Thoughts on Humanity

Poetic Habitation, Potentiality, and Quarantine

There is a strange sense that the outside world has become increasingly unclean, as though a few minutes beyond the confines of our homes means we must wash our hands ten times over. We cover our faces with masks and our hands with gloves (even if we can’t stop ourselves from checking our phones every few minutes). We steer clear of others with a wide breadth when we happen to pass them in the only outdoor spaces deemed ‘acceptable’ for our desperately needed exercise. Windows and computer screens become spaces for emergence while grocery stores regulate themselves into places of fear and anxiety as they count every single human who steps inside and risks infection. Late-stage capitalism has finally found the bars at the end of the enclosure but the thrashing gorilla keeps diverting everyone’s attention. N95 masks, home offices, pandemic vulnerability indices, the Tooth Fairy, crowded rivulet trails.

Sitting silently within my own home, I’m struck with a familiar sense of isolation that I so desperately tried to escape only a few months earlier. Before me, large glass windows overlooking rattling gumtrees, heterogeneous rooftops, and the steadily flowing river that defines the coastalscape of Hobart. As opposed to other days in the last week (or is it month… time has become particularly hard to grasp in this age of uncertainty) the sky is ominously grey with clouds of various types phasing in and out of one another. I can hear the laughter of the neighbor’s children in their backyard beyond the windows, which have a modern kind of hermetic sealing that instead of keeping air and oxygen out, keeps socialization and experience within. A kind of perverse poetic habitation where we no longer get to be amongst mortals.

The Heiddegarian notion of dwelling is a perplexing one, appearing more formally in his latter work it sought to clarify the oft-debated “being-in-the-world” of Dasein-presence. In Building Dwelling Thinking he makes a connection between buildings and dwellings and shelters and home, stating “[w]e do not dwell because we have built, but we build and have built because we dwell, that is, because we are dwellers.” We are dweller-people, forever learning to dwell and be capable of dwelling as in Heidegger's example of the bridge as a space that ‘gathers the earth’ and ‘admits’ the fourfold. Interestingly enough, the spatiality of dwell resides in Proto-Germanic “hesitation, to delay.” As though our very act of dwelling is one of non-journeying, remaining still, sheltering-in-place. And the new fourfold is the gathering of the desk, the fluorescent light, the Houseparty app, and COVID-19.

Ignoring Heidegger’s implications of divinity being a transformational event where a sense of the sacredness of the unfolding Being is restored, to dwell in the age of Coronavirus is to be full of Aristotelian potential. That is, as is the case of many, that we are all housebuilders even if we don’t happen to be building houses right at this moment. When Maxfield Parrish was infirmed with tuberculosis, he started to mix oils and glazes to create the vibrant colors that he is renowned for. That’s not to say that the seemingly unyielding requirements to remain in our homes mean that we must work miracles and create art that will be hung on the walls of houses across America (or Australia). But rather that our potentiality is still always at hand and that this transformational event which we are living through is a moment to think of the future as springing from obscured factors in the present that are not currently manifest.

I miss meeting up with friends at the pub. I miss attending art openings. I miss hiking through national parks. A few months ago these were merely potentialities of dwelling before manifesting into realities of landscape. Now they’ve vanished into the virtual, whether that be a memory, zoom meeting, or private studio tour with the only human you’re still having physical contact with. I’m fortunate to have research beckoning, whereas others are calling out for nissologists to visit their ACNH island in lieu of a job they just lost and a lack of opportunity in an exceedingly vicious system. The Apple Isle beyond the windows is no different than the apple island in the Switch. In some inordinate amount of time, the doors will open again and we will all wander aimlessly touching everything, dwelling everywhere. But for now, enjoy the poetics of our collective confined habitation and stay the fuck home.

Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Tasmania, studying climate change adaptation, risk perspectives, and coastalscape values.

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