For roughly seven years from around the middle of 2013, a very substantial section of the mass media in India has become overtly supportive of the Hindu nationalist, right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi.
In Islam we consider niyat, intention, in all acts. I’ve heard Wurundjeri elders refer to womenjeka also as an expression of intention. What is the intent of these performances? It seems that public health is a measure that requires a distancing that is indeed not merely physical, but social. Western science requires data, costume, and gestures to make us feel safe. But this pandemic doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and so neither can those intentions. Performativity has material consequences.
Even the most casual glance at the dictionary will reveal the Ancient Greek origin of a staggering number of words we use to describe and express our anxieties about pandemics, providing despotic autocrats the occasion to suspend or dissolve the public/private divide and curtail democracy.
Here is another level of irony, though perhaps we are now stretching the limits of that word: how to describe a brown man, who comes of age and spends most of his adult life in India, who then inhabits this building and takes guiltless pleasure in devouring and sending recordings of Emily Dickinson and William Shakespeare to his colleagues on a Whatsapp group?