We see two desires: to return to normal and for normal to never be normal again.
Perversely, the “new” normal as the old normal but with smart technocratic fixes to render it safe (contact tracing! Social distancing! Odd work hours!) - as if the most persuasive way to reify an already alienated-beyond-alienated existence is to make it as intolerable and inhuman as possible. We have been trapped in this normal for so long that even before the pandemic we could not imagine any alternative, seeing only (funhouse?) mirrors when looking for the way out. The normal we knew was never normal to begin with, but there was – and is - no other normal to turn or return to.
These two desires were already there; the current situation just articulates them explicitly. We can’t find a way out, but there is also no way back in. We are left with survival and desire. But both are completely contingent on our ability to separate from the world, a world on which our survival is contingent. Everything is contingent and that contingency is in a constant state of anxiety, which shapes our desire. Do we desire to survive or survive to desire?
And who is the “we” when there is no longer any “we”? Is what the newfangled quarantine man desires, to be “we”, when he desires to be anything but “we” so he may chortle at the “we” who suffer and not suffer himself? The quarantine man suffers to desire that he is not among us, does not share the fate of our survival, but that he may share in our desire. He cannot be human; he can only be normality desiring its personhood. Normal cannot survive, but its desire is all that will be left- and we are its living ruins.
The new normal does not desire at all. It is neither new nor normal. It is the apocalypse and the failure of apocalypse. It is the cave in Egypt where Joseph fell asleep. And he could not dream, because he could read dreams. And what he read was nothing, nothing at all, but the light coming-to-be over the dust; still, all the same, and frightening. Fear alone will never still the waters unless you are a drowning man.