Covid-19 pandemic was an unseen disaster that no one was prepared for. It left everyone confused and distraught as this was something that isolated the people from everyone including their loved ones. Bruno Latour skillfully summarizes the feelings of the people during the lockdown in his book “After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis”. This book explores the way people changed and understood the importance of relationships. It explores the philosophy behind lockdowns, climate politics, and Gaia theories (Latour, 2021). This paper will explore the concepts presented by Latour and explain the meaning behind them.
The first chapter of the book uses the analogy of termites to explain the initial stages of lockdown and the way people reacted to it. People were instructed to stay at home enclosed in one place which is similar to the way termites live. They live in an enclosed space “The termite is confined” and expand outwards slowly broadening their world like a termite “it never goes out!” (Latour, 2021) The people around the world were also enclosed in their houses and slowly as the lockdown lifted their world started to expand. Everyone was under lockdown for so long that they had to relearn to socialize and get back to the normal routine. Latour states that during this lockdown humans went through a process of metamorphosis and when they re-entered the society they are no longer the “An old-fashioned human being, in short!” but have become terrestrials.
In chapter 2, Latour asked the question, “Where am I?” which makes the readers question their existence. He later explained to the people that human beings are aliens that are living on earth and this realization came to him as he spent his time in lockdown. This idea is confusing as we have been living on earth for thousands of years but Latour argues that human beings belong to the Universe and were meant to stay there “I propose to call what’s on this side Earth and what’s beyond – why not? – the Universe.” Over the past three centuries, humans have evolved emotionally and this evolution is seen as normal but it is not as this complexity of ideas was only possible for one reason that humans were not of the planet Earth. They are more evolved beings that belong to the universe and cannot be contained in a container called Earth.
Earth is now equivalent to a small house to humans and it gives them a sense of belonging and association as Latour says that the planet Earth is not the planet but “it’s a proper noun that gathers together all existing beings.” The universe is unknown and mysterious comprises the agents what Latour calls “living organisms” their traces, and their actions; it ignites a sense of adventure and danger. It also allows humans to indulge in the fantasy of breaking free of their confinement and expanding beyond the limits. Elon Musk is a living example of this fantasy as he wants to inhabit Mars. The lockdown presented a new challenge to the humans as they learned that they enjoyed their freedom and did not appreciate being confined. People developed mental health issues as they dealt with this confinement; stuck within walls unable to roam freely.
Latour summarizes the pre and post pandemic-induced lockdown in chapter 4 that these humans slowly forgot that they were humans and turned into termites. They had to relearn how to function and learn new survival skills that they did not know they needed. They learned to expand their worlds just like termites as “rigid body of the termite mounds every bit as much as the agitated body of a termite” means that everything in the world is made of life. They learned to utilize all the space of their home to lead a more fulfilling life and they freed their minds as their bodies were confined to one place.
People were able to connect with their selves and learn who they are. In the busy world, people were not even aware of their personalities but during the lockdown, they had to do everything by themselves. Some learned that they have a passion for cooking and others learned that they were creatively gifted. People were able to make time for their hobbies and reconnect with their spirits. While there was a danger of the economy collapsing; people prevented this by doing online businesses and sustaining themselves “It’s as if people were saying: ‘There’s no longer anything beyond this limit: no future.” Damage was done to the economy but the worst of it was prevented. After this pandemic, the world will change and Latour also agrees but it would be changing for the better as the people had changed for the better.
In the pandemic, the houses that humans were contained in were the Earth and the outside world was the Universe. Latour sums up the experience of the lockdown through Gregor who once can jettison his family’s material concerns will be freed from his “confined” world as Latour says “Thanks to the confinement, we can finally breathe.” (Latour, 2021) Humans were residents of the Universe from the very beginning. Why you may ask? There is a very simple reason behind it; humans do not like to confine. When we had our own houses, we wanted cities; we got those cities then we wanted countries after conquering lands and getting those countries; we wanted more and in the pursuit of more we set our sights towards the stars.
Latour observes the changes in the world as a whole. Chapter 6 also focuses on the need for humans to conquer the universe. It discusses the evolution of social relationships and globalization as Latour effectively symbolizes the profound meaning of the world that “It is formed with other bodies, to which we should add illustrated knowledge of remotenesses – but without our ever being able to go into orbit outside our homes.” and their interpersonal connections. The way modern technology has helped in expanding our worlds when we were confined within our houses. The book uses a lot of metaphors to make the readers understand that humans have changed during this pandemic. The lockdown has allowed them to know their potential by changing and expanding their worlds.
In conclusion, there are a lot of articles that focused on the negative outcome of the pandemic and the way it affected the mental health of every individual on earth, however; Latour sheds new light on this situation by telling the readers that they have changed for the best. This is something that many readers may have wanted to hear after having a tough time during the lockdown.
Latour, B. (2021). After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis.