At Literary Hub, Beirut-based writer and translator Lina Mounzer writes a letter to an American friend reflecting on the strange transition in Lebanon from months of mass protest to sudden self-isolation amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Mounzer writes that while the protests and the pandemic may seem like exact opposites – one a mass gathering of bodies in public, the other a retreat into individual private isolation – they both bring about a galvanizing feeling of solidarity and collectivity. Check out an excerpt from the letter below.
The only thing this pandemic has in common with war is what it has in common with every collective crisis, which is that it lays bare all the ugliness and inequality in which we live and participate. But also, also, it is that for one exceptional point in time, all of our fears are aligned, and we are given a common language with which to speak of them. It’s like some great tuning fork has been struck, and we are all communicating on the same frequency, so that we can suddenly all of us understand one another. Or are given the potential to understand, at least, en masse, what has always been true: that any disaster belongs to us all. And we can no longer go on pretending that we are merely living individual lives, that these lives can simply proceed at a remove from the people around us, from the collective circumstances in which we all live. That illusion was the temporary aberration. This is the world: communitarian and mutual, whether we like it or not. If enough of us understand this at once, then everything can change. That’s what happened to us, at least, in those first few weeks of the thawra [revolution]. And that’s why the “return to normal life,” that time of “when it’s all over,” can be such a fucking letdown if it feels like we haven’t carried what we needed to carry with us out of the rubble of crisis.
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