Dean of UCL Faculty of Arts and Humanities Professor Stella Bruzzi's thoughts in these challenging and unprecedented circumstances.
So here we are at the end of an extraordinary term. Clichés are soon exhausted when attempting to describe the crisis we’re living through or the ‘new normal’ to which we find ourselves having to adapt (not knowing, of course, when it might – if at all – become ‘old’ or passé). If there’s one thing we have proved ourselves to be it’s adaptable.
Reflecting for a moment on my own experiences this week: we’ve been in self-isolation since Tuesday because my 15-year-old daughter came down with a fever; not only do I feel the burden of fear as I contemplate if (probably when) other members of the household succumb to Covid-19, but I also have come to appreciate all the more (now that I’m deprived of it) the social interaction with neighbours and friends we all, until now, most likely took for granted. Like much of the country my family and I ventured (not too far) out of our home last night to join with all the households along our street in prolonged applause for our NHS, sending gratitude to those who work in it and support to those being cared for by it. Already moved by this communal show of thanks to our health workers, it was then impossible to entirely stem the tears as my neighbours broke into a round of ‘Happy Birthday’. Amidst all this surreal and sombre tension, yesterday was also my son’s 21st.
Although a very tedious movie, last night did prompt me to recall the one memorable line from Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film, Lincoln, when the Speaker of the House observes of the times he is living through: ‘This isn’t usual … this is history’. For all of us, I’m sure, there’s an acute sense at the moment of living through history, a feeling of being both overwhelmed by and incidental to the hugely traumatic events unfolding around us. Such intersections between the personal and the social are what define us and keep us going, and never have the differences between ‘solitude’ and ‘loneliness’ been quite so starkly enacted. Jean-Paul Sartre in Huis Clos wrote famously that ‘hell is other people’ – but only if, like his three characters, the threat of not being able to interact remains a purely theoretical one.
These are intensely challenging times for each of you, and as we come to the end of another week of working, teaching and existing remotely, of developing different ways of communicating and creating communities, I wanted to thank all of you as you continue to work so effectively and creatively while looking after yourselves, young children and elderly or vulnerable family and friends. The notion of the proverbial work-life balance has taken on entirely new connotations as we literally negotiate a radically different relationship between the two. The connectedness that’s flourished across our computer screens has been inspirational.
Heartfelt thanks to each of you for adapting to these extraordinary times – for delivering your teaching remotely, for conducting work across a multitude of virtual groups, for inventing a slew of alternative assessments, for reassuring your worried and stressed students. I don’t doubt that the move to online provision will remain part of our brave new world for a few months yet, so warmest thanks to everyone for (final cliché) going the extra mile.