The Logical Time of Ending a Zoom Session as a Metaphor for the Terror of the Current Situation

1) In the first week, it was as if we could only speak about how we could continue to speak.  The word was ZOOM repeated, shared and affirmed, as if its repeated repetition could by itself affirm our continued existence and block out the reality of what was to come.

2) ZOOM sessions were had and various things were said about them.  Many had group ZOOM to speak about what ZOOM sessions were like and what people were saying in them.

3) Towards the end of ZOOM Week 2, I began to register that something unsettling was occurring at the end of each session.   To end a ZOOM session, you click a red box called LEAVE MEETING.  Under the ZOOM regime, every session and every conversation is a MEETING.  You many continue to say, as many therapist do, something like, “We have to stop” at the end of the session, but you soon your session has become a MEETING and that it does not stop until ZOOM it stop.

4) Let’s say you have said something like, “We have to stop.”  Under ordinary circumstances, the session has ended.  The patient, if they are a well-boundaried type will then move from the couch to the door in a measured way, neither too hurried nor too slow.  Under the ZOOM regime, no one goes anywhere.  There is no standing.  This is unsettling, yet the nature of the disturbance is at first only dimly registered, much like the content of the very first ZOOM sessions under the ZOOM regime in which many patients happily celebrated their new found freedom from commuting and office, only to gradually and without warning find themselves gripped at random moments by the terror of the situation.  Often the terror subsided at once and patients would wonder what that was all about since they were in fact lounging in their bedroom with slippers on, getting the equivalent of room service from their therapist.  The nature of the disturbance was not what they imagined, not a crashing or a trauma but a slow displacement, a subtle and gradual disorientation.

5) The patient’s slow and gradual disorientation here serves as a metaphor for the experience of ending a ZOOM session, which itself will become metaphor for the terror of the current situation.

6) You say, “Let’s stop” but there is no stopping.  Everyone sits even after you announce the stopping.  You hit the LEAVE MEETING button, thinking this will effect the stopping you have announced.  Still, nothing stops and no one leaves.  Hitting the LEAVE MEETING button only serves to bring you to a new button, which serves up further variations of leaving that include, LEAVE MEETING and END MEETING FOR ALL.  There is a third button that says CANCEL that might appear to be a variation of leaving or ending but only serves to cancel and further delay your intention to LEAVE.

7) It wont be long before you figure that you have to END MEETING FOR ALL.  You hit that button and the meeting does end, leaving you with a slowly dawning sense of gradual disorientation.  I began to feel the built up queasy accumulation of all those endings of all those ZOOM sessions.   What was happening to me, what about those endings, those stutter-step leave takings that was so nauseating in a manner that only began to be thinkable in the beginning of the week 3 of the ZOOM regime?

8) When I was able to think about it, I began to realize what was wrong.  I thought about it until I could turn it into a metaphor. In week 1 and 2 of the ZOOM regime there were precious few metaphors.  Everything was all too real, with no sense that this could be related to anything but its stupid, self-present self.  There was no distance.  Under such conditions, people hit LEAVE buttons while sitting in place, unable to leave or to formulate what is happening.  In week 3, I became capable of thinking again, and what I thought about is this sickening feeling on ending a ZOOM MEETING.

9) Jacques Lacan spoke of the two deaths of Antigone: the symbolic death and the Real death.  The first death was her separation from the social link by her act of loyalty to her brother, leading to her banishment and exile.  With this in mind, I began to think of the end of a ZOOM MEETING as the Two Goodbyes.  The Two Goodbyes are like the two deaths of Antigone shorn of all their mythological grandeur.  The Two Goodbyes will never match the poetic potency of the Two Deaths of Antigone yet it is precisely their lack of grandeur that marks the nature of their profound effect.

10) The first goodbye of ZOOM is the hitting of the button to LEAVE MEETING.  At this time, the person you are leaving, having nothing to do, no button to push and no place to LEAVE to, can only adopt what seems to be a normal leave-taking manner, complete with their typically chosen leave-taking face, a mild and winsome smile in some cases, a floating finger wave in the direction of the camera in others.   The horror, which as we have seen, is at first a soft and barely registered horror, is felt in the moments after pressing the LEAVE MEETING, which I shall now refer to as The First Goodbye.  In that moment, the person remains on the screen, their leave-taking face frozen on their face as you proceed to fumble to the LEAVE MEETING FOR ALL button, also known by me as The Second Goodbye.

11)  There is a profound asymmetry in this, as the other person attempts to carry on a normal leave-taking as you are forced on a series of two ZOOM goodbyes.  There is relief tinged with guilt as you finally hit the second button and the person on screen, along with their awkwardly frozen leave-taking face, vacates the screen.  One is left with a vague feeling of having murdered someone or at least their face and but in a manner shorn of the grandeur of a real murder till by the end of each day, you bare the imprint of multiply murdered faces, some with winsome smiles, some without.

12) One might argue that in this case there are three, not two goodbyes.  In this scheme, the therapist enunciating, “we have to stop” stands as the first of three goodbyes. I resist this scheme because I want to speak of the two goodbyes in a way that parallels the discussion of the two deaths of Antigone, one symbolic and one real. At the same time, there is a solemn truth in the refusal to even grant this enunciation the status of a first goodbye.  The enunciation, “we have to stop” is not granted any symbolic recognition whatsoever, but this is no arbitrary decision on my part, rather it mimics the structure of ending under the ZOOM regime.  The ZOOM regime will certainly not punish you for your attempt to end through enunciation, as you did in prior times.  It will neither praise nor punish; it will do nothing.  In a time when the greatest exhortation is to stay at home and do nothing, buy nothing and go nowhere, ZOOM does in fact do nothing in response to our enunciation.  Moreover, it does nothing with an indifference that might be called profound if there was anything about the  ZOOM regime that can be said to be profound, which as we have seen, there is not.

13)  What remains is to make the case that this description of the Two can serve as a metaphor of the terror of the current situation.  By contrast, consider the stakes in Antigone’s self-chosen betrayal of the symbolic enacted by her betrayal of the law of the nation in loyalty to her bond to her brother.  There is no doubt that these are the stakes of her action and the action portrays the gravity of a symbolic act that tears her from the fabric of the social symbolic.  Under the ZOOM regime, there is instead a series of potential goodbyes that overlay the action of the ordinary pre-ZOOM goodbye.  Of course, there is an abundance of real death at stake along with these comically failed attempts to end a session or MEETING with a bit of gravity or dignity intact.  Paradoxically, the gravity and grandeur of the current moment, along with the terror, seems to lie precisely in these movements that, in their technological clunkiness, lack any obvious symbolic power or significance.

14) Accordingly, those patients that lie, literally lie, in wait, doing nothing, mourn without being able to properly mourn, something that has otherwise been the bane of their existence: the endless need to feed the capitalist superego that veers between demands to produce and be productive and demands to enjoy. Now they are told to do neither, to stop and cease.  The superego is bound and determined by negation, by what not to do, what not to touch and where not to go.

15) This seems by many to be felt as variations of regression: the initial barely contained glee at escape from the capitalist imperatives of production and enjoyment become the disavowed and dissociated awareness of an ever present series of goodbyes that come without ceasing while never actually seeming to arrive.  The frozen smile that says all is well or at least sort of ok is pasted over all and marks the perpetual energy being spent to maintain a façade of cheerful forbearance in a time of slow burn trauma, where time itself is suspended.  Movement towards any future is suspended, unknown and precarious.

16) Time itself being suspended, we can hardly mark our endings without also marking the displaced disorientation that now goes with any goodbye.  The terror and blandly comical movement of the Two Goodbyes is what stands for the passage of time.  Time becomes the repetition of the Two Goodbyes, again and again, two goodbyes preceded by the enunciated goodbye that no longer deserves the status of symbolic recognition, yet still, must be said.

17) What we hear again and again is how exhausted they are.  The patients are exhausted and the therapists are exhausted too.  By week 3, therapists everywhere were allowed to admit, without shame, that sessions under the ZOOM regime were exhausting.  Patient and therapist share exhaustion, pass it back and forth from beginning to the time of the Two Goodbyes when they END MEETING FOR ALL.  They wait a few days and then they do it all over again.

18)  For a long time there is nothing to say but that there is exhaustion, sleep, lack of motivation.  There is nothing to say about a time that has such a weird suspension of time, lacking any movement or motion, all in a time that only demands the end of motion, from now till an unthinkable future.   The artist Dua Lipa has a new album that bears the name Future Nostalgia.  People are nostalgic for a future that is as yet, unthinkable.   They are more than anything nostalgic about the ability to think about that time or any time other than this time, the Time between Two Goodbyes.

19)  When they begin to move towards future nostalgia, they ask a simple question, always the same, phrased in many different forms that all amount to this:

20) When do you think it will end?



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European Journal of Psychoanalysis