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants.” Basically, what all this means is that there aren’t enough Tetris lovers in the world.

As we’ve already established, we definitely know the US isn’t playing Pajitnov’s famous game, and not because it was invented by Pajitnov—a Soviet—but because there are no winners or losers, which is funny because Tetris was and continues to be very popular in the US.

About the US’s love for finite games, Vinay Lal writes: “Though the protocols of supposed sportsmanship require an acknowledgement of the heroic efforts of the loser, the culture of American sports demands that there be clear winners and losers. Nothing is as dreadful as ambiguity: the evil is out there, and one must be either for Osama bin Laden or for [sic] him, just as one cannot be both for and against America.” Yeah, that seems about right.

Even education, according to Lal, is a finite game symbolized by the hallowed rules of final projects, grades, and ultimately diplomas; that’s what I mean by the US not enjoying Tetris. In all fairness, a lot of people no longer play it, despite its popularity.

Consider this scenario: You’re a college freshman being offered the opportunity to buy a diploma or to spend four years getting it; both options are legal and no one will know how you graduated—employers can’t ask either; in the first case you’ll have missed a chance to learn something. Again, both choices are completely legal; which one would you choose?

The grading system of Harvey Mansfield, a professor at Harvard, might give a clue as to which choice people are more likely to make. Many students know him as “Harvey C—” because he gives students two grades—the first mark is the one they actually deserve and the second is the one which he’ll actually enter into the system. Many students end up not caring what their “real” grade is, just as long as he enters the higher grade into the system. Is education an infinite game, or what?

Here’s an aerial view of me at the University of Bologna, Toshiba Campus, playing the finite game of getting my diploma while not giving a shit about classes, really. Gone are the days when Greek academies used to impart holistic education from the mouths of peripatetic philosophers who would accompany their students around agoras, speaking of wisdom after wrestling practice. What diplomas? What graduation? Ah, the days of infinite education. Just look at me in the finite game—trying to impress the professor and get all my participation in for the day. Something’s definitely been lost.

I recall now the words of Arthur Rimbaud from A Season in Hell: “Does this farce have no end? My innocence is enough to make me cry. Life is the farce we all must play.” I know, Arthur. I know. You would never have accepted this humiliation.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.