Jeremy Fernando, On living in the age of pandemic

Giorgio Agamben tries to never let us forget that keeping alive is not quite the same as living. [1] And whilst he was widely derided for equating the novel coronavirus to a common flu, his point that there is a difference between living and merely staying alive should not be cast aside. For, even as contagiousness of the coronavirus means that our lives have had to radically change in order to potentially survive, the fact that social distancing has become the order of the day and we have had to give up many of our social rituals suggests that — since our habitus is shaped by, formed out of, our habits — it might well be changing, re-shaping, what it means to be human. 

In that sense, even as Slavoj Žižek seems to be critiquing Agamben — “not to shake hands and to go into isolation when needed IS today’s form of solidarity” [2] — it would be an error to read it as being an antonymous claim. 

For, we should also bear in mind the beautiful reminder of Jean-Luc Nancy that it is space that is first needed for touch.

Not too far, but also not too close: and where perhaps what we need to do is to create the proper distance between us that is needed.

For, as the late, great, Anne Dufourmantelle continues to teach us: “being completely alive is a task, it’s not at all a given thing. It’s not just about being present to the world, it’s being present to yourself, reaching an intensity that is in itself a way of being reborn.” [3]

And, where perhaps the very task at hand is to discover how to maintain the social — bring forth the ‘us’ — whilst remaining physically distant.




[3] Anne Dufourmantelle, ‘The Ideology of Security’, public lecture at The European Graduate School, (August 2011):


Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School, and a Lecturer & Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, media, and the arts.

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