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Touch Me Not

By Anna Jochymek

Picture

An anonymous note stuck to Anna’s studios’ computer in her isolation place, London. Spring 2020

LONDON, 20 APRIL 2020

Sara Ahmed argued that love is “narrated as the capacity to touch and to be touched by others” (2004: 124), while today, as Slavoj Žižek observed, we have to discipline ourselves. The idea of “touch me not” (2020: 1) is the most accurate way to express our love towards others. We have to keep a distance and following this narration, I found staying away from my family to be the biggest act of love. We have lived separately for over 10 years now, but at this moment of the pandemic crisis, it has been the general tendency that people throw themselves into the arms of their beloved. My parents miss their adult child like never before. I feel the same, as “the realisation that you have no idea when you will ever see them again will hit you like a punch in the chest” (Melandri, 2020). It was the same imperative that forced me to call my friend to ask if he wanted to move in for the period of the lockdown, knowing that his housing situation was complicated. I sent a mail to my professional colleagues saying that if they needed any help, I was in London ready to act, not necessarily knowing about their private situation. I found a bunch of excuses to send innocent messages to my friends so that I could check whether they were safe and did not feel abandoned. Getting in touch was now necessary more than ever. Finally, I considered applying for a job in the newly built temporary hospital for patients with Covid-19 at the ExCel exhibition centre in London. I wanted to help and feel useful. However, I do not live alone and although I could choose to put myself in danger, I was not ready to put my housemates at risk. All my actions were driven by the act of love. But who has the right to consider themselves as acting out of love?

Today, now that I have been forced to stay away from the ones I love, I realise how much I miss their presence in my life. The excess of loneliness has hit hard. My friend has admitted that she feels like writing to all her ex-partners. I have already dived into an essay written by Paul B. Preciado for Artforum (2020) and it has become only a sad confirmation that we all are in the same, emotionally broken boat. Since you have no other option than to stop, it feels like your current situation automatically defines your whole existence. All the people who had lost love, the ones who were too busy to care, the ones who were hurt in the past and got too scared to try again, and finally, the ones who did not manage to find it on time – here and now we have become trapped in the feeling that we will stay alone forever. You automatically start thinking about what went wrong. I thought about all the people I had dated, but even a global pandemic could not change my perspective on the reasons why it had not worked out. However, I am still wondering if it affects my perspective on why the relations with a more profound connection did not work out either. It is a time of evaluation.

What we are experiencing today is death in very substantial form and yet I decided to enter the lockdown by placing love at the centre of everything. Our fear brings us closer to bodies that share the same fear. Niccolò Machiavelli meditates on the dilemma between spreading love or fear and draws the conclusion that, “as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved” (1950). I observe how the idea of a better post-Covid-19 future has blinded people. We have started fantasizing about how the world will change, speculating about the new and less divisive economic system. We assume that, with millions of deaths caused by a global pandemic, the deteriorated old system will die too. I am not sure if I am ready for such a naive (from my perspective) optimism. Today, I wear a mask and gloves. I leave the house as rarely as possible. I save lives by staying isolated, as I have been told to do. I express my love while being distanced. The tragic irony is that this feels so familiar. We have already thought that it is better to suppress emotions and that to distance them from others is the most efficient way of functioning. We have managed to turn emotional isolation into an act of sustainable bonding between people. Nowadays, I observe how compulsory physical distancing has started to mirror the mental state of pre-Covid-19 reality. What have I learned so far? That love is an extremely violent act. We become experts in distancing in the name of love. My only hope is that in this better world, that we are all expecting to come, we will break all the rules of social distancing and that no one will ever say “it is not worth it”. Otherwise, we will never leave the lockdown.

 

References:

Ahmed, S. (2014). The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: University Press.
Machiavelli, N. (1950) The Prince and The Discourses, trans. L. Ricci. New York: The Modern Library.
Melandri, F. (2020) ‘A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future’, The Guardian, 27 March. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/27/a-letter-to-the-uk-from-italy-this-is-what-we-know-about-your-future (Accessed: 27 March 2020).
Preciado, P. (2020) ‘The Losers Conspiracy’, Artforum, 26 March. Available at: https://www.artforum.com/slant/the-losers-conspiracy-82586 (Accessed: 29 March 2020).
Žižek, S. (2020). Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World. New York: OR Books.

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