The fact that the HeadRead festival is postponed should come as no surprise. While as of now, the emergency situation declared due to the virus outbreak officially lasts until 1 May, we must assume that events are unpredictable and there is every possibility that life has not returned to normal by May. We are also serious about the government’s recommendation to postpone events scheduled for spring until the second half of the year.
No doubt it is not difficult to think of all the dystopian stories during the current pandemic – both novels and films – that have dealt with outbreaks and global crises or disasters in general. In light of this, it is quite comforting to see that so far, people have mostly behaved in a calm or even altruistic manner. Mention has already been made of the drop in air pollution that the pandemic would bring, but it is equally heartwarming to see various calls to spare a thought for these businesses and people whose field or jobs are the hardest hit by the crisis. For example, a letter by the prominent Estonian fashion designer Aldo Järvsoo is making the rounds online, reaching out personally to help a dozen elderly people. It is a wonderful example of how a formally dystopian situation allows grass-root utopias to emerge. Suddenly, there is room for tiny, yet significant good deeds that poke out their heads like crocuses or snowdrops from the ground flattened by the speed of everyday life.
One of the changes brought on by the emergency situation is how life suddenly slowed down. Apart from bringing economic uncertainty, which means that for many people, teleworking does not necessarily mean a calmer life and thoughts, it has nevertheless presented an opportunity to think about life more clearly than before. The virus outbreak has only drawn attention to the obvious: the uncertainty of life. However, at the moment, the uncertainty is not merely an abstract idea, instead, it directly concerns everyone’s personal and collective present and immediate future. The virus spread at great speed – a world of great speed is where we live. Yet slowness appeared just as quickly. Obviously not for everyone. We can only imagine the pressure that people like medical staff and those working in crisis communication are currently under. Still, the general pace of life has slowed down.
The disappearance of a fast-paced way of life does not only mean a sudden slowing down or even halting of many processes, which now gives people more time to stay at home and think about what they have been doing up to this point and what would happen now. The thing is that once these kinds of questions present themselves, it means the view of everyday life has changed. Up until now, people have hurried past this view every day, but now, coming to a stop, they have a chance to look around more carefully and discover what our world is actually made of.
This setting demonstrates the distinct role of the arts. If the economy could be likened to a house, or, to be precise, the materials that the house is built of, and politics to the way the house is organised, then culture can be compared to the atmosphere in the house. At a time when problems, leaks or damage appear in the house, how we handle them becomes crucial. How does one convert the sudden slowness into calmness and attentiveness? It would be nice if we could spread calmness and solidarity more efficiently than any virus. After the emergency situation was declared, visits to libraries spiked. This is nice because every book taken out of a library is also a small, unnoticed good deed, a chance to support your local culture (admittedly, the current situation has created many more options for that, such as not asking for refunds for cancelled shows or concerts). Yes, people have more time to read now. Therefore, it is important to remember that reading is never done just for reading’s sake, it also presents a chance to contemplate. Now is the best time to do just that, to consider ways of improving the situation in order to survive the emergency in our house. This does not mean we should start saving the world collectively. It is enough if we take care of each other and help a relative, friend, and neighbour. Even with a few kind words. Such as those you remember from a powerful book that made you think. It is likely that during a crisis, we have a greater need for words that also act like deeds.