An Actual Virus Sobers the Goofy Age of ‘Going Viral’

Panicked, confused, riveted by the imminent possibility of catching a possibly fatal illness, the entire country, it seems, has lost the capacity to reimagine the world in language or thought.

Just a few weeks ago, you could turn on the TV news and see a wide array of experts addressing a broad variety of subjects. Now there is one type of expert almost exclusively dominating the media. The epidemiologist has become the central figure of our time.

Against the necessary, sometimes terrifying, sometimes reassuring streams of epidemiological reports, we now have to maintain our ability to think non-biologically, to mentally escape the mental stressors of material concerns like “flattening the curve,” social distancing, mortality rates and modes of contagion.

Even as we plan, prepare, follow official guidelines and steel ourselves with all the facts we can gather, we are faced with the challenge of also enduring the new coronavirus with the heat and light of our imaginations: We need to exercise the power and autonomy of our mind’s highest faculty to keep our spirits high and free.

Like the surge of alternative treatments, especially among elites — the fanciful pseudo-mysticism of Moon Dust and Goop — a literary or intellectual interpretation of the new coronavirus may strike some people as not just irrelevant, but also just this side of obscene.

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