Splijtstof in the time of Coronavirus

A kindly thing it is to have compassion of the afflicted and albeit it well beseemeth every one, yet of those is it more particularly required who have erst had need of comfort and have found it in any, […].

Giovanni Boccaccio

These are odd, grim, hard times.

To say something smart and meaningful without hurting (even involuntarily) anyone is quite a challenge.

Yet, on behalf of Splijtstof, I am going to give it a shot.

In March 1348, the Black Death arrived in Florence after having traveled around Europe. To escape what is still considered the most devastating pandemic in human history, seven young women and three young men decided to leave the city. The newly formed gang locked itself up in a beautiful house in the Tuscan countryside. Or, at least, this is what Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the most important Italian poets of the fourteenth century, tells us in his masterpiece, the Decameron. The group of young people retreated in the Tuscan villa for fourteen days and agreed on telling one novella per person for each day of their stay, Friday and Saturday excluded. In this way, they managed to cover ten days, which means one hundred novellas in total. This gave Boccaccio the inspiration for the title. As a matter of fact, Decameron means “[work] of ten days” (déka, “ten”, and hēmerṓn “days”).

Besides being a real gem of Italian literature, the Decameron looks like a fourteenth-century edition of what is happening nowadays (ironically, in March as well) in Italy and many other countries around the world. As in 1348 so today, a teeny-weeny microorganism produced tragic and devastating consequences. As in 1348 so today, people needed to isolate themselves in their houses and avoid every external contact as much as possible. As in 1348 so today, many people passed away without receiving the cures that they would have normally received because of overfull hospitals (or their fourteenth-century equivalent), without saying goodbye to their loved ones, without receiving a proper burial.

As in 1348 so today, we can try to make these dark times a bit lighter and slightly more cheerful.

What is Splijtstof going to do?

As the young women and men in the Decameron, Splijtstof will try to cheer you up during this dark time. Boccaccio and his fictional characters had the same goal, and they managed to achieve it by telling love stories. Splijtsof is the name, but telling love stories is not the game (not our specialty, sorry peeps!). Splijtstof is a philosophical magazine. What we have always done (or tried to do, at least) is to deliver sometimes hard-core philosophical content, sometimes just light philosophical reflections, and to involve you people in our activities. This is what we will keep on doing during this quarantine. For this reason,

  1. We will keep on working on our upcoming issue, which was supposed to be published right before the yearly Splijtstof Symposium. Unfortunately, we had to cancel all our next events,  the monthly Film&Philosophy series and the symposium itself. However, the theme we chose for the symposium can still inspire us. “Art & Philosophy” is a perfect topic for some beautiful and aesthetically pleasing content. We will publish the issue entirely online AND, in the upcoming weeks, we will publish on our website already some of the articles to give you a sneak preview of what’s coming.
  2. We all need some #WijzeWoordenWoensdag. This is an “old” tradition. Every Wednesday we publish an inspirational and funny (with a pinch of dark humor and irony usually) philosophical quote. We will keep doing this, check our Facebook page and Instagram profile every Wednesday to be inspired, and if your favorite philosophical quote hasn’t been posted yet, send it to us, and we will transform it into a beautiful #WiseWednesday!

You can find all the pieces written during these times here.

What can you do?

As the young women and men in the Decameron, in difficult times it is a kind thing to do to help each other out. It may sound needless to say, but let’s be kind to each other. In these bizarre circumstances, it is normal to have some gloomy days and some more positive ones. We all are worried about our families and friends, wherever around the globe they might be. We all react differently to isolation and we may feel lonely, anxious or scared.  Some of us try to see the positive in this situation and try to focus on themselves, on their studies, on passions they have put aside for a long time. Some of us need to be reached out to. Maybe this is the right moment to text old friends you haven’t talked to in a long time and just ask how they are doing.

Yet, besides this more general (and maybe personal) piece of advice, we have some ideas about how you (whether you are a philosophy student or a Splijtstof fan or just interested in our initiatives) can contribute to Splijtstof. Let’s strengthen the Splijtstof community! As Plato said, “at the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”

  1. As said above, in the upcoming weeks, we will post sneak previews of the articles of the next issue about “Art & Philosophy”. Does our latest article make you reflect on something? Do you agree with what the author(s) said? Do you disagree and have some counter-arguments? Well, this is the moment to let us know! You can react to every article we will publish by sending a short email (200-300 words) to redactie@splijtstof.com or directly in the comment section on our Facebook page (in case of an email, we will publish your comment if you are okay with this). Let us know what you think of our pieces, and let’s engage in some philosophical discussion!
  2. During this isolation, plenty of us spend their time watching movies or series, reading books, playing games, listening to music. Have you recently watched an excellent movie you would like to recommend? Have you listened to an old vinyl record everyone praises but in your opinion is total rubbish? Have you tried a new board game, and do you want to share your thoughts? Your reviews of books, games, music, movies and series are very welcome!
    To make it more exciting, try to give a philosophical twist to your review (think about our Film&Philosophy events as an example). You can give a hard-core philosophical interpretation of “You’re so Vain” by Carly Simon (what are the moral consequences of walking into a party like you were walking on a yacht? Is seeing clouds in your coffee a traumatic experience and how can it be analyzed using a Freudian approach?), or you can just look for a light philosophical take home message. When your review (200-300 words as a rule of thumb but feel free to write more if you are inspired) is ready, send it to redactie@splijtstof.com.

What can we do together?

We have one last idea, one which we need to do together to make it work!

Boccaccio managed to write one hundred novellas in his masterpiece. One hundred articles is a wholly unrealistic goal for us, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot try to create some sort of modern and revisited Decameron.

Yet, Rome wasn’t built in a day! As Aristotle would say, a person becomes virtuous by behaving in a virtuous manner and by making virtuous actions. In the same way, we can become philosophers by behaving like one.

So the time is ripe for sharing some #dearSplijtstof moments. We would like you to think, at the end of each day, of one thing that you did or happened to you or you thought about that made your day. Since philosophical meaning can be found in (almost) everything, you can try to find it also in your daily #dearSplijtstof moment (and we will do the same!). Have ten days of isolation with your crazy flatmates made you wonder which is the best moral theory? Should we all be reasonable and respect each other or should we ostracize the traitor who stole our last bottle of wine (Kantians, fight me!)? Do you think that the language you use to talk to yourself will prove Wittgenstein’s private language argument wrong? Or, from a phenomenological point of view, have you just gone mad? Have you learned how to play the ukulele and did this make you think that there isn’t such a thing as an objective aesthetic judgment? Make these reflections as deep as you like and share them with us! Take a picture, make a short video, write a sentence about your happy philosophical daily moment/thought, and share it on Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #dearSplijtstof. Don’t forget to tag us so we can share it as well (or send it to us privately if you want us to publish it anonymously).

One day, when this will be finally over, we will be able to look back at these pictures, articles, comments, reviews as activities that taught us something new, made us find new friends, brought out the philosopher in us, or just as something that kept us company and made us smile.

We hope to hear from you soon!

Philosophical virtual hugs,

Editor in Chief