Corona Diaries: The Carrier Bag Theory of a Virus

Image © Celina Basra 2020

by Celina Basra April 2, 2020

If it is a human thing to do, to put something you want, because it is useful, edible or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark and leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or whatever have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later you take it out and eat it or share and share it or store it up for winter in a solider container and put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then the next day you probably do much the same again – if to do that is human, if that’s what is takes, then I am being human after all.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, 2019 (1988), p.32-33



I am googling giant bag, but I cannot seem to find any fitting for the task at hand, which is to contain all my clothes and a room full of concepts and funding applications put to sleep, stacked upon each other in ancient folders, faded green and yellow and blue.

I am eating gherkins out of a glass with chop sticks, everything else is packed, for I am moving on April 1st, leaving my apartment of 13 years, off to pastures anew. On my bed, surrounded by my favorite books, that I will transport in one of the giant bags, maybe on a rented bike, bit by bit, as that my bike is broken. Not trusting a truck with all of my favorite things.

The amount of textiles I accumulated in second hand shops and at flea markets worldwide gives the moths a lovely playground and we cohabit quite peacefully now; I accept the sacrifice of one to three woolen jumpers per winter.

I watch people carrying home goods in multicolored carrier bags, except for toilet paper, which cannot be contained in a bag. The toilet paper is hence carried in one hand, ostentatiously, like an award for excellence, which it of course it very much is.

Society is now split in two: those with and those without toilet paper. There are gradient nuances. Extra soft, extra white, extra natural, extra cheap, bottom of the shelves. It might carry a secret code against Covid on one of the rolls; I missed out on that nationwide contest.

The toilet paper is material for isolation of course – to protect ourselves, symbolically, from that which you cannot be protected from. Just as Joseph Beuys used fat, we have toilet paper – and the carrier bag.

The 6-year old son of a friend understood this perfectly: self-isolating himself in a bathroom wrapped in rolls of toilet paper, smiling into the camera, proud of his own radical measures.

In pandemic times, we turn to the carrier bag, and not towards the stick, the weapon.

If we use these ancient analogies, are these these the skills we need now – carrier bag related skills (foraging, caring for, containing, holding, loving) as opposed to stick related skills, i.e. weaponry, combat, war? If we are to forage, what shall we forage for?

My great-grandmother Frieda pickled and preserved black currants and green beans from her garden in her pantry, my Indian grandmother Tschatschi grew fields of potatoes and rape; milk from water buffalos and goats, too.

I have not hoarded a thing, stupidly, out of protest. But: as long as Umut, my Späti, is open, I will not worry, I promise myself. If he closes down, I might panic slightly. (Umut = hope in Turkish)

Umut and his team, now wearing protective masks and gloves, will take care of me.

I do a little dance in the bathroom to a Bollywood song from 2009, Teri Ore (Closer to you). Followed by a half attempt at the warrior pose, but the room restricts my movements, simply too small for length of my arms stretched out. As I return to my bed, I stop to inspect a strange blue spot on the floor; it is a long lost blueberry, squished to a dried spot that cannot be rubbed off. My apartment goes out into the backyard, all I can see is a wall; my lovely cave, I will miss you, yes I will. You are my skin, and a bag, too, because rooms are becoming living organisms in quarantine.

I cannot applaud for the people who care from a balcony though, I would love to, definitely. Although I know they need a pay rise, no clapping. Does it make sense if I applaud into a backyard? Will my backyard applaud back to me? Do applaud from your balcony, if you have a balcony to applaud from, you can applaud from a window, too, or from inside a homeless shelter, if there is any space left for you, or from a refugee camp, if you have a tent at all, or you might simply clap from the street, though you might wonder what exactly you are clapping for.

I put up signs that I would like to help people in need with their shopping, though no-one responded yet. All the elderly in my neighborhood are quite self-sufficient, they like to go by themselves; I see them walking resolutely, no matter how fragile. Maybe I should have painted a prettier notice though, a more noticeable one.

People put up emergency bags with food and bare essentials on fences around the city, as all infrastructure for people without a home has closed down, too.

As I pack a bag, I wonder: What is your medicine bundle? What is your secret weapon that isn’t a stick, but rather a bag of sorts? I.e. granola bars, anti-bacterial wipes (though there are none to be found), tooth brush and tooth paste, towel, scarf, snack salami, paracetamol, cookies, water. All of this? Or nothing?

In search of an answer, I turn to the podcast of Dr. Droste. The virologist has become the guiding star and half-god of our new minimized universe in pandemic times, giving us knowledge and advice, receiving reverence. Multiple series based on his character are surely being written and pitched as we speak. One will be a mini-series with a set in subdued natural hues, the hero walking barefoot on wooden Altbau floors, on the phone to the ministry of health, in love with a kind but burnt-out nurse. The other by the director of Dark – lots of synths, set in the 80s, but in the future, with kids with multicolored backpacks looking for a playground that is still open, finding an ancient bunker with a bio weapon laboratory underneath Kottbusser Tor, and, alas, there has been a leak.

Leaks go against the principle of a container. A leaking container is a container no more.

I am stupid to google giant bags, I know I am. My textiles cannot protect me.

I fall asleep and I dream. Onwards to an accelerationist’s phantasy island, I am waving goodbye to sanity from the ship as we are leaving the shore. This is a cruise ship and I am the sole passenger amongst ghostly presences, shadows in pistachio and bottle green – the same color as Meghan’s goodbye costume, you know, the one that looked like it was taken straight out of The Crown’s closet. The Diamond’s Princess passengers, still here, still haunting the decks searching for that one last sweet sip of a free cocktail. They are gentle enough, but they had so many plans. The travel itinerary was far from finished. I am listening to the Earth Song, as the sun is setting in candy colors, and I wake up again with a start.

This is a future of failures, bankruptcies, disruptions, fragments, bits and loans. It is also a future where the idea and the reality of illness and death will enter the perfect spaces of Monstera leafs and Muji pens. Unemployed in summertime – what remains are our carrier bags, our medicine bundles. Whatever you choose it to be, if you are free to choose. At a threshold, the place of expectation, is it gonna be an opening into radical hospitality or the refusal of such. Guest and host, friend and foe coincide. Seems we are all one and the same suddenly, simultaneously.

I am the carrier of the virus, you are the carrier of the virus. We carry it in our carrier bag of skin, soap cannot erase it. Brains are folds of skin: carrier bags for thoughts. Our skin-ego lays the foundation for thought. Who are we if we can’t touch?

I just read about a boy waiting for his Corona-diagnosis in quarantine, whose Grindr chat brought him food to his door step, a perfect portion of salmon and asparagus and a peach. If this isn’t loveliness, then I don’t know what is.

We know this much: the stick belongs to the The Department of Defense. The carrier bag belongs to the Department of Love.



Celina is a writer and curator, she lives and works in Berlin. She is interested in practices intersecting with sociology: as spaces and situations for encounter and conflict, conviviality and radical hospitality; as platforms to present alternative configurations of the present, including fragments, bits, revolts and loans, ruins, disruptions, faults and healing. In her writing, favorite settings include holiday parks, hospitals, ferries, waiting queues, supermarkets, airport security checks and Spätis.  


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