Quarantine readings

Image of Ciro Saurius


Reading grants the possibility of traveling through different eras and, what is better, returning to the present and “see[r] two palms ahead of the nose”

“I do not wish fictions any harm, I love them, I believe in them, I find them preferable to realities; I never stop philosophizing about the fate of tangible things compared to imaginary ones” (Machado de Assis).[I]

A good book is capable of providing a momentary escape from reality, boredom, routine, something opportune during quarantine. On the other hand, it is possible to find, in literary plots, experiences as restricted as ours, which helps to face the dramas of the present in a more distanced way. I will share with readers some ideas and impressions, imagining that they can shed light on some contemporary dilemmas.

As the last few months dragged on, I scoured the literature shelf for alternative worlds, free and unencumbered. With each reading carried out, I always reached identical conclusions, as if the stories were variations of one another. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Ulysses, a Homeric character who remained cloistered for seven years on the island of Calypso. Dante Alighieri, in turn, presented us with a stronghold beyond the world. Hell and paradise host souls for eternity. From purgatory, at least, it is possible to get out: straight into the bonds of bliss.

The inhabitants of the island of Utopia they felt the weight of oppression and the suppression of free will; the manual The Courtier suggests that court society imposed the rigors of etiquette, the suffocation of conventions; after a shipwreck, under frequent threat from cannibals, Robinson Crusoe experienced, for almost three decades, isolation on a Pacific island; and Edmond Dantès, who was imprisoned in the dungeons of If for fourteen years? He managed to escape, became Count of Monte-Cristo and acquired unprecedented riches: yet I imagine he would abandon title and power to go back in time and avoid fetters. The Time Traveler by HG Wells almost could not return from the year 802.701 AD, when the earth was inhabited, on its surface, by the small and happy Eloi (inspired byGulliver's Travels) and, in underground channels, by rogue and nocturnal Morlocks. A prison in the future.

After a few weeks (or was it months?), I put the literature shelf aside: all the books looked like prison memoirs. Graciliano Ramos, by the looks of it, stood out in a vastly explored terrain. The other sections, however, only amplified my disillusionment. I discovered, with Hobbes, that it is not possible to get rid of human nature, doomed to selfishness; Voltaire sentenced Candide, a disciple of Pangloss/Leibniz, to suffer endless hardships in the “best” of all possible worlds; I became aware of the bonds of capital when reading Engels and Marx; with Freud, the chains of the unconscious afflicted me; I noticed the bars that undermine the potential of teaching when I devoured books by Paulo Freire; thanks to Foucault, I learned how institutions seek to discipline bodies and guide behavior. Apparently, there are currents in all sectors of existence, even on the shelves of philosophy, sociology, economics, psychology...

During the readings, I only came across what I intended to avoid. I couldn't help thinking that all of us, at some point and in some way, will be stricken with some kind of bondage. It's inevitable. But reading can also be liberating. Thus, isolation can be containment that emancipates, confinement that frees, despite the anguish that accompanies it. Disregarding health recommendations and circulating freely, on the other hand, can indicate the captivity of a mind, the shackles of stupidity, the bonds of mediocrity, the dungeons of indifference, the dungeons of individualism. Possibly, the quarantine is the least of our problems, the tip of the iceberg. But, like everything else, it too is fleeting (fortunately). Literature, from ancient times, has insinuated that immortality is a curse. Still, she never stopped being pursued.

If we had the necessary ingenuity to invent a time machine, I wonder what we would find ahead: human herds that, in the manner of Wells's Eloi, lived hopping around awaiting the voracious and cannibalistic appetite of the Morlocks? Men who, after an unsuccessful attempt to contain (un)certain pandemic, acquired the appearance of reptiles? No, no: it would be unwise to equate ingenious fictional creations with the narrow mind of people who believe in flat earth and the anti-corruption discourse that runs rampant through social media. Perhaps the Time Traveler found them all in the Jurassic period and carelessly offered them a ride to the future. Jokes aside, maybe this is the point: reading grants the possibility of traveling through different eras and, what is better, going back to the present and “see[r] two palms ahead of your nose”[ii] without the restrictions of a blinker (an accessory that apparently prevents the use of masks).

*Cleber Vinicius do Amaral Felipe He is a professor at the Institute of History at UFU.


[I] ASSIS, Machado de. Chosen Chronicles. Organization, introduction and notes by John Gledson. São Paulo: Penguin Classics Companhia das Letras, 2013, p. 215.

[ii] Ditto, p. 57.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives