Last week Monica de la Torre remarked, in effect, that in pandemic isolation with its suspension of normal social interaction she experienced a change in time. I understood this to mean that it’s harder to get things done in the strange, new rhythm and pace. There’s a blurring of time and action, with things slowing down while time seems to go faster, and suddenly the day’s gone and little got done. Many report distortions in time of one kind or another, sometimes disturbingly disorienting, sometimes enlightening as to forgotten values and freedom of movement. 

So here’s a thought experiment for getting a grip on temporal drift.

Decades ago NASA discovered that training astronauts to operate in non-gravitational space involves basic changes in physical orientation, reeducating one’s proprioceptive, indeed autonomic, nervous system—how one stays oriented physically and mentally in space and time. Gravity invisibly defines everything we experience. Think of gravity as the pull toward the largest proximate sphere. On the positive side, it holds us firmly to the giant sphere called Earth so we don’t float away. On the negative side, it’s always pulling us down toward the ground. So we resist falling, and in doing so develop lifelong postural habits—which too often are ill-conceived and inefficient physical patterns with ample muscular tension. Over time these habits impair body and mind and, betraying their original purpose, bring us down. This keeps surgeons and physical therapists very busy.

Enter COVID-19 pandemic. The social world recoils into its figurative corners. Suddenly unmoored from our social dockings, our calendars get strangely sparse, inconsistent, and unreliable, and every day’s like Sunday. And it’s like the blank page subject to writer’s block. How, then, to make it up as you go. The imagination, accustomed to marginal status like Sunday driving, is suddenly captain of the ship. Life can go into withdrawal and even get the shakes if not the DTs. What’s happening?

Think of the aggregate social world as its own giant sphere to which we secretly gravitate even in our dreams. Social gravity governs pretty much all of our behavior to one degree or another. We live by habitual patterns responding in umpteen ways to social consensus, the expectations, sentiments, and judgments of others, and we operate mainly in assembly line time. Much less in creative time. When our social gravitational field suddenly slackens, there’s threat of disorderly orbiting. Time itself—now undeniably appearing as a fictional construct—loses integrity. Reality itself needs a road sign: UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Pandemic seems to be happening to us and simultaneously to everyone else in the world. In a poetics view we can become the active side of the conversation, as opposed to passive victims of catastrophe. 

Poiesis, or active making, has a job to do in pandemic spacetime that seems without clear precedent: it offers to teach mind to free up its center—its axis—to navigate a radically new environment. It teaches being aware that we remake ourselves in the language we use.  It urges speaking in new language, not only new vocabulary but syntax that’s flexible in new ways. Like with morphing gender consciousness we keep needing new pronouns, we’re in an altered pronominal state—with the growing pains of lingual diversity. Optimal poietic function in such a situation is to convert the conflicts and agonies into new powers of language, social orientation, and global consciousness.  And we need what Gregory Bateson called an ecology of mind. 

How can speaking for ourselves allow the world to reinvent itself in radical new balancing?

In this thought experiment and reframing of language, the species is rethinking itself. Even the planet seems to be rethinking itself, ever more urgently, in a more aggressive posture. Environment is giving us feedback on our energetic abuses, and it’s speaking to us in estranged tones of voice. If we’re to be other than victims of its irruptive forces, we need to learn to dialogue in a different dynamic. Ecology of mind and language—ecopoetics, ecoproprioception or sensing ourselves as global being—the Big Sphere. It’s not just about making art and poetry in a known sense but a poiesis coming to its senses in unknown ways—as a new linguality, a verbal processing that imagines the world other.   

George Quasha

Barrytown 5-20-20