来源：四川作家网 | 卢克·卡门 2020年12月11日16:09
Those Who Favour Fire
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
- W.H. Auden
If I have learned anything from 2020, it’s that with great calamity comes greater commissions. I began the year with a commission to write for an English newspaper about the fires which engulfed Australia over the summer, and I am ending it writing on the local effects of the pandemic for a readership in the United States. Reflecting, for a Chinese and Australian audience, on what has been a bumper year for professional purveyors of misery, I confess I’ve come to see the pandemic as a ‘second act’ in one contiguous crisis for those of us enduring it all ‘Downunder’. For most Australians, the fires which swept across the country’s east last summer might seem like old news, but we ought to keep in mind that we were only beginning to put that carnage behind us when word reached these shores of a novel sickness spreading in a far-flung place called ‘Wuhan Province’.
If asked by some perverse interrogator which of the two infamies were preferable, the bushfire or this plague, I’d hold with those who favour fire. I live now on the Central Coast of New South Wales, right near the beach, where the effect of the fires was more an eerie, sinus stuffing nuisance than an immediate existential threat. From the fires came many compensating novelties too. Rather than the bland banality of a clear blue sky over our major cities, we enjoyed a more toxic metropolitan haze; we found ourselves treated to regular rains of ash and cinder, a phenomenon providing an insulating layer of soot and dust to homes, cars, and outdoor toilets; and we enjoyed new state-of-the-art government apps, which kept us abreast of exciting new mergers between super-fires and mega-blazes rolling across the country. What’s more, the preternatural sense of impending doom game each day of our typically indolent summer a vitalising air of spontaneity and joie de virve.
In a cultural sense, the fires here also helped put Australia on the global centre-stage. There is a vanity in the Australian cultural constitution which longs for the attentions of the world abroad, and for a brief but smoky period, all eyes were on us. We took a collective sense of pride in serving an essential global service, playing the ‘canary in the mine’ of the
global climate apocalypse. Our people were dying, thousands of homes were destroyed, millions of acres of forest were reduced to wasteland, hundreds of millions of animals incinerated – but on the other hand, celebrities of an Ellen DeGeneres-calibre were personally sending their love to us from premier US events like the Golden Globes; photographs of our vibrant country towns and unique wildlife (admittedly charred) dominated Twitter, Instagram, and other social media telemetries for months on end. The fires were hot, but then so was the country’s relevance.
Perhaps greatest of all the fire-season’s consolations was the effect it had on our civil society. In a strange way, the bushfires brought out the selflessness in people. The catchphrase, “it’s for a good cause” became ubiquitous at every social event: concerts, parties, dances, trivia nights, and barbecues all became opportunities to raise funds. Volunteers with donation buckets materialised on every corner, and every business in Australia seemed determined to give a portion of its proceeds to those affected by the fires. Surfers donated their boards, tattooists their ink, painters give away their works. Even writers – typically purveyors of human misery – tried auctioning off signed copies of their books. The most inspiring of all these acts of charity was the case of an Instagram model who raised $1m by selling her nudes for $10 a shot. Reflecting on the money raised, she said: “My IG got deactivated, my family has disowned me, and the guy I like won’t talk to me. But fuck it, save the koalas.”
For Australians, this accumulated sense of solidarity and goodwill was the first and most dramatic victim of COVID-19’s arrival on our shores.We soon saw Australians brawling in supermarket aisles over toilet rolls and tissue boxes. Footage, shot in my old home town, showing three enormous women battering each other about the head in a Woolworths’ supermarket went viral; CCTV captured career criminals targeting supermarket delivery bays, stealing pallets of sanitary products at knife point; and reports circulated of burglars breaking into child-care centres to steal tubs of hand-sanitiser. Where the mythical Aussie mateship had momentarily been, there strict self-interest was. Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference in which he begged his fellow Australians to come back to their senses, pleading, “Stop hoarding! I can't be more blunt about it. Stop it! Hoarding is not who we are as a people. It is not necessary. It’s not something that people should be doing!”
We were quick to acquiesce to the mandatory lock-downs and restrictions our government instituted, but we weren’t without individual disgraces. There were stories of workers abandoning nursing home patients, leaving the infirm to starve in their own filth; spitting on enemies in the street became a more popular form of assault; and drug gangs, their supply routes interrupted, took to territorial drive-by shootings with an unprecedented vigour. The sacred, too, was put on hold: churches, synagogues, and mosques shut their doors, families did not attend funerals or weddings, children’s playgrounds closed, and singing became a cultural taboo.
Where the fires had provided a kind of sturm und drang display of nature’s fury, the pandemic presented us with an equally devastating, but more banal curse. Instead of thrusting us into a storied Gotterdammerung against the brute force of nature scorned, the virus forces us to concede, through sheer insubstantiality, that we too are simply another frail and entangled part of an apparently indifferent universe. Then again, as the poet Auden wisely put it: “On Earth indifference is the least, we have to dread from man or beast.”