Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Displaced Appearance of the Coronavirus. The Future in the Present

Uldis Vēgners

Thursday 2 December 2021

09:00 - 09:40

Zoom 1-2

The coronavirus is a microorganism that is undetectable to our sense organs; therefore, its presence in our surrounding environment originally remains hidden. As such, the coronavirus forms a part of what can be called an invisible everyday environment. It is impossible to directly tell if the air I breathe, the door handle I touch, or the cake I put into my mouth is contagious or not. However, if the coronavirus would be completely invisible to us, it would hardly be a phenomenological problem. What makes it phenomenologically interesting, is the way it appears in our experiential lives. My aim is to argue that the coronavirus as an invisible entity originally appears in our experience in terms of spatial and temporal displacements, and as such creates uncertainty, which erodes the line between the dimensions of the future and the present. I will argue that, from the perspective of our everyday lives, the coronavirus originally appears through a spatial displacement. The virus without special technologies and tests is not visible to us, but as it has the potential to make us ill, it has the potential of becoming visible in our bodies, making our bodies the site where the invisible appears or becomes visible. This spatial displacement, in which the invisible environment becomes in-visible or visible within, is accompanied by a temporal displacement. Because there is an incubation period before the symptoms appear, the appearance of the invisible virus in our bodies occurs with a delay. At the moment the symptoms of COVID-19 appear, the viral environment that infected our bodies might already be gone. The presence of the viral environment within our bodies is the past of the viral environment outside of our bodies. 

These spatial and temporal displacements that constitute the original appearance of the coronaviral environment put us in a position of experiential uncertainty, a condition already described by phenomenologists, such as van Grunsven as well as Carel, Ratcliffe, and Froese. I cannot be sure, without special technological means, if I am in the viral environment at a specific moment or not, and this leads to a significant shift in our temporal experience, which changes the way we live and interact with each other. Instead of projecting the future alongside the present, we project the future into the present, and therefore act as if what is possible is already a fact. For example, physical distancing, mask-wearing, and hand sanitizing all imply that we act in a way as if what is possible is already the case or even has already happened.