Felwine Sarr: It’s a harrowing time but potentially happy and fruitful

By Maria Rodriguez

Dakar, May 1 (efe-epa).- Senegalese philosopher, economist, musician and writer Felwine Sarr believes the pandemic has put time back at our disposal but that we feel unable to escape “overactivity” in our daily routines.

The scholar, known for his book Afrotopia, criticised the World Health Organization for asking Africa to wake up to the coronavirus crisis instead of directing the advice at western Europe, which “was asleep”.

He says the pandemic “is a great moment for the world to act for change”.

QUESTION: Do you think the coronavirus pandemic has “undressed” human beings, our way of living and relating to the world?

ANSWER: It has revealed our way of social organisation and its vulnerability. It has revealed the inequalities that exist in our societies, between those who have the means to live in confinement without working for a time and those who are forced to work to have something to live on every day. It has revealed the inequalities in access to care and in our relationship with death, with mourning and funerals that have not been possible. Perhaps most significantly, it has shown our difficulty in making a world.

There was a feeling of nations isolating themselves, despite the fact that the pandemic was global, with the idea that each one was going to find solutions at a local level. There has even been a war over masks between western countries, which reveals a lack of solidarity, selfishness and the culture of international relations. It has also revealed our relationship with other living things. One of the origins of the pandemic is the reduction of biodiversity: we have deforested the planet and created the conditions for contact with animals that were carriers of viruses for which we are not prepared.

Q: There is a lot of talk about time, which we did not have and which we have now. What is our relationship with time like?

A: We were in a time-oriented workplace in the capitalist economy, which forced us to do an ever-increasing amount of things in a unit of time, and suddenly half the planet is confined, work has stopped, except for those who can work from home, and we find ourselves having to use this time that has been put at our disposal again. We were in the age of acceleration and speed and with very little downtime, with time saturation and a culture of dealing with it. And now we find ourselves incapable of living time differently from overactivity and work, or what we can call the time of the established, a time oriented towards the production of an objective or a commodity. This (situation) forces us to slow down and re-learn to live a time that is available and in which certain existential questions arise. This crisis brings us back to ourselves and in turn makes this time harrowing, but also potentially happy and fruitful. For those who had not learned to be with themselves, this crisis forces them to do it, to face it, to meditate and reflect.

The second thing that I find interesting is that we had planned the future in advance, our agendas were full for the next six months, some of them for the next few years. We are a civilisation of planning, it is a way of saying that we control the present time. But we are also a civilisation that wants to control the future and we find that we do not know how things are going to evolve, when we can resume a life described as normal and uncertainty returns to us. This unavailability of the time to come becomes anguish and for me, it is an important lesson in the sense that we have to face different temporalities.

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