Mónica Belevan

Covidian Aesthetics II: The Tragic and the Panic

April 2, 2020

Tragedy belongs to the city and the theatre, to the commons; panic to the wilderness and the immanent body, or the uncommon. The two are attingent, with one involving social distancing and expulsion and the other immersion, self-absorption unto [un-self]possession. Tragedy delivers us outside the wall, to the grave of Polynices; panic shoots us straight into the vascular uncharted.

In tandem, they enact the alternance between belonging and intimacy. To trespass against the polis is, at least, impertinence, transgression of the norm; while panic is inextricably linked to violations that attack identity and rootedness in form.

The tragic and the panic have a goat at their source. It lurks behind the two, to manifest as the propitiatory corpus of the scapegoat or with the threatened formlos of the satyr. The book that best captures the plasticity of the intercourse between them is Klossowski’s Baphomet, in which the ghosts of the Knights Templar reconvene, within/without time and/or in a final, pineal surge of tribal excitation, to commemorate their execution by possessing animals and children —the very innocents corona will, for the most part, spare. Κορωνίς prefers ambergris, cadaverine, in its repast.

I am increasingly of the opinion one should not look to books on pandemics for insight on the epochal turn if what one is interested in is not the virus so much as the transformation. Pandemic is the symptom —a king among symptoms, perhaps, but one that has really gained traction because the body social its destroying was already terminally decrepit—. We are suffering a lavish psychosocial gangrene and amputation, a (potentially lethal and certainly global) bloodletting plus brainwash of sumptuary scale.

The trope is not foreign to us, even if —in agreement with its Saturnalian nature— it is playing out as the reversal of the Death of the Egyptian Firstborns; where, as we recall, the Israelites smeared their thresholds with the blood of lambs —a marking of liminal spacetime— so the Exterminating Angel would pass them over. (There’s even the blink of quarantine in Exodus, with the Israelites sheltering indoors despite being ‘extramural’ —we’ll return to this when we discuss the status of our own more or less “essential” workers— to Egyptian Society).

Kultur is the rebirth of tragedy, and panic its maieutic.