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COVID-19: Mourning, Knowledge and Improvisation

Published in SAGE
Volume: 7
Issue: 1
Pages: 63 - 76

As we live and die through the continuing pandemic, one particular affect that relates us globally is of the dead awaiting their funerary repose. Assessing the pandemic, Arif (2020) in an early reflection proposes that we might benefit in our assessment of the ‘bio-social’ of the pandemic by admitting to the sovereignty of the virus. Borrowing this premise, I suggest further that the sovereignty of the virus is acutely manifested in the commingled presence of the living and unreposed dead in the temporary, improvised morgues. Although the continuing pandemic is quite unprecedented, it can be partially recognised in knowledges gained in mourning that register how disasters force a ‘descent’ (Das 2006) and ‘fall’ (Rosaldo 2014) into accepting improvisation of life and death forms. This descent and fall can be towards an abyss risking the very continuum of life, but what we also gain from discerning the relation of mourning with knowledge is that life can be regained at many levels of the fall. Just as the unreposed dead manifest the sovereignty of the virus, I suggest this descent and fall can be ethically attested in improvisation as the social surface of regaining life. It is my contention that this full-time improvisation, which in turn must be its own source, energy and end, must operate facing the unreposed dead. Deriving and extending from my own work of studying the dead, the present essay shows this improvisation and regaining of life through two brief assemblages of bacteriophage virus and media morgue. The relation of mourning and knowledge is built through the essay to arrive at the conclusion that the classic trope of life cycle in anthropology has to be seen as part of a complex texture of the social where vitality and the unreposed dead are concurrent and overlapping.

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Published in SAGE
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