Plague Diary

21 April


Imagine a passport to get into the house.

Trump announces ‘the suspension of immigration, unprecedented measures in the United States’.

One morning coffee, Nescafé classic; then another.

‘These measures were not even taken during the Second World War.’

Flights cancelled in Europe, borders again etc.

Apparently swallows can stay in the air for up to 10 months without touching down on land.

A practical system in 2020.

At two coffees, the morning begins to have the minimum light required for the head of a living subject.

Somebody talks about swallowing up the world and then spitting it out.

No one from outside can come in.

Anybody is a potential enemy.

The bunker is an architecture of politics, as of March 2020.

Apply the system to each state, then to each city, then to each neighbourhood, then to each house.

The house: nobody from outside can come in. Banning immigration.

At most, only those from inside can come in.

But whoever is inside can’t come in, that would be too stupid, they’re inside already.

Passport shown outside, at the window, to be able to get the door open.

Jastrow’s ambiguous figure: the look is deceptive.

If you look to the left you see a duck; if you look to the right, a rabbit.

There’s not much point.

Oktoberfest beer festival cancelled.

Pope postpones World Youth Day to 2023.

And petrol sold this Monday at negative prices.

The whole mix of new stories of the highest and lowest importance at a great gallop is a kind of censorship through speed.

Speed covers up with the advantage of seeming to show.

What is important is not covered or hidden: it is just putting speed into the legs or the motor of what is important so that it’s quickly off the stage.

How many dead today and what was the final score in the match? 2-0?

A video of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash singing Wanted Man, rough voices and muddled lyrics.

Take 1.

Life plan: let the last take be the best.

Manu Chao in his daily hippy mass with an accent singing ‘Maneiras’:

If I want to smoke, then smoke I will

If I want to drink, I drink my fill

Whatever I consume, I pay the bill

With the sweat of my daily grind.

Confusion I can’t leave behind

Yesterday’s diary.

My translator Daniel Hahn reminded me of a different version.

They asked Isaac Bashevis Singer why he kept on writing in Yiddish if all those who could read in that language had been killed in the death camps.

And he answered that when they rise from their graves they’re going to need something to read.


A pause to look from side to side and breathe: 1, 2.

Making books in the language of those who have been wiped out.

Not because of the symbolism, but because of a belief in resurrection.

Yesterday a relative died.

Dying in your sleep is almost sleep but it is not sleep.

Believing in an individual language: each human being has a language that is only theirs and not of the crowd.

Writing in the language of each one of our dead.

Too intelligent to cry, they said once.

I read Elements of Psychopathology.

I establish on my own and at my own risk a strategy for remaining serene in the midst of the turmoil and in turmoil in the midst of the indolence.

21 April 2020, there are days that have a pitch-black hole in them.




7 May


The sun has withdrawn so that the plants and men would lose their sense of the calendar.

The days are becoming identical to one another and seem to be changing positions – like players bored of always being in the same place.

A Thursday exactly like a Saturday; the same smell and taste, the same sounds.

But it’s not Saturday, it’s Thursday.

Nicole Sirotek, a nurse from Nevada.

She went to work in New York during the coronavirus crisis.

She said: ‘Black lives don’t matter here’.

She talked about ‘gross negligence’ and ‘medical mismanagement’.

Somebody wrote once that two slave ships were called Voltaire and Rousseau.

Giving the names of really free men to slaver boats.

Naming animals, trains, planes, boats.

But also bicycles, skateboards, skates.

Naming on top of other names so that the first name disappears.

A political strategy.

‘USA 60 per cent of masks imported from China defective.’

Politics is what a man does when others are looking at him.

When he is not surrounded by eyes, the human being does apolitical things – and a lot.

Suddenly, without eyes around him, man returns to the forest.

Even if he’s at home.

Things have two names, a name that comes from their natural practice and a name that comes from some random baptism or other.

If you call a boat a plane it won’t take flight.

Quick lessons in language and hypocrisy.

Boats transporting slaves named Voltaire and Rousseau are doing the same thing as boats flying a black flag.

Roma still with a piece of protection around her head and Jeri now adapted to this second head of her friend’s.

On the beaches they’re talking about drones keeping watch, a flag indicating full capacity. All around, metal bars.

Public space becomes all marked out, with entry restricted.

Trump says the novel coronavirus crisis is ‘worse than Pearl Harbor’ and September 11.

Humans want much more than the minimum, but these are not days even for medium wishes.

‘Half of airline companies could disappear’ confirms director-general of IATA.

Number of dead rises in Iran after the opening of mosques.

Rites for going in and going out.

Learning rituals for going out of the first part of a century.

The part of a century which is the whole part because it is closed up.

You run away from the air and from things out there and shut yourself up at home.

Sometimes: the danger is inside, at other times outside.

Hundreds of reports of mental disturbances.

I talk to my dogs and they’re so considerate that they pretend to pay me some attention.

Going out with care. Celan.

‘Put the bolt / on the door: there are roses in the house’.




12 May


Lightweight air, evening; in the morning, fog.

A piece of news about cranes that lift relatives to the windows of a home’s upper floors.

Saying goodbyes must be done on high.

Children less than one year old. Europe.

Inside their squares, separate from one another.

Premature learning of geometry.

Sometimes squares, other times circumference.

Plato domesticates the city again.

Domus, house;

Domesticate: make it so that the elated head towards the house.

Squares: T-zero in miniature.

Each one with a house in school. You don’t come in here.

Leaving the day. Charles Bernstein, a poem.

Portbou, Spain.

A well known story.

Benjamin and his companion in flight, Gurland.

1940, enemies back there.

They want to go to Lisbon and then to America.

But the innkeeper says their passports aren’t valid. They’ll have to go back to France.

Calming down: heading towards the house.

Getting angry: heading away from the house.

But sometimes things change.

‘Elon Musk to defy the State of California’s rules: he announces the reopening of Tesla.’

‘If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me’, says Musk.


The firms reopen, but not the borders.

The Greek translator tells me; the strangeness of re-starting.

Her closest friend visited her.

They just looked at each other.

2.5 months without seeing each other.

‘So, do we hug? she asked.

I didn’t know what to say.

We rubbed our backs against each other.’

After two hours they hugged.

2.5 months, two hours.

She also talks about the countless Athens cats.

She says: ‘my racist neighbour only feeds the white cat. She stops the black cat getting close. She does it on purpose, she always does the same thing.’

A new unit of measurement: 2.5 months, 2.75, etc.

Charles Bernstein for the opera Shadowtime:

‘I regret to inform you

Herr Benjamin, Frau Gurland

but I must inform you

Frau Gurland, Herr Benjamin

you will understand

Herr Benjamin, Frau Gurland

it is my duty to inform you

Frau Gurland, Herr Benjamin

that your transit visas

Herr Benjamin, Frau Gurland

your transit visas

Frau Gurland, Herr Benjamin

are not valid’.

France is going to require a quarantine and Spain is going to require a quarantine and Italy is going to require a quarantine etc.

Transit visas are no longer valid.

All passports have suddenly expired; an abrupt blackout of the possibility of movement.

you will understand

Herr Benjamin, Frau Gurland

it is my duty to inform you

Frau Gurland, Herr Benjamin

that your transit visas

Herr Benjamin, Frau Gurland

Your transit visas

Frau Gurland, Herr Benjamin

Are not valid.




14 May


A pilgrimage without pilgrims. Yesterday, still.

Because you don’t just go on pilgrimage with your feet, they say.

The Sanctuary of Fátima has asked those staying home to light a candle close to the windows.

During the day, a candle can’t be seen. At night, it can.

In California, a university has cancelled all classes for the semester starting in September.

And in Montenegro a bishop was detained for organising a procession.

From the countryside, I am told there’s a stork living in a dead palm tree in the cemetery,

There are offspring already and they are big.

One of the main indigenous leaders from the Amazon has died.

Rituals suspended, postponed.

From a distance, all rituals look the same.

The importance of science; in a revolution and in an illness.

Lavoisier guillotined in the French Revolution, accused of fraud and of selling adulterated tobacco.

Somebody must have said: such a learned man shouldn’t be killed.

The judge: the Republic does not need men of science.

Crime rate in Italy has fallen 90 per cent during lockdown.

In a Brazilian newspaper, the huge face of a nurse. Marked in red and white.

In Madrid and in the Amazon, people touch their own bodies like playing a drum.

They produce a sound that sounds like lamentation.

A hand against a body produces laughter and crying quite different from that produced by the mouth.

Somebody tells me that in Angra the dogs can be heard barking the way they were heard before the 2010 mudslide.

Belgium–Holland border.

A clothing store called Zeemans, half on each side.

The part of the shop in Holland, open.

The part of the shop in Belgium, closed.

The part of the shop in Belgium, closed, has men’s clothes.

Paul B. Preciado, October 2016. After renting a house in Athens.

The empty house. The body in transit. Zero pieces of furniture.

He would sleep on the floor, wake up with aching hips, elbows.

An inaugural aesthetic experience, says Preciado: a body, a space.

Two quick considerations:

‘A table and a chair form a complementary couple that is not open to question.

A wardrobe is a first certificate of private property.’

I imagine Paul B. Preciado in the clothing store called Zeemans.

Two sides separated by a violent border.

Men cannot buy trousers because the trousers are in Belgium.

Beside a tree, in the middle of a park. A box.

A handwritten piece of paper hanging on the trunk:

Take whatever you need. Leave whatever you want.

But around the tree there is not much movement.

Somebody who does not believe in humans says:

if everybody took whatever they needed and left whatever they wanted, this would soon become a rubbish bin.

A cynical sign, he proposes:

leave whatever you need here, take whatever I’ve thrown away.

Tove Ditlevsen, poet, Denmark.

On marriage and divorce.

‘He would ask

in case of divorce


of everything

he said

half a sofa

half a television

half a country house

half a kilo of butter’.

In France, a bride and groom wearing masks pose for a photo.

And in Mexico, measures for restarting.

The municipalities with the fewest cases are called ‘municipalities of hope’.

My oracle. Morya’s Garden.

‘the courageous one chooses the right path’.

As if courage were a sense of direction.

Taking courage with you, doing without a compass.




Published by arrangement with Literarische Agentur Mertin Witt. This text was originally published in Portuguese in Expresso.



is a novelist, playwright, poet and critic. His books include, Jerusalé(Jerusalem), Aprender a Rezar na Era da Técnica (Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique), A Máquina de Joseph Walser (Joseph Walser’s Machine) and O Bairro (The Neighbourhood). In 2013, he was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin award.

Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator with sixty-something books to his name. His translations include six novels by José Eduardo Agualusa, with whom he has been shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award. He is on the board of English PEN.



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