Writer and translator Lily Meyer in an article for The Atlantic last year lamented that most of the nascent literature she has come across during the pandemic is beautifully structured and polished, but yet just the “hiding place for half-baked ideas.” It is the neat “aesthetics” forced upon readers she is opposed to. Plagues and epidemics have been written about and read profusely in the past and at times romanticized by artists and writers for their ability to dredge up existential dread and push creativity into unchartered emotional territories. But thrust into a real pandemic, drained by the misery of people dying around us, still adjusting to the choppy and dysfunctional temporariness of a quarantined life what we end up with creatively, is mostly a pile-up of messy expressions representing the chaotic reality and at best ‘thoughts in progress’.
The new normal today is marked by sporadic lockdowns and mandatory physical isolation that hurts artists as theatres and art galleries shutter, as shows get canceled; and hurts writers as book deals fall through and launches are postponed. The socio-economic instability most probably will affect their aesthetic output. But juxtaposing fear, darkness, and death with freedom, peace, and life, the theme of survival has resurfaced in various forms.
In an attempt to respond to the restlessness and uncertainty of the time that broke boundaries between personal and social, several projects have been launched to bring together writers and artists from around the globe to instill in us a sense of solidarity to triumph over isolation. Blogs like Fang Fang from Wuhan with diaristic impulses captured the collective pain and sadness. Anthologies like New York Time’s The Decameron Project were launched so that popular writers could share short stories inspired by the moment. Art spilled into masks and murals depicting the pandemic. New forms of expression sprouted at unexpected sites to usher in hope and resilience as performers ranging from classical musicians to DJs played music for their neighbors from balconies and rooftops.
The editorial team at The Antonym collectively pondered on the changes brought about by Covid.
What has been the creative response to the pandemic?
Has the crisis spurred innovation?
Is it too early to decide whether the pandemic will bring about a paradigm shift in how the world thinks?
This month we bring to you a collection of refreshing poems, stories, and articles focusing on ‘Life, Art and Literature in the Time of Pandemic’ from around the world. We will have several original writings in English as well as translations from Bengali, Chinese, Italian and Spanish. Every category of our March-April cycle will hold one or more Pandemic inspired posts. The March covers for The Antonym bring paintings from the Chinese Poet and Artist Yan Li’s “Poison Net 2020” series. While the graphic fiction ‘The Scaly People’ touch the plights of Indian migrant workers during India’s lockdown, we will also read the poems of migrant workers from the Chinese lockdown.
We also bring together a wonderful panel to discuss the impact of Pandemic on creative minds. Our panelists are Artist and Curator Carl Heyward, Poet Yashodhara Ray Chaudhuri , Linguist and Translator Radina Dimitrova and Novelist Ahmed Masoud. We will probe how they coped and found inspiration during this exceptional time of personal isolation and global misery.
A year has passed since the pandemic had set in and many of us still remain confined within the womb of our homes and apartments grappling with the disruption meted out to our routines. And all of a sudden, all those finer things in life meant to soothe us and elevate our sensibility— that were placed delicately in our “good to have” list have shifted into the “must-have” category to simply keep us sane. Whether the content is extraordinary or not, we need art and literature to get over these trying times.