“‘ The new reality ’was an expression I heard all those first weeks at all hours: people used it to describe my situation, as if in a way it represented an advance,” writes Rachel Cusk in the first pages of Despojos. About marriage and separation. And he adds: « But the truth is that it was a regression: life had put the reverse gear. »
The concept of “new normality” has appeared on time in the newspaper archive after the great crises of the last hundred years. Politicians and economists turned to him again after the attacks of September 11 and the 2008 economic crisis, with the aim of transmitting a message of optimism and recovery. « The New Normal » – as a constructive synonym of its twin, more neutral expression, « the new reality » – has spilled over the two decades of this century into everyday life in the rhetoric of overcoming trauma and, therefore, , also from divorce.
Now that the new normality has been assumed in many countries as the official slogan, it is worth remembering that any loss needs a process of mourning. Capitalism is perpetuated by generating a constant desire for the future, that’s why one of its best allies is positive psychology, who for more than twenty years has been trying to redirect the discipline from pathologies towards well-being and happiness. But nothing is really normal during the time of advances and setbacks that all radical dismissal implies. And we have the right, of course, to dissent regarding the State’s discourse.
Beyond the epidemic of marital breakdowns, which is already a reality in China, new social protocols – marked by physical distance – have caused our divorce of gestures and habits that were part of our personality. There is no rush to accept the new reality or normality that is slowly emerging on the terrain devastated by the pandemic. Because the human being is made as much of hope as of memory and pain.
At least temporarily we have had to say goodbye to most of the kisses, hugs, closeness, not to mention travel. Our largest organ, our two square meters of skin, undergoes its own confinement. We feel, by extension, the social uselessness of the hands. Holidays and tourism are torn between freezing and mutation. How do we ache for that absence of touch? How can we accept this separation from an important part of ourselves? How to digest so many unexpected and profound changes in our lives?
We can find keys to this in the work of Rachel Cusk herself and in other narratives that have addressed in recent years the life after the breakup of a couple, which is the most widespread form of mourning.
Immediately after Despojos – which was published in English in 2012 and has just been translated into Spanish – Cusk established himself as a novelist with an extraordinary trilogy, consisting of A contraluz, Tránsito y Prestigio, which turns his post-divorce work trips into fiction. . In them dozens of characters appear who have been married and separated several times, while the narrator assumes her new autonomous identity.
These novels insist on the same ideas about divorce that we find in other works from the second decade of the 21st century, such as the film The Story of a Marriage, the series The Affair or the poetry collection The Deer Jump, by Sharon Olds. They agree that this is a slow and problematic process in which two people have to deal with the assumption that the look they have shared – or believed to share – for a time was actually an optical illusion. And in what the separation of a couple is never a matter of two. All history is collective and all marriage expands in concentric, social and political circles. There is no intimate separation that does not involve both the individual and the community.
Perhaps the first stretch of any divorce consists in giving up a skin that for a time has been almost their own and suddenly becomes alien. Then the other stages come, not always in the same order: denial, anger, negotiation, sadness, acceptance, the necessary forgetfulness. Although not all of us are going to experience them in this long present pandemic, it is important to remember them now, when the duty of governments is to design phases of what they have called de-escalation, while ours is to make them negotiate with our own personal, family and collective stages , so that the mourning for the dead is completed with the mourning for everything else we are losing.
« Be happy, the new normal » is the title of one of the chapters of Happycracia. How science and the happiness industry control our lives, by Edgar Cabanas and Eva Illouz. In it we read: « Adopting an optimistic view of the world and of life itself is imposed as an emotional requirement to preserve an image of health, adaptation and normality: if you are not positive, something (bad) happens to you. »
That is going to be the general trend in the coming months: the creation of a collective optical illusion of economic, social and mental advancement. Faced with this supposed consensus, our gaze may coincide or disagree.
As Cusk wrote in A contraluz: « Reality could be described as the eternal balance between positive and negative. » An always precarious balance, like the one that politics and literature or positive psychology and the psychological reality within each of us try to achieve.
© The New York Times 2020