The desire of the other and the social distance

It is likely to believe that a pandemic like the one the world is experiencing will diametrically change some perspectives. Who am I? Who's the other one? What really binds us? But above all, what (or who?) am I without the other? Am I even without the other, or is it the other one that allows me to be? How good is social space? To the secular soul, to the soul without God, to the soul that in the other can find peace and refreshment. In other words, how much does social distance affect my relationship with the other, in the desire that I have of the other?

No one was used to the two yards away, or maybe one, or maybe one and eighty. More generally, man is not accustomed to distance, it tends to a more or less spontaneous form of aggregation: that man is social animal is old history, but also very true. In reality, men and women do not create communities with everyone, in fact often the other moves away: it is not uncommon to witness the relegation to the margins of those who are different, or who simply do not want to know. But in general, loneliness is not the preferred existential state of the human being, who over the millennia has experienced infinite ways of living the relationship with the other.

In his Phenomenology, Hegel spoke of self-consciousnesses that must be recognized, that fight to the last blood for recognition, to exist. So I exist because the other recognizes me. I need the other one. The other looks at me and in his gaze I recognize myself, he touches me and in his gesture I feel, speaks to me and in his sound I listen. The other is my necessity. It binds us to a relationship far deeper than friendship, love or hatred, an existential relationship: encounter.

P.-A. Renoir, Bal au moulin de la Galette (1876)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir made a beautiful account of the encounter in 1876, when he painted the Ball at the Moulin de la Galette. It is a scene that we could not attend today, which we could not participate in: the other is the carefreeness of a dance, the pleasantness of a light conversation, the hand that shakes a life, two cheeks that touch each other. Renoir is sitting in the foreground and invites us to participate in the festive atmosphere, to share the time of the dance and the frivolity. Men and women embrace each other, twirl along the track clinging to each other, sharing chats and tables, not fearing, not feeling threats. The meeting will probably be successful for everyone.

But the moment an external threat takes over from the man himself, everything changes and the cards on the table are no longer the same: everyone has to move away, keep their distance, hide, because the other could hurt me, he could even kill me. Fear comes into play. Almost a hundred and fifty years later, during a mild winter, you can no longer get close. For days, weeks, months.

What will be the social consequences of such a social distance?

At first the opinion communis wanted to see the time of being able to leave their homes, to be able to rejoin, to meet again; home life seemed to weigh at all, the coffee at the bar below the house seemed a fantastic dream and unattainable, but desirable, to be realized as soon as possible. Then things change, and you start to witness a kind of immobilism not only physical, but also psychological: loneliness has become a habit and the other no longer seems necessary. The desire of the other seems to have disappeared, vanished into thin air, far in time. Out of fear? No, not always. The lack of enthusiasm in the hope of the end of social distancing, the haste of reunification has come, in many, less.

You're used to inertia. The danger of annihilation is around the corner, it is a consequence that cannot fail to be taken into account. Man is a social animal but he is also extremely vulnerable and fragile. It's being in the world and being with each other, but so weak that he can let himself be overwhelmed by something bigger than himself. It is necessary to look forward with a certain awareness, not leaving behind those who, at the end of this long story, will not be able to walk on their own legs.

Because sometimes it is easier to fight a virus than fear, the nihilism that can result, the risk of being paralyzed in a universe that continues to move continuously. If, on one go, we have stopped time, it continues to flow inexorably, in the stasis that the world is experiencing. A sonnet by Rainer Maria Rilke almost seems to describe the current state of man, of the world, of his being in the world.

We are in a frenzy:
But the pace of time,
consider it a die.
in what always remains.

Everything that presses 
it will soon be elapsed;
only what lingers 
it is what consecrates us.

Children not thrown away
the heart in speed,
risking the flight.

Everything has been watered down:
dark and clear,
flower and book.

Not everything has been acquiesced. We don't know when this is going to happen yet, we don't know when we'll know. We know a lot of things, but we don't know anything. We are particles of a galaxy that does not know that we exist, atoms of a universe that would go on despite us. Our destiny is to live, like fragile porcelain, in castness, in a world that is not bad, but knows no justice.

Perhaps it would be necessary to make sense of all this: to the world, to fear, to the other, to our fragility, to time. I think this emergency will change, I don't know how definitively, our relationship with fear and with each other. With the other one that scares us. With the fear that the other might see us as an enemy. We're not enemies. We need one another. We need the others to be us.

E. Munch, The Scream (1910) – particular


  •  Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2017. Sonnets in Orpheus (1922). Milan: Feltrinelli

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