For weeks we have been witnessing a series of "world reversals". The Covid19 pandemic comes to us from China. Is it the result of a transfer from animals to humans, a scientific error, or a "virological war"? Regardless of the outcome of the " we are at war ", we do perceive that there will be a before and after disaster. And then what war is it? At all levels, in all countries, voices are being expressed more or less loudly, but words do not have the same meaning for everyone: quality, skills, standards, controls. On the one hand, disgust towards the flying mammal that brings disease, on the other hand, respect towards the venerated bat. Does the virus have a "nationality"? How can we work to "repair the world" at the heart of globalization? At a time when double talk in the media is becoming increasingly heavy, and when public authorities are playing hot and cold by stirring up fears, flattery and sanctions. Will we then be able to bring about "good" for humanity and all living things?
"I testify on you this day, Heaven and Earth: I have set before you life and death, happiness and calamity; choose life! And then you shall live, you and your descendants. » Deuteronomy, 30, 19.
"Be stingy with your words, and things will work themselves out. »
I will start with a historical detour where we could see a kind of archaic premise of the present circumstances.
In 1973, Alain Peyrefitte had an exceptional success in the bookstores with his book "Quand la Chine s'éveillera", which had the subtitle "le monde tremblera".
Word got around that Peyrefitte's title had been inspired by a replica of Nicholas Ray's cult film, "The 55 Days of Beijing", released ten years earlier, evoking the Imperial City at the turn of the 20th century, with a brilliant cast around the splendid Ava Gardner. The film retraced the episode of the Boxer Rebellion, symbol of China's previous national awakening against the influences of Western nations that had set up diplomatic legations in the city of the Summer Palace. Paradoxical film, all in counterpoint, between the splendour of the Hollywood production and the anti-conformist political sense of the director of the first subtly feminist western, "Johnny Guitar" and the cult film on youth that is still "The Fury of Living". I had the chance to meet Nicholas Ray, as assistant and interpreter of his first biographer, François Truchaud, shortly after the release of "55 Days", which marked me doubly.
Has China "woken up"? In any case, it has since changed its regime in a considerable upheaval, contributing as a major player to the fact that the epicentre of the world now seems to have moved eastwards, away from Europe, shaking the American hegemony.
In this sense, China has awakened and the setting has changed: who would have forgotten those films from the 2000s about the transformation of cities, like Beijing, torn apart by the work that reconfigured the old Imperial and then revolutionary city, which has gone from the horizontality of its old houses to the contemporary verticality at a glance?
Recently, it is from another large Chinese agglomeration that the events that seal for humanity a before and an after, a catastrophe, have originated. Wu Han, crossed by the Yangtze River, is located in central China, in a wide alluvial plain. The climate there is humid, rather gloomy. It is an economic centre, ranging from industry to so-called advanced research.
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I am referring here to the remarkable, well-documented work of Le Monde du 25 avril, directed by Raphaëlle Bacqué and Brice Pedroletti, which is a little chilling. It notes that many French companies have established themselves there or have worked to transfer know-how. Such as the Mérieux company, which withdrew "as soon as the lab was handed over to the Chinese authorities", as Alain Mérieux told the press.
Various glosses have been made on this subject: was it a case of the French being ousted or leaving voluntarily in the face of practices they disapprove of, or a lack of understanding resulting from irreducible cultural, ethical or strategic differences over the aims of the project and the methods of cooperation? And in any case, almost obviously, divergence on the positioning, conception and aims of "Research". It should also be noted that there are military installations in the same area. So much for the portrait of Wu Han in a "modern" metropolis.
It was also learned at the beginning of history that in its markets old customs still exist. For example, wild animals such as pangolin - which is said to be a delicacy of choice - can be found around the markets. These animals live in the biotope of the countryside and the rocks, with other species, especially bats, which are host to a number of parasitic hosts, such as viruses, which are the subject of studies in research centres...
This is where hypermodernity and wildlife seem to interpenetrate. Unusual and yet scientifically understandable. In the course of events and the pandemic invasion, the dissociative couple from the beginning of history - cutting-edge research and ancestral gastronomy - has thus reappeared thanks to this survey of the World in a different light. We can situate the planetary epidemic in the light of this ambiguity. If we linger on it, we can see that, at the root of the catastrophe, we can see the tightly knotted together of international diplomacy with deep elements of tradition.
Which was enough to make me want to go further. Thus, the psychoanalyst Alain Julienne, who knows China well because he has worked and lived there, provided me with a major piece of information, according to which the bat that we Westerners do not like and are afraid of is venerated in China. Seen as a Taoist symbol "brings good luck", related to immortality.
Precisely because it carries what we disapprove of, notions of mystery, the unknown, hidden things, an ability to live in arid biotopes...
It seems important to me to also address these issues, which are probably only marginal for us! They are a stunning metaphorical contribution. Thus in this so strong symbolic and traditional content would reveal a very heuristic side in this accident. The bat could then no longer be seen as a hated animal but as a living being concealing mysteries and "powers".
We can therefore hypothesize that the researcher herself was traversed by this dimension of sacredness. And in fact, the bat, unlike the human species, remains a "healthy carrier". It then becomes plausible to imagine that this great researcher chose to go herself, as if in ancestral respect, to take samples from the crevices of the surrounding rocks, thus taking on the task of venerating this strange flying mammal.
And from there, we can suppose that an error due to an absolute imponderable could have occurred, with this "magic" animal and which could have stunned China itself. This would show the strangeness of the situation on a global level!
Made in China
In French, China is called the "Middle Kingdom", itself called the "Middle Country", one could therefore take into consideration that Wu Han's position in the "Middle-Centre" is particularly strategic, as at the crossroads of tensions... Knowing also that Wu, according to A. Julienne, connotes a "warrior" character and as we know, Han recalls the founding dynasty. Certainly in 1900 one could understand the Boxer Rebellion against a decadent, self-confident and dominating West. But today, it is from an ultra-sovereign and booming China that the murderous pandemic, Covid 19, has come to us. And, at Beijing airport, in the early days of the epidemic in the United States, bewildered witnesses saw American agents overpaying in cash and diverting quantities of masks destined for a European country, such is the distress of the West.
China has drained what we no longer wanted, activities with too little profitability. From derisory products, it has instituted markets... So for the time being, China is putting on a vital little "mask" on part of our face, as much as it has been dressing us for years in total look wearing the "brands" of the European giants of cheap clothing, who have found there reasonable subcontractors and diligent labour. If it weren't for the grief and the serious health problems, there would be something to smile about or be confused about. Indeed, for many of us, even if reluctantly, to be admiring them.
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One wonders what the international consequences will be, after the urgency and seriousness that the indispensable object connotes, while across the Atlantic one hears the roar of an imprecise president who never stops pointing out the "nationality" of the virus.
For the moment, in strange shifts, here is the France of Charlemagne, Montesquieu, Pasteur, the Curia, Charles Nicolle, Yersin at the mercy of an immense country, from which comes to us a microscopic killer agent. A country which, from the mouths of its leaders, has not, unless I am mistaken, openly expressed, verbalized a minimum of empathy. What can we think of it? When we come across stories of human sensitivity in Chinese Literature or Cinema, we cannot unilaterally declare that the Chinese are only cynical businessmen, as some Westerners call them... In spite of the current ease of rapprochement, isn't there still a misunderstanding about the differences in our representations and our formulations of what we call: gift, civility, sense of the human, and even politeness? Misunderstanding on our part? On both sides? If we have to work on the "repair of the world" at the heart of globalization, are we able to share our arcana on these subjects in concrete life? I am talking about solidarity within our species plunged into mourning, impotence and dereliction.
Perhaps, quite simply, from the many donations of masks made in Europe by Chinese personalities and by the Chinese State, could we spot a language: the Chinese expression of a united humanity, after the astonishment? To mention just one example, and there is much more, the recent donations of masks to the French cities of Dijon and Chamonix. However, on all the information relating to these contributions, the French comments are almost squeaky, insinuating more or less finely that these Chinese approaches are only "interested". They would give "for their Silk Road project, or to facilitate their various investments". So be it. But this is not always how the gifts of Western moguls are presented: they are given a certain amount of taste and charisma, they are given the prestigious qualification of "patrons".
Of course, it has been said so often that the notion of "person" differs between the West and the Far East. The latter is anything but individualistic. But what has happened since globalization itself, and since the numerous population movements, where so many descendants of Chinese migrants live in the West, many of them in the United States? Even if they remain attached to their roots like most immigrants, they are now no less attached to their descendants of Western citizens. Would we have remained only at the "55 Days of Beijing"? And China, where the death penalty still exists, is the question being asked, or is it still just a typically Western question?
In any case, in the West, and more precisely in France, the people involved in whatever capacity, find themselves tossed around between opinion/counter-opinion, instructions/cancellations, protocol/anti-protocol, and feel the heavy ambivalence inherent in double talk.
Who among adults today would have forgotten that when we went to hot countries, in Africa for example, in the 1980s, we took quinine tablets as a preventive measure? They were in the cupboard of many families in the 1950s or 1960s in North Africa, which was one of the homes of the mosquitoes that carried malaria. It has long been known that it is not beneficial to people with certain chronic conditions. People with malaria know how to manage themselves. Why is it that all of a sudden this venerable drug, which was once in the public domain and was also available over the counter, is now reserved for the hospital? Have we become as childish as we need to be? Is that why the precautionary principle was invented? And what drug, by definition, would be safe? Will paracetamol and aspirin soon be "confined" to the hospital?
" We are at war ", said the French President. To this can be added another of the expressions that have marked our history: we also feel in a "strange defeat", as no doubt do our neighbours in Italy, Great Britain and elsewhere.
We all hope that this time of war, when relatives disappear in the name of no cause, will soon come to an end. Let this not stop us from asking ourselves to reflect.
The traditional part of China, which eats wild animals, post-Maoist China, whose single party of power, despite considerable transformations, is still called since 1949, Chinese Communist Party, the China of high technology, suffered the first of the Covid 19. The latter in turn invaded us in a pandemic. "We are at war", but what war is it called?
Masks of fifteen centimeters on each side became like the new image of the world. What can we say about this surface of non-repair while some of our elders have disappeared without ever seeing their loved ones again? How can we think in this dereliction? Here we are confined, that is to say, another paradox, locked up at home and for our survival. After having been assisted for our own good, police version, here is the partial "deconfinement", knowing that few people respect the instructions, reasonable or unreasonable, we may now be contaminated. But in all responsibility, "like the big boys".
What will have promoted us from infantilised citizen to adult, if not the need to return to work for a failing economy?
The public authorities seem to be playing on a traumatized, assisted, bereaved society for some, slipping on velvet to play hot and cold between three tools that child educators have long since abandoned: fear, flattery, punishment. Much has rightly been said about the exposed elderly, to whom confinement is still recommended. And few of the children born in this period, who, like Olga, have not yet been able to enter fully into the family and social community.
It is a pity that all these elements, which contribute to invalidating deliberation, have converged in these already difficult times. In this disarray of multiple motives, one would expect a small glimmer of light...
To Olga, born in March, and to the newborns of this spring.
Paule Perez, Philosopher - Psychoanalyst