The pandemic is a portal, Arundhati Roy wrote in early March, ‘a gateway between one world and the next’.
We are yet to enter that next world, nor can we clearly see its shape from here.
For now we are filled with one numbing certainty: the sad sense that the world we left behind as the coronavirus took hold is closed to us now, much as we might hanker for it, much as daily life is still formed around our memory of what it really ought to be.
What a thing it is to live through a moment of such extraordinary and irreversible disruption. What a test to have all that seemed so solidly certain made tremulous and thin. We want a return to ‘normal’. But we have no idea what ‘normal’ will turn out to be.
Is there refuge in the smaller details of things? The mist of new-grass green slowly spreading on what was bare earth beneath the oak trees in the park, the first thin drifts of autumn leaves; a suddenly keener eye for the turning of the seasons … a sense of some solidity in a natural world whose rhythms seem an impregnable constant. Except even there we know change is afoot.
Nick Cave is live streaming 24/7. The New York Metropolitan Opera performs as an intricately interconnected Skype conversation. You can live-stream the living rooms of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. We greeted this new disembodied cultural landscape in an apprehensive, yet appreciative quiet. We were a little lost in a suddenly more interior life. Perhaps we read, though not with the relaxed indulgence of a sudden holiday, feet up with a blockbuster, but rather with a new attention to the sense of the thoughtfully created world of ideas and impressions that rests in the open page.
What books, essays and fragments of poetry will be written in this moment? How will they help us shape a sense of a world that is shifting and becoming new around us? In the trickle-down economy of the imagination, that will be work of writers and all the other expressive departments of our cultural life. To find the sentences, phrases, notes and splashes of colour that can show us, day by day, just where we are.