Mark Lamster | Essays

Quarantines, Physical and Otherwise


I suppose it was ironic, but mainly just unpleasant, that I was kept from the opening party of Storefront's Landscapes of Quarantine exhibition by a case of pneumonia. There was a time when that illness did in fact warrant hospitalized seclusion; in the 21st century, a few days at home and a dose of antibiotics is generally enough for recovery.

Feeling better, I managed to catch the show a few days after the opening and it's well worth the visit, a beautifully installed and thought-provoking show that raises many intriguing and not easily resolved questions about the boundaries we raise for the purposes of security. The exhibition, curated by Bldgblog's Geoff Manaugh, focuses primarily on the spatial implications and costs, both physical and metaphorical, of quarantine. The show put me in mind of W. G. Sebald's wonderful novel Austerlitz, which points to another kind of quarantine we impose on ourselves: intellectual. The titular character of the book, Jacques Austerlitz, is a child of the Holocaust and the Kindertransports, who spends most of his life suppressing the memories of his own history, to catastrophic effect. A key passage, narrated by that character: 
"I did not read newspapers because, as I know now, I feared unwelcome revelations, I turned on the radio only at certain hours of the day, I was always refining my defensive reactions, creating a kind of quarantine or immune system which, as I maintained my existence in a smaller and smaller space, protected me from anything that could be connected in any way, however distant, with my own early history....If some dangerous piece of information came my way despite all my precautions, as it inevitably did, I was clearly capable of closing my ears and eyes to it, of simply forgetting it like any other unpleasantness."
Meanwhile, I'm on a self-imposed quarantine of my own right now — a much needed beach vacation. Some quarantines are better than others.

Posted in: Architecture

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