Lots of folks are commenting on the way that “social distancing” is making them aware of other’s bodies and their relationship their own. This novel Coronavirus has required us to respond in novel ways. To keep six feet away from others is not something that can be done causally or covertly. It is a visual statement in every encounter: walking off the sidewalk to avoid someone, standing far back at checkout counters. We are now pushing away the world with new kinds of barriers marked by tape, rope, boxes and tables; made of paper, plastic, rubber, and cardboard.
In doing this we establish new strangers and de facto decide who can be close—who our “COVID families” are regardless of any biological relation.
Of course, our COVID families include non-human animals and relations to other things in our space: cats, dogs, favorite chairs, comfortable pillows, good books, binge TV, video game consoles, decorations to comfort us. At this moment when we need to intentionally keep some things at a distance, stretching away from them in space, the way we are enmeshed in connections of all kinds is revealed.
But bodies don’t just live in space, they move through time. They have trajectories from past to future. I never expected to become so aware of this. Because the Coronavirus can endure on things and in the air for different lengths of time, I have suddenly become aware of the recent past of surfaces, materials, and atmospheric quality. To a lesser extent this has come to include the habits and body postures of myself and strangers: Who last touched the door handle? Is that metal or plastic? Is there a chance something invisible persists on the takeout container? Did someone sneeze in the shopping asile recently? How long ago? What are the chances they sneezed into their elbows? Have they been washing their hands regularly? How about their six year olds? Do they live with old people? Did I just rub my nose? Just then? I can’t remember.
Taken to an extreme this line of thinking of bodies moving through space across time becomes a lineage of ghostly presences: If they touched there and then touched there and that touched that and I touched here and then adjusted my glasses with the same hand and then rubbed my eyes…
Everything is becoming haunted.