Covid-19 and “The Burrow” of Franz Kafka
In this period of “still” COVID-19 (January 2021) I re-read Kafka’s “The Burrow”. The beauty of the story is limitless.
I read it for the first time in my adolescence. The oscillating thought of the narrator (the badger) leads into the meanders in the underground excavation, immense and full of squares and tunnels. The narrating voice leads at the same time into the ramifications of his thought, made up of points of views, opinions, counter opinions, suggestions, hypotheses to be validated and confirmed, in complex reasoning, apparently lucid and suddenly opaque.
I re-read the story, keeping in mind some of the behaviours of friends, acquaintances and myself, towards COVID-19. The burrow as a safe space versus the insecure outer space of the environment, where terrible enemies (the tiny virus of COVID-19) are always lurking and ready to strike, annihilate the accumulated capital (the health; the routine; the comfort).
The lack of trust in the other who, even if innocent (like a child), can become a transmitter to leave the door open for the enemy to enter and destroy the den’s tranquillity. Leaving the burrow means exposing yourself to danger. Therefore precautions must be taken mainly in the border spaces, between the inside and the outside, between the entrance and the exit, where you cannot let your guard down: the mask and the gel become the weapons to use, in cunning, to get them before others, more effective, more robust, more resistant, always available on the hands. The value of safe space is questioned with recurring cleanings, periodic checks, a control to assure a space temporarily safe and then suddenly dangerous.
The anxiety of the rate, therefore, becomes that of controlling space and thought, as today we are (on a personal and collective level) in the throes of excesses of control (such as on public transport, in supermarkets, in hospitals) and then at moments of euphoria and collective release, hidden and guilty — as when the badger gorges himself on carefully accumulated supplies.
The burrow is a hypnotic tale, which strikes you with the lucid desperation of a voice that denies its pain. As the Italian author GIOVANNI VERGA had also done in his works — like in the LA ROBA -, “the Burrow” shows the vanity of control, where ego and pleasure find space for dispute on the same object.
May the virus penetrate the burrow, infect the space, let the badger be free from its obsession, see its worst thought realized, attested, analyzed, desired, controlled, as in a lucid nightmare.
May the virus never enter the burrow, leaving the badger safe, spying on the entrance to the den from inside and outside, to compliment himself on his risk management skills.
Both perspectives are of failure: the present is lost, the compassion denied, the inner growth atrophied.
Consciousness becomes a desert. The burrow remains empty.