Today and Tomorrow of a Pandemic (1)

Por: José Antonio Michelena

The 2020 leap year that began on Wednesday will be set to fire in human history by the uncontainable transmission, to the five continents, of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, a spread initiated in China during 2019.

Covid-19 has claimed many lives and tested, in crisis management, very diverse governments and states of societies: from the most democratic and open, to the most authoritarian and closed.

But it has also tested us, that we are living an uneedited, unimagined experience, and we do not know exactly when and how this nightmare will end. Nor what will come after it’s over.

Much has been speculated about it, to the point of reaching the (almost) saturation of the subject, but not by looking the pandemic the pandemic will no longer be there, like the dinosaur of Monterroso. Every day we get up and lie by his shadow.

As other publications have done, we wanted to consult the opinion of a group of intellectuals to inquire about their particular experiences during all this time, to know how they have spent it, how their days have elapsed, what they think about this present, and what they expect from the future, how they imagine it.


Leonardo Padura
Leonardo Padura

Leonardo Padura

Padura, how have you lived through these months of lockdown?

“As you know, my work has several facets. One of them, logically, is creative. To write I need to be at my house, here in Cuba, and dedicate all morning to that work, seven days a week. But there’s another facet that’s very important, and it’s promotion. To develop that part of the work, then I must travel. As you know, in Cuba there is virtually no promotion to my work, to my books, and it is almost as if it does not exist for the official media, the official events. Then promote development outside the country, in the different places where I am invited to present my books, give lectures or courses. That work takes me several months when I add up to the different trips I make in the year: sometimes up to six months. Those stays outside can also be useful for me to develop the research necessary for writing some of my novels. I can work in libraries (especially in Madrid), in universities (especially in the United States) and visiting important places for the plots.

“Since that part of the work has been cancelled with the current juncture, because I have had all the time of these months to write and, of course, I have made a lot of use of the situation. I have done the final review of my new novel, As Dust in the Wind, which should be published in September, as always by Tusquets. It was a work of great patience and concentration, because not only did it work with an argument, some characters, but it was time to cleanse and polish the language.

“I have also written several newspaper articles (also published outside Cuba), I have answered many interviews (all for media outside Cuba), I have written a prologue to a photographer’s book (to be edited outside Cuba) and advanced in a possible plot for a film/TV series (which would be shot, if it comes to that, outside Cuba).”

Are there any conclusions you’ve made, in existential terms, that you want to share?

There are two or three, among several, that I find very disturbing. The first is the vulnerability of the human being, homo sapiens, the victor of the struggle in the evolution of species, which with all its power and knowledge can be put in check, and even defeated, by a simple ugly and greasy molecule. The second: that we are very afraid of death. Life is already known to be a defeat with a repeating ending. Death is the only thing that we cannot change, that it is up to all of us, and yet we flee like the devil to holy water: that is, to be aware makes us the most cowardly beings of creation. And third, that our vulnerability and cowardice can make us renounce even great principles, such as protecting our privacy or defending our civil rights. We are able to deliver several of these principles to political-health powers as long as they help us get out alive from the encounter with the ugly and greasy molecule.”

What teachings could leave us, as social beings, this time cloistered?

“Cubans at least, that we are deeply social beings and that we love promiscuity, from which we so denies. Myself, what I miss most is being able to be with some friends talking and having some wines. Even though I am one of those struggling for solitude to be creative and productive, I feel that forced loneliness, induced, has another flavor and can be enervante.”

How do you live up the post-pandemic future?

“A world that will live for months, perhaps years, in permanent zozobra, with fear, in the midst of the most comprehensive uncertainty: health, social, economic, political, existential… A world in which the powers of artificial intelligences and information, communication and data collection platforms are increasingly prominence. We will live under controls, ranging from our temperature to our faecal bowel movements (for we will know what we have eaten, where, when, how much…). This control will be in addition to those that already exist and which have two major aspects: the traditional one, that is, that of political, social, legal, ethical powers; and digital, that of the powers that record all our acts, communications, even desires and aspirations through those algorithms that feed with our coexistence with the network. A world that will be between Huxley’s happiness and Orwell’s fear. A world in which today’s children are going to live their entire existence and which, I am sorry to predict, will be perhaps healthier, will guarantee you to live longer years, but it will be the most perfect dictatorship that man could ever conceive or practice.”

Leonardo Padura

Narrator, essayist, journalist, screenwriter. National Prize for Literature 2012; Princess of Asturias Award for Letters 2015; Roger Caillois Prize, of the Maison de América Latina in Paris 2010; Carbet Del Caribe Award 2011.

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