Praying in the Pandemic, and After

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What is everyday life like under a militarized pandemic where the brute force of the state is deployed to contain an outbreak? What lifeworld is generated against the backdrop of authoritarian control? What holds us together when our lives are quarantined? I will answer these questions by looking at the practice of mass listening. In particular, I look at a recorded prayer to provide a picture of an island life. In this essay, I call attention to what may be termed the vernacular will to life in a carceral regime in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the oratio imperata as a case study, I think more broadly about the meaning of freedom, restraint, and contingency. Namely, I describe the lifeforce buried in everyday acts of praying wherein repressive social forces, be they the police or religious authorities, come to enable world-making possibilities for ordinary lives in paradoxical ways. I argue that the recorded prayer helps us to grasp the dynamics of repression and agency. Using memoir and ethnography, I propose the theory of vernacular biopoetics to explore the possibility of freedom in a carceral condition wherein the constriction of spaces becomes an opening for alternative forms of imagination.