MICHELANGELO MERISI DA CARAVAGGIO, San Girolamo scrivente, 1608 Concattedrale di San Giovanni, La Valletta, Malta

Death, which we thought had been removed, is now back

Did you notice? For years, the word “death” had almost disappeared from the Italian dictionary; it was replaced by more or less adequate synonyms, but always trying to avoid a word that has become a taboo in an affluent society that is more connected to aesthetics (maybe an ugly one) than to ethical values (which have become scraps for wreckers) and that is almost convinced that the secret of immortality has been discovered. Now, this word is suddenly back, at lunch and dinner time, on our TV screens. Plenty of dead people. A procession of numbers, ratios and proportions of the dead of the day. Some time ago, they would have said “demises”, or worse “today they passed away” or worse still “they breathed their last leaving their loved ones in grief”. Not today – today there are hundreds, thousands of dead people who gather in column charts. And we accurately remark that “they are more than yesterday, these deaths increase day after day”. The point is that they are no longer dead people – they are just numbers we count as if they were car sales.

Behind those numbers there is nothing; there are no emotions, except, perhaps, for a vague sense of fear we try to wash away by washing our hands like Pontius Pilate did. As the anti-virus propaganda tells us to do shortly after advertisements, the real dictator of our time, which tells us the right brand of soap we should buy. The safe one not to die. The word “death” is back, but it lost its meaning. However, even if death returns, the dead are gone. Graveyards are closed, visits are possible only by appointment, no visible corpses wait for us. Churches are closed. No funeral rites, either with or without the corpse. Do you remember Foscolo’s Sepulchres? “Ever since marriages, and courts of law, and the altar taught us human beasts”, the rite was that of the sepulchre that could arouse the memory of the deceased. Now, things are more complex; of most of the deceased who disappeared into thin air, only an urn of ashes is left, perhaps confused with other ashes. Yes, death is back, but the dead are gone.

Most of the Italian people, except for metalworkers, do not know the meaning of resilience. This work resembles “resistance” not only in sound but also, to a certain extent, in meaning, even though resistance means strong and hard commitment and readiness to external forces, whereas resilience is a kind of elastic resistance; we might say that it bounces. A large beam, when it is hit by a bat, does not break but flexes; resilience is this flexion. Resilio is a Latin verb that literally means “to jump back”. Now the point is, who is it that has to be resilient in the face of what is going on? The big international companies that influence states and politicians, that are hungry for names for their activities, forcing increasingly broken republics to promote technology and telephone start-ups.

Republics that react as rubber walls to the stress of telecommunications changes that are brought about by private companies; they try to slip away adopting the same “solutionist” approach that is being followed almost all over Europe. They get by and try to please the great companies that want people to be increasingly technological in order to use their products, by imposing the use of a health mobile application that gathers all our data, which is very convenient for them. After all, many of the anti-Coronavirus measures that have been adopted were suggested, designed and developed within this context, which is a real compromise between the privacy of each of us and our health. Who is it that should be resilient in the face of these pressures? Are the governments or the citizens? Do we need to be resilient to all of this, rejecting computer cataloguing, refusing the creation of a survival society that does not take into account the social structure of the country, the needs of the people and their human rights, but only wants to increase their business? With the end of the coronavirus, we are faced with a state that, so far, has adopted a solutionist approach, welcoming these impositions, adapting to them or simply waiting.

Either so, or we will be faced with a dilemma: either the old broken republic, which is always leaning in the hands of too many masters, or a totalitarian solution. Then, resilience may actually turn into “resistance.” Note. Those who are interested in this can read Yuval Noah Hariri’s writings, where there is everything about post-Coronavirus society; only the human soul and rights are missing – a real hymn to the Great Industries of the World.

Robert J. Ross

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