Alessandro Baricco (Turin, 63 years old) was a year and three months ago in a basement in Paris listening to a band with some friends. From that small and smoky place he said goodbye to normal life. On his return to Turin he found a confined country, a mandatory quarantine and the beginning of something monstrous whose magnitude he understood when the writing school he runs (Holden) closed. Weeks of boredom followed, stranded for the first time in the same house with a woman he had met not so long ago. “The pandemic is an accelerator, and something that might have taken me three years happened in a few months,” jokes the author of Seda in a hotel in the center of Rome. Without much desire for anything, he understood that he had to tell what was happening through a different format. After all, the world would never be the same again. And so it came out What we were looking for (Anagram, 2021). A booklet on the pandemic that was first built as a fragmented test for mobile phones, and with which it predicts the death of the traditional test.
QUESTION. How did you think of this book?
ANSWER. I thought about it a lot, I didn’t want to talk about banalities. I uploaded all the ideas and then I wrote it down in a week. The important thing was to find the way. And it was quite strange, it was going to be free, with lateral movements. You could read messy and also hear it read by me. That was half the project. Now the physical book is out, which is the simplest part. The other was different: I wrote it and in a week there were 100,000 people in Italy who had entered. I paid for it, it cost 2,000 euros. I wanted to get these ideas out there as soon as possible. That it could be read standing up, while you wait … I would almost say while doing something else. The peak age of the reader was 25 to 30 years. But no one over 50 read it, so we took out the physical book.
Q. You say in the book that the pandemic should be conceived as a myth.
R. Thinking of solving it with numbers or with the medical record is crazy. The same as managing it with the common sense of politicians. It is something more complex, an event that we have allowed to happen and perhaps even collectively expected or provoked. Just not taking it seriously, not defending ourselves.
Q. In the myth there is a moral teaching. Did we deserve this?
R. There is a point of availability to the accident. We have chosen to tear down all the walls and we wanted the risk: it could be a virus or something else. When you make huge numbers of humans travel around the world it is obvious that there may be health problems. We have gone straight to this, perhaps to have an excuse to change many things. One punch to transform the world.
Q. You quote Jung, who assured that he could foresee the arrival of Hitler to power through the dreams of his patients in the preceding months. Do you really think this was something predictable through the unconscious?
R. I think that unconsciously a part of us was looking for that accident that I am telling you. And when it didn’t come, he made it up: immigration, Islamic terrorism, present phenomena, issues that were greatly amplified by a thirst for emergency, by a hunger for trauma. It is a collective unconscious tendency.
P. The world becomes increasingly difficult to understand for non-specialists. This pandemic was supposed to bring the experts back and rid us of populism.
R. Populism we don’t know how it will end. But this pandemic has been the last solemn and glorious function of the specialist. Medical knowledge comes out of this pandemic very resized; we have understood that numbers count relatively. With the vaccine, science has given indications throughout the pandemic that will seem delusional in a few years. Numbers that will be revealed false. There are places in the world where the dead cannot be counted. So collectively you will come out thinking that science can be useful, but that it is not enough to overcome limits and sufferings.
Q. Have you become a denier?
R. Nerd. Denialism is a form of childish rage. Even understandable, but not shareable. It is naive and useless. The alternative is not the verdict of science, but an understanding of reality carried out, in part, with the understanding of science. But completed with an ability to feel the irrational part of the world and build a story to collect all the indicators of reality.
Q. Science has so far given all the answers …
R. Medical science has imprecisely calculated the medical consequences of the virus: sick, infected, dead. But it cannot count the suffering, the discomfort, the loneliness, the depression, the tiredness, the aging… It does not have a single index that measures all of that. And you cannot make a sensible decision taking into account only what affects our body and not our mood. But we have.
Q. Do you think it is appropriate to compare the pandemic with a war?
R. It is not the same, of course. But it is useful. A clear point is that when all this fades into a normal daily life, people will want to be rewarded, as after the war: I have fought, I have overcome it, now I want a prize. This happened then and will happen now. When you come out of a war and go to buy the milk and it is the same as before, it is very disappointing. You have been through all this tragedy and you hope that milk has something new. That irrational longing for life will have an impact on all things.
Q. Who will it have the most effects on?
R. In the young. From the 50s onwards the impulse is to put things back on the table as they were before the earthquake. But young people will have the instinct of that different world. They are very nervous. There is a resentment that grows because they have been the great sacrifices. They had a zero mortality risk and have been robbed of a year and a half of their lives. The main goal of a 14-year-old boy is to break free from his family. But instead, they have been forced to lock themselves up with them at home. The ratio between risk and suffering has been very high. So they will give us the bill, and it is only fair that it should be so.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.