A friend called me the other day overstrung. She was worried because I’m alone in lockdown. I’m concerned and acclimatising to the new normal but I’m otherwise well, I assured her.
It had not occurred to me that being alone during the lockdown was a worry in itself. Aloneness is never a problem for me in the same way that company isn’t something that shapes my existence. Both are spaces every human occupies in alternating ways, physically and mentally, sometimes simultaneously. What differs in each space is that they alter our desires.
Three different kinds of desire (at least) are present in my life during the lockdown.
Firstly, understandably, I have a strong desire to be in a crowd. You could say, I am for once in my life an ochlophiliac, one who loves crowds. More specifically, I am craving to be in a crowd of people dancing, wildly and freely, ecstatically and joyously. I want to be in the midst of the heat of bodies; sweat, flesh, touch. This is not the impulse to go out and party, it’s a stronger urge, for something like hedonistic social revelry. The opposite to social distancing.
Sexual desire is the second kind of desire that’s present in my lockdown life. Or perhaps I should say co-present as in my case, sexual desire is currently co-existing with the satiating charge of solitude. I discovered both the charge of solitude as well as its fulfilling quality when in celibacy for 1 1/2 years writing Sensuous Knowledge. I didn’t set out to be celibate initially, but the more intentional celibacy indeed became, the more I understood why monks, mystics and eremites choose to abstain from sex. Although, in contrast to the mortification of the body and its desires that such groups may seek, what I found was that closeness to spirit – a notion which in my feminist shaped reality is closer to the wilderness of creation than to the creator himself – was this: Rather than estrange you from your body, celibacy facilitates a delightful awareness of the body; its language; its grammar; its pains; its hopes; its sweetness; its eros. To produce a “female-sexed text”, as French feminist philosopher Hélène Cixous calls the kind of writing where woman is subject, both the symbolic and literal phallus became im-potent (the prefix ‘im’ emphasising the opposite of the word that follows) to me. Therefore, although enforced and undesired this time around, there is a familiarity to the lockdown both in terms of abstinence and solitude. Whatever sexual desire I feel, isn’t immediate and pressing but the kind of jouissance that comes from knowing that if solitude is bliss, it is only because coming together is also bliss. Excuse the pun.
Hemlängtan. The Swedish word for “homesickness” translated literally is “Homelonging”. I prefer it. Precisely because we don’t actually feel physically sick, the suffix “sick” lessens the sentiment of acutely missing a place and its people. “To long” for a place on the other hand, is to be heartbroken and melancholic for it. One of the things that deeply impacts me these days is the heartbreak and melancholy that I feel not to be able to fly home to Lagos if I decided to. I have an added sympathy for those who live in exile. To long for a place one can’t visit is like longing for a lover who’s had a perennial change of heart. And for those exiled, the salve of time never arrives.
There are other desires for. The laughter of friends, non-virtual, that is. The oases of parks. The anticipation of entering bookshops. The cushioning of sand under your feet. The pleasure of sharing meals and wine at a nice restaurant. The ever-present desire to create. We should include desire, and other experiences of interiority, in our current discussions. Although the exteriority of the pandemic – the politics, the economics and the science are vast enough to occupy the reflections of generations to come, in order to satisfy one collective desire that we all share – for a better world – we need to also explore the interior terrains, where notions such as fear, family, love, and indeed desire, are colossally shapeshifting for so many right now.
Image is Josef Albers “Glittering Wet Beach (Biarritz)”