THE CRISIS, ITS LESSONS AND OUR FUTURE
E S S A Y
Autumn. Just hearing the word “September” evokes it. The summer heat is replaced by a moderate warmth that gives the world a balmier quality, gradually making it cooler and moister. We are looking back on a summer that is now stored within us with pleasantly warm feelings: While Stefanie recharged her batteries in the mountains, enjoying the fresh air and intense sunshine, Toni inhaled the salty air and dipped into the glistening turquoise blue seawater on a Greek island. Now we are ready for autumn with all its new hills, mountains, questions – and possibilities.
I know nothing, nothing. I not only have no answer to give, but I haven’t even found a satisfactory way of propounding the questions.SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR
AUTUMN. AND NOW?
As you may well imagine, many things went through our minds over the summer. We still had to process the first half of 2020. It demanded more from us – as it did from so many others – than we would have liked, and it brought subjects and questions to the surface that we wish we had never had to deal with. But even if things are the way they are, we are not at their mercy: “The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances,” said Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist and founder of logotherapy and existential analysis.
If there is one thing that we have learned (and now we are already in medias lectiones), it is this: With every blink of the eye, with every wave, with every breath, everything can turn around and move in the opposite direction. Or in the words of existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, which were so appropriate in the first days of the lockdown: “I know nothing, nothing. I not only have no answer to give, but I haven’t even found a satisfactory way of propounding the questions.”
None of this means that we are and were reduced to inaction, that we have to and had to remain passive, that we are not and were not allowed to move. We are still the designers of our world. Even if it has a limited scope at the moment. We are still living in freedom, even if it is more restricted than it was in February. And that is precisely why we have to take responsibility now: “Freedom and responsibility belong together. Only someone who is free and has a choice to act differently can act responsibly,” said physicist and philosopher Heinz von Förster.
A BRIEF LOOK BACK AND MANY THANKS: OUR CHRONOLOGY OF THE CRISIS
Lockdown, quarantine, formation of clusters. Incubation period, reproduction number, mandatory face masks. Risk group, infection level, herd immunity. Entry ban, outbreak area, antibody tests. Who would have thought that these terms would become so familiar to us so quickly, how naturally we would employ them – as if we had never done anything else? Transformation also manifests itself in words. We speak differently than we did in February. We travel differently, we shop differently. We live differently.
First came March and this paralyzed feeling after the lockdown was announced. Worrying about the health of our loved ones, having to stay at home, being thrown back on our own resources, slowing down. The first deaths in Austria, the closed stores and restaurants and cafés and schools, the concern about eigensinnig – how long can we afford to go on like this? When will we be allowed to open again?
After the initial state of shock, April arrived and with it a gradual adaptation to the status quo, which constantly changed. Mandatory masks, entry bans, travel warnings. Adaptation to chaos and uncertainty, leaning into the fog, having to accept and go along with an uncontrollable situation. Exercises in avant-garde – these are anything but foreign to us, but very different and freer when you have a choice. While the pandemic was spreading globally and Europe split up into individual states that wanted to keep to themselves again, Stefanie developed new designs at home; Toni planned the new website. We had to let employees go, had to have an unexpectedly large number of conversations with tax advisors and banks.
May arrived with the first signs of summer; delightful fragrances filled the air and nature exploded in the most beautiful colors. We moved into our new digital home that we had built over several months – our website with our new online store. And: We were allowed to open our store again. In the meantime, artists and creative minds in our social circle lost their livelihoods. The economic insolvency had far-reaching repercussions, and whereas some people were condemned to idleness with all its sweet and bitter aspects, others were facing a “temporal insolvency”, as sociologist Hartmut Rosa calls it, or temporal illiquidity: There were not enough hours in a day to reconcile home schooling and work. To struggle through the jungle of potential financial support, to fill out applications for reduced working hours and to apply for loans. Thoughts about the future took up more time than usual.
The fact that eigensinnig wien still exists today is primarily owed to our customers – that is, YOU. And that is why we want to thank you here and now, with deepest humility and gratitude: Thank you for shopping with us, for writing us, for finding the good and right words. You have made our eigensinnig obstinacy resonate again. We cannot thank you enough for your support!
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED: LESSONS FROM THE CRISIS
The fact that our obstinacy is stronger than ever is owed to you – and to the crisis: It mobilized strengths and inner resources we didn’t know we possessed. It showed us all who we are and what we are like – more interested in the “We” than in the “I”, or looking out for number one? It restricted our access to the world, narrowed our field of vision and our radius – but still left us room to shape and create. And since creativity chokes on itself when it has no boundaries, this limitation was stimulating.
By playing fortissimo on the keys of stimulus intensification, we rob ourselves of a potential crescendo.GERHARD SCHULZE
The crisis enhanced our awareness of what really matters, promoted clear-sightedness and overview, because it pulled and hauled us out of our automated daily routine and forced us to see things from a different perspective. We had the opportunity to view our life from the outside, to ask ourselves which aspects were good for us and made us feel light, and which aspects we should let go because they made us heavy and ponderous. The crisis taught us that we do not actually need to keep up with the pace of the world, that we do not have to play what sociologist Gerhard Schulze calls the “increasing game”. “By playing fortissimo on the keys of stimulus intensification, we rob ourselves of a potential crescendo.” It showed us that there are alternatives to acceleration which are not necessarily associated with deceleration, but rather with resonance: “If acceleration is the problem, maybe resonance is the solution,” sociologist Hartmut Rosa writes.
FROM OUR OBSTINE WORLD INTO THE BIG WIDE WORLD: THE DESERTIFICATION OF CITIES AND THE ALONENESS OF PEOPLE
What lies in store for the world is just as unpredictable as what is going to happen in our microcosm. No one can gauge the economic, societal, social and psychological effects of the pandemic. One gets the impression that the governments of the individual countries are just feeling their way through the fog, and it is not uncommon for them to stumble over a root.
What will happen to the human being, who – in the words of philosopher Martin Buber – only becomes an “I” in a relationship with a “Thou” and who has now learned to keep a distance and to self-isolate if this is required by an authority? Will we get used to these distances, or will they only increase our need for proximity, bodily contact and human touch? Will there be a return to the core family and a renunciation of the public sphere? Will the masks – already a matter of course – create a new choreography of society? In this age of individuality, will we be forced back into uniformity, forced to hide ourselves and our emotions?
This moment in which the question transforms the questionerJEAN-PAUL SARTRE
What is going to happen to life in the city? City means culture. City means society. City means progress. It pulsates, vibrates, shines, lives loudly and intensely. It allows for chance encounters, it can surprise us and sometimes catch us off-guard. All of this is now forbidden. Events, theater performances, concerts are currently only possible with a small audience – if they take place at all. People are not allowed to gather in groups. The city is dissolving in distances; it is not allowed to be a city anymore, it is reduced to its buildings. Like the Sword of Damocles, the possibility of infection is invisibly hanging over it. It alters the atmosphere, fills the air like wafts of mist. “The virus is a direct attack on the city. Cities depend on density, openness, communication, exchange. (...) They have been the engines of human progress since the beginning of civilization. Now, in times of COVID-19, cities are Petri dishes of the pandemic,” writes Thomas Seifert, editor-in-chief at Austrian newspaper Wiener Zeitung. Will there be a “Fall of Public Man” and a “tyranny of intimacy”, as prophesied by sociologist Richard Sennett in his book of the same name many years ago?
What is going to happen to the world of work? Are we all going to increasingly work from home and in digital spheres, since this has proved to be a successful model? Are we going to talk to our friends and family in video chats more often now, rather than meeting in a café or park?
Asking means not knowing but wanting to know. Asking means being interested, concerned. Asking directs one’s thoughts into a certain direction, provides them with a path, opens up spaces of possibility.
What is going to happen to the freedom to travel? Nation-states issue warnings for their neighbors. Nationality determines which countries people can enter. There are temperature checks at airports; we disinfect our hands; when we return from a holiday, we get (in)voluntarily tested.
What is going to happen to regions where democracy is under pressure and that are most severely affected by the pandemic: the US, parts of Latin America, India?
The answers to all these questions are uncertain. And yet we need to pose them – because posing a question is already a great source of strength: Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre speaks of the “moment in which the question transforms the questioner”. Asking means not knowing but wanting to know. Asking means being interested, concerned. Asking directs one’s thoughts into a certain direction, provides them with a path, opens up spaces of possibility.
AN OUTLOOK: FACING UNCERTAINTY WITH REINFORCED OBSTINACY
Our eigensinnig obstinacy is stronger than ever, because we are gradually finding our focus again in the midst of the crisis and the storm: The essential detaches itself from the inessential. And even though we – in a Socratic sense – know that we know nothing and that everything might change at any time, we can at least head off in a direction that feels right and project our thoughts into a future that is best one possible for us. Always knowing, of course, that there are forces we cannot control – fortunately. Imagine an entirely predictable life. Aren’t the things we cannot control the ones shining particularly brightly, fascinating us the most – at least in retrospect? Isn’t it stimulating to be shaken and rattled from time to time? And isn’t it interesting that the limits of our own perception expand the most when the exterior circumstances become more limiting?
“The show must go on” becomes “There will be something different.” Something that will first have to manifest itself from our ideas and external influences, something that will take space and time to become what it is.
We hold fast to our obstinacy; it is a source of orientation for us. It has guided us over the mountains that already lie behind us, and it will also direct us through the autumn mists, the cold winter and the ascents ahead. We are moving along, step by step, with a mixture of skepticism and excited anticipation. We are continuing on our way.
Against the norm, against uniformity, against the trend – what we strive for is realness, character, uniqueness, rarity, individuality.
What we have found is: The current state of the world is reflected in the original concept of eigensinnig. “The big things are reflected in the small ones – that’s dialectics,” German hip-hop band Freundeskreis once sang. That is why, on the one hand, many things will remain the way they have always been: our black-gray color worlds that convey a sense of continuity, stability and security. Our experimental process in which we design our own avant-garde collections and consciously enter new and unfamiliar spheres – just like the coronavirus forced us to do. The unique pieces whose purpose is to make the wearer’s individual character visible. The curated collections of partners such as Daniel Andresen, Hannibal Collection, Forme D’Expression, which have always renounced uniformity and conveyed subtle rebellion: “There was a sense of disappointment as we left the mall. All the young people looked the same,” says a line from the song “Uniform” by British band Bloc Party. Against the norm, against uniformity, against the trend – what we strive for is realness, character, uniqueness, rarity, individuality.
But there will be changes, too. In our next essay, we will tell you what they are. Until then: Visit our website, browse in our online store and discover our autumnal pieces. After all, September is the beginning of autumn.
By the way: Since the Corona Traffic Light in “Red Vienna” is now yellow, we will probably have to wear masks in closed spaces. That is why we have developed the mask „Wilson – a little nod to the obstinate character of the same name in the US series “Home Improvement”: the neighbor who is always hidden behind the garden fence, always ready to provide advice when it was needed.
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