英文

Common Nonsense:Another summer in the time of COVID

【明報專訊】Spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring...seasons come and go timely in a picturesque loop. Pandemics come and go only at glaring human costs. But nothing in the midst of a pandemic is timely, not even the arrival of the cure.

I was told by my diligent editor that the summer break is coming and this page would be in vacation soon. A neatly blue sky hanging over a spotless sand beach is on the horizon, probably with the soundtrack of children's laughter and yelling, I could imagine. This vivid imagination is immediately torn apart by two conflicting thoughts of mine. The first thought is that we aspire to live normal in spite of the adversities of living and life. The second one is that living normal in complicated times is like picking delicately a deliberately crafted comb while you're losing hair in big clusters every morning.

What is normal? I asked myself this morning while looking into the mirror. No big cluster of fallen hair in the sink, thank God.

When the eternal loop of seasons is normal, regular changes are inherently normal. From a global history perspective, the strike of pandemic and its final disappearance are always normal. But such normality is just embracing what has happened, not necessarily a treasured or treasurable state of affairs we love to hold tight and dear.

Salman Rushdie, the novelist (in fact also a charming essayist teaching ''non-fiction narrative'' course in New York University) who wrote The Satanic Verses which has earned him the Muslim fatwa calling for his execution since 1989, recently caught COVID. He was hospitalised in New York which had its own lockdown. A friend visiting him tried to be amusing, referring to his hiding from the lethal threat for decades, said, ''Well of course, after the Iranian fatwa against Satanic Verses, you know all about lockdowns, so this must be familiar to you.'' Apparently not amused but irritated, Rushdie decided to roar back mutedly, ''I decide not to argue the point...'' He instead in his ''Personal Engagement with the Coronavirus'' argued that the pandemic and the adverse consequences unfolding are more human flaws than natural disasters: ''It is a part of our tragedy that in this time of crisis we are cursed, in many countries,...with leaders of astonishing cynicism and bad faith.''

Rushdie's friend embraces what there is. Rushdie and others prefer to criticise what there is and, perhaps, prefer to change what there is to otherwise.

A thought like this is more a gust of wind in the winter than the soft touches of summer breeze, not really some congenial company for your summer vacation. However if you won't mind, I would still like to carry a copy of his collection of essays Languages of Truth (his ''Personal Engagement with the Coronavirus'' is collected inside) while going down to the beach and having my feet gently soaked in the warm sea water.

Speaking of truth, Rushdie reminded us — do we still need any reminder these days after experiencing so much? — ''The truth is that truth has always been a contested idea.'' We thus need good arguments to win the contest. We shall not stay submissive whenever someone is telling you, ''Believe nothing except me, for I am the truth.''

In The Kominsky Method, an adorable series on Netflix, the protagonist is such an old but mean chap full of wisdom in his bald head. And Norman Newlander (played by the invincible Alan Arkin) loved to say, ''I love truth. It's always a good fallback position!'' We all know what a fallback position means. It's where we are when our original plan fails. That shall be added to our summer delight. Cheers!

■by Lawrence Lau•劉偉聰

​Lawrence is a life debater who has to debate with his life. Being a barrister makes him a living while reading and writing gives him a life. Meet his cat 寅恪.

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