Amy Kaler By: Amy Kaler
Professor, Department of Sociology
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11 Oct 2020 : Resigned

So it looks like we're going to have a second wave, or are already in one. And it looks like Edmonton might be locked down tight again. I hoped this wouldn't happen, but it is happening. I have options for how I respond to the fact that we're heading back into the tunnel, but not one of them is a good option. I can deny, refuse, and pretend it's not happening, which puts me in the same camp as the virus-deniers and anti-realists who created the second wave, which is not a camp I want to be in. I can rail impotently against the amorphous public which did not social-distance, stay home when sick, or get tested, but that does nothing for the amorphous public while it corrodes me. Or I can resign myself. I can't change this or go around it, so I have to go through it. Resignation. 

Sometimes when I'm thinking about something I don't want to think about, like another six months spent in the isolation and anxiety of a pandemic, I start gnawing (metaphorically) on the words that I think with, as a distraction from what the words signify. Resignation. Resigning oneself. Leaving office, putting aside a status, stepping down or stepping back. If I resign myself, it is something that I do, but also something that is done to me. I am active and passive in that sentence, which is similar to my agency in this pandemic.

I wonder about the "sign" of resignation. Online etymology tells me that it comes from the Old French "resigner", which in turn has to do with Latin and accountancy - specifically, the act of cancelling one mark in an account book with another, authorized by an individual's identifying mark or signature. In the oldest uses of the word, a credit nullifies or "resigns" a debt, an addition to the balance sheet resigns a subtraction.

Maybe I can work with this. Resigning myself to the second wave need not mean a helpless and pointless stasis. I can sign this time of trouble with my own mark, and I can resign, at least in part, the losses to covid. I can find ways to experience life in the time of covid as not only and always deficit and loss, but also, possibly, something on the other side of the great ledger. Resignation, in this archaic sense, might also be re-signification - endowing events and experiences with meaning. I can't change anything of this, so I might as well try to re-sign myself.

I need to be precise about what I mean by re-signing myself to the pandemic, in the archaic sense of resignation. I don't want to go down the icky yellow-brick road of bright-siding the pandemic, seeing opportunities for self-development and silver linings. That's the road of extreme individualism, built on the presumption of affluence and free time for leisurely contemplation. I am not experiencing the pandemic as moral therapy; on the contrary, I have a first-order aversion to the condition I find myself in.

What does re-signification look like? 

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