The essay that follows, "Is this recovery?," was conceived in another era: BCP--before the coronavirus pandemic, though composed under its reign. Under the regime of COVID-19, the idea of recovery as a story and a reality on the ground requires a gravity of which comics may be capable, but not a mere critic. Witnessing from a mediated distance the death of thousands, if not millions of citizens across the globe, makes the project of casting doubt on a form of storytelling that celebrates a cure, a return to health, an unseemly gesture. Writing in dread of falling ill and dying as part of a collective condition is, of course, always a fact of human experience, but not one we tend to keep present in our minds, especially when well. What will it mean to write from a post-recovery time which has not yet arrived?
But what if there is no recovery? If we mean by recovery a state safely relegated to a past tense. In the United States, circa 2020, recovery is not only a matter of public health but of the global economy. For both regimes, now intertwined, the concept of a hard stop has been undermined from within: even with the touted virtues of testing and the creation of a vaccine, experts are saying the virus will remain with us.
So, if both health and economic life are becoming more distinctly temporary rather than permanent conditions, we might say now, that given our current understanding of the disease, post-pandemic recovery will continue to be unstable, subject to a reprise of viral activity. This might also be to say recovery will be characterized by a pattern of repetition, recurrence, like living with a chronic illness.
It further suggests that in deploying, as we irresistibly do, Susan Sontag's famous metaphor about illness, we would do well to focus on the concept of passport as a...