July 2021

Accuracy Talks Straight #2 – The Cultural Corner

Coming out of a crisis, but what are we heading into?

Sophie Chassat
Philosopher, partner at Wemean

The metaphor is a medical one: a crisis is the “critical” moment where everything can change one way or the other – the moment of vitality or the moment of mortality. It would seem, however, that things might not be so clear-cut and that, as Gramsci put it, a crisis instead takes the form of an “interregnum”, “consist[ing] precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born”. What will come out of all this? The suspense… Whatever the answer, it may well come out of left field.

This is what we’re currently feeling: a not very comfortable in-between, and we don’t know where it will lead us. The new world is not coming, and the old world is not coming back, even if, like the characters in Camus’s The Plague, we blithely or even unconsciously take up our old habits again as soon as the storm passes. Yet, at the same time, we know that something has changed, that this crisis has been, in the truest sense, an “experience”, a word whose etymology means “out of peril” (from the Latin ex-periri). Indeed, coming out of a crisis means always coming through and learning a lesson from it. The ordeal inevitably sees us transformed.

But what would be a “good” way to come out of a crisis? A way that would mean coming out on top and not crashing out? For the philosopher Georges Canguilhem, “The measure of health is a certain capacity to overcome organic crises and to establish a new physiological order, different from the old. Health is the luxury of being able to fall ill and recover.”

Overcoming a crisis is inventing a new way of life to adapt to an unprecedented situation. Indeed, health is the ability to create new ways of life, whilst illness can be seen as an inability to innovate. We must also be wary of all the semantics that suggest a return to the same or the simple conclusion of a certain state: “restarting”, “resuming”, “returning to normal”, “lifting lockdown”.

Inventing, creating… that’s what will truly and vitally take us out of the crisis. As another philosopher, Bruno Latour, put it from the very fi rst lockdown, “if we don’t take advantage of this unbelievable situation to change, it’s a waste of a crisis”. That’s why we must also see this period of coming out of a crisis as an occasion to come out of our mental bubbles and leave our prejudices behind. And let’s not forget to question the meaning of our decisions: why do we want to change? What new era do we want to head into, knowing that other crises are waiting for us? The thicker the fog, the stronger and further our headlights must shine.

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1 “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Antonio Gramsci, Prison notebooks (written between 1929 and 1935).

2 “For the moment he wished to behave like all those others around him, who believed, or made believe, that plague can come and go without changing anything in men’s hearts.” Albert Camus, The Plague (1947).

3 Georges Canguilhem, “On the Normal and the Pathological”, in. Knowledge of Life (2008).

4 Le Grand Entretien, France Inter, 3 April 2020.

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