Co-vid: Seeing Together — Işık Barış Fidaner

The comet approaching Earth in Don’t Look Up (2021) was both officially advertised and popularly perceived as an allegory of the climate crisis. Although this is because it was written pre-Covid, it’s still interesting how people tend to avoid associating this image of ultimate mortal threat with the more urgent and deadly Covid crisis, which has incidentally triggered a new denialism that is even more malignant than the already-existing climate denialism.

This avoidance is understandable: An external threat like climate crisis is more easily translatable into the tragic/dramatic fear and epic/gallant challenge of a popular fictional story, as it leaves the humanist body image intact; whereas the internal threat of a constantly mutating virus is just too unbearable and anxiety-provoking to even think about let alone fictionalize because it also penetrates and crashes our imaginary egoic wholeness and moves to another uncanny dimension that is ominously comical [1].

The viewer of Don’t Look Up can keep the climate crisis in their preconscious but (s)he is compelled to bury the Covid crisis in their unconscious. The official narrative is the comet and the official subtext is the climate crisis. The viewer is thereby allowed to temporarily forget about the Covid crisis. So what the film actually provides is the surplus-enjoyment of being able to enjoy a little bit more pre-Covid nostalgia before the crisis deepens further and renders it impossible [2].

But temporarily forgetting Covid is not necessarily bad escapism. Analysis requires one to put its object in brackets. Since Covid has been so overwhelming, one can afford to analyze it only by putting it in the brackets of something more digestible and familiar like the climate crisis. This bracketing establishes the extimacy that links the external threat to the internal threat.

The extimate complex Covid/climate means that they are both lock and key at the same time. Talking about the weather hasn’t been “natural” for a long time now, but the strangeness of the present (natural and intellectual) climate was only truly acknowledged as a real symptom worth analyzing when people actually got sick and confronted death.

As Covid lets us “see together” the symptomatic context of our climate, it is fitting to spell it accordingly: Co-vid.

So the extimate complex of humanity reads:
Co-vid/climate = seeing our climate together (in its symptomatic context).

Since Don’t Look Up nicely covers this crucial aspect of “seeing together” (Co-vid) [3], letting ourselves temporarily forget Covid serves a noble purpose and the accompanying pre-Covid nostalgia is well-earned. Ironically, the ones who enjoyed the film’s pre-Covid nostalgia most violently and most desperately were the critics who joyfully beat up the film and declared the triumph of their intellectual “enlightenment” or rather being-on-top-of-things.

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner

Notes:

[1] Here’s an example: Some Covid long-haulers experience “internal vibrations” that prevent them from sleeping. They feel as if a cellphone was vibrating in their chest. When other people are unable or unwilling digest the gravity of the situation, they sometimes make fun of it, like evoking the image of orgasm. In fact this particular symptom was one of the reasons that led to the tragic suicide of “Dawson’s Creek” scriptwriter Heidi Ferrer. See “Long Covid Patients Report Vibrations, Tremors: ‘My Body Is Moving Inside, It’s Jolting’”

[2] It’s funny how the filmmakers allowed the repressed Covid to return in the form of a masked cameraman (Co-vid) who accidentally appears on-screen (see the image below). The director tweeted: “We left that blip of the crew in on purpose to commemorate the strange filming experience.”

[3] See “Don’t Look Up to the Sky, Look Down at the Symptom”; long co-vid means longing to see together.

See also Tom Atlee’s article.

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