Art in a Time of Plague

29 March [to Kathleen Balgley]

After the lockdown started I began a journal to record thoughts of what seemed like unusual urgency in the face of unprecedented transformations. But within a couple of days I lost motivation, thinking that even if some new insight emerged, who cares, since both audience and author are likely to be eradicated in the approaching tsunami. Better to just keep working in the garden, prepare good dinners and drink hard while watching movies.

That sentiment was captured in this quote by an Oxford Shakespeare scholar in today’s NY Times:

René Girard, the French critic, wrote in a famous essay that “the distinctiveness of the plague is that it ultimately destroys all forms of distinctiveness.” Mass burial pits for plague victims were one visible symbol of the way the disease erased social, gender and personal difference.

But then she goes on:

Elaborate plots, motives, interactions and obscurities focus our attention on human beings. No one in Shakespeare’s plays dies quickly and obscurely, thrown into a communal grave. Rather, last words are given full hearing, epitaphs are soberly delivered, bodies taken offstage respectfully.

Lots to learn from writers and artists these days after all.

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