What we deny

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.



7 thoughts on “What we deny

  1. I’m fascinated by the idea of dissonance between our bodies and minds as an explanation for how humans are reacting to the false closeness of online connections. I wonder how many are attempting to replicate the old normal and funding that impossible. I’m rolling these ideas around in my mind.

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    1. I’m fascinated by that too because I can be transported in time and space through great writing in either film or literature. My body might not be experiencing it but my mind is and I know I’m affected by this mediated experience. The whole focus of media studies is centred around the consciousness of representations in mediated texts. And I sometimes think about the past when the novel was considered dangerous or wonder at the letter writing which connected so many before the digital world. I think I’m going to sign up for the digital pedagogy lab workshops this summer. 😉


  2. This is so interesting to think about! I want to reread and reread this piece because there’s so much in it to think about. I appreciate the ideas from others that you’ve shared, and also enjoyed how you described paying more attention because of focusing less on productivity. And the question of what power structures are in place that I deny is really thought provoking.

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  3. Your post led me to Rebecca Solnit’s Guardian piece, which had some very important points to make: (1) that when a caterpillar goes into its chrysalis, it literally liquifies itself; it’s neither caterpillar nor butterfly, but a living soup—and we are now “in the soup,” neither in the past that we think of as normal,and not yet in the future, which we can make an effort to form. And also (2) “there is meaning as well as pain in sadness, mourning and grief, the emotions born of empathy and solidarity. If you are sad and frightened, it is a sign that you care, that you are connected in spirit. If you are overwhelmed – well, it is overwhelming, and it will take decades of study, analysis, discussion and contemplation to understand how and why 2020 suddenly took us all into marshy new territory.” This needs a lot of thought before I can break it down into summary. We were struck by different aspects of what Solnit wrote, but she is onto something very important here.

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