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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 12)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 12 March 26th, 2020

Trento, Italy


I’m having trouble starting the diary today so I’ll just begin like this and hope for the best. I hear a lot about the need to make things efficient, the importance of avoiding non-essential material, and the beauty of precision—well, I have two words for those three people: junk DNA. See, I guess the non-essential was, in fact, rather essential because I have a topic now.

Indeed, what is that trash DNA that doesn’t code for protein? The more important question, however, is perhaps this: Why do we have so much of it—between 98 and 99 percent to be exact? That’s a lot of junk. Scientists are slowly beginning to re-evaluate this junk residing next to our more “important” genes, however, seeing the supposed non-essential matter as something quite essential.

In a way, it’s a philosophical argument: While people eating apples may not see the seeds as essential for their purpose, farmers may value the seed more than the apple itself. The same can be said of that junk DNA and also the first sentence of this diary; it’s quite unnecessary and any editor would cut it but without that phrase, I wouldn’t have arrived at the conclusion that not all trash is trash. So, why cut it, then? Fuck the editors—I’m keeping the sentence. You know the famous saying by Hypocrites: “One scientist’s trash DNA is another scientist’s treasure DNA.”

It’s difficult to say why I do this to you, dear reader, but it’s all in good taste. As Aldous Huxley wrote in Those Barren Leaves about the Iliad: “The author of that poem is either Homer or, if not Homer, somebody else of the same name,” which is quite funny because the original author of that statement isn’t Aldous Huxley (here we go again with the investigation of quotes).

The truly comical thing, however, is that the original author of Aldous Huxley’s statement didn’t intend for it to be humorous when it was published in The London Quarterly Review. It’s possible that perhaps the odd chap himself didn’t realize how hilarious he was on what I can only imagine to have been a gloomy day in 1840. I’m sure that many people will agree—if they didn’t do so before—that humor has always been a strength of the Brits.

Moving right along to something more relevant now, it truly is fascinating how the days keep on moving along without any care. Time is an art critic who walks by every painting—never stopping to admire a single one; hence, the most powerful person in my view would be an artist who can grab this critic’s attention—force him to stop and admire his art; I’m not that artist and that’s why I’m sitting here in this quarantine, helplessly watching the days go by, accepting every fate and every subsequent decision it brings.

I haven’t thought about Rainer Maria Rilke for a long time until today, but it’s apparent that I’ve thought of him often. One of Rilke’s most beautiful poems, “Go to the Limits of Your Longing,” has the following relevant lines, which are often quoted: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. / Just keep going. No feeling is final.” I get shivers just reading it again.

If no feeling is final, then everything will pass; the poem’s body, in that sense, transcends the limits of its own title, stating that our longings do have boundaries, which we must go towards, but if we have the courage to make those steps, we can pass our limits as well because they too have a transient nature.

So many people can somehow survive comfortably without poetry—US government data even shows it’s “going extinct” there, but I would rather sit in a quarantine for the rest of my life than to live without art.

The world would be too cruel; I realized this today when I noticed something that I had ignored for a long time. If an average person were to look at the picture below, they probably wouldn’t think much of the scene—it’s a quarantine and the playgrounds are closed; it’s rational, logical, and expected. However, poetry is beyond reason; it goes farther than logic; it’s the antithesis of the expected—the essence of novelty.

When I look at this picture, I don’t think about safety right away. No, the first thing which comes to mind is my own childhood and what it would look like today. Maybe the adult in me is afraid of this virus, but it has enough reason to anesthetize that fear—facts, information, and statistics are nothing but drugs that numb the first, visceral reaction to reality, but how do children deal with the world when they don’t have such things? They see red tape around their playground and imagine a million scenarios; when adults see it, the vision passes through their filter of statistics, for example—only 0.0013 percent of people are infected in Italy.

We have all kinds of theoretical drugs which give us (some) agency to reshape our world into what we want it to be; however, children must deal with the initial impact of the world in more innocent—more immediate ways; this is what poetry is about. In his essay, “The Painter of Modern Life,” Charles Baudelaire said “genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will.” I like this idea—to recover childhood and do so purposefully.

Truly, artists are always searching for a way to be more like themselves—the human beings they were born as, not the philosophers they came to be. The reaction to an echo in the mountains is as natural as fire made by cavemen; the discussion about the echo’s essence is as artificial as the language written by people.

Like cavemen using tools to make fire, language can be used to become more like one’s natural self, which was Rilke’s ultimate goal: “Often I have such a great longing for myself. I know that the path ahead still stretches far, but in my best dreams I see the day when I shall stand and greet myself.” I love this passage from “The Florence Diary” because it has always confirmed my suspicion about the nature of humanity, at least the way I interpreted that particular statement.

This is all good and well, but let’s leave the natural world of poetry and go back to the artificial real world. My brother and I are by nature pretty disorganized. We actually managed to lose our house keys during a quarantine. That should never be able to happen but when it does, do we see such things as blessings or blessings? I don’t know anymore.

Indeed, we’re human: We don’t do the dishes immediately after breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but we always have breakfast, lunch, and dinner on time. We don’t clean a mess immediately but we appreciate guests who are tidy. We procrastinate on assignments, duties, and taking out the trash, but we like orderly societies. We love our philosophy but we don’t want others to have it.

“Don’t postpone today what you can put off tomorrow,” said Socrates after he was found guilty and asked when the date of his execution should be. Well, I’ve fooled around too much—Socrates never said that, but it still shows how powerful philosophy could be had he simply uttered those words. This here wouldn’t have been a big problem.

Ah, just look at me. I finally want to clean the table and not because I want to actually do it, but because there’s no longer any space on the table and we don’t have another table to eat on. Except for quarantines, it’s always good when life forces things on you. Think of the alcoholics who don’t drink anymore, not because they had the willpower to stop, but because their body no longer let them. A similar argument for enduring quarantines still hasn’t blessed me, but that’s because I’m not a philosopher. I live in the natural world; cleanliness is only enjoyable after the cleaning’s been done.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.


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