Musing in the Aftermath

It’s so nice
to wake up in the morning
all alone
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don’t love them
anymore.
Richard Brautigan

In the recent past, I have gone on at length about how I feel that my writing has failed to deliver in every sense of the word, primarily because I write no longer to say what I truly mean, but to mean only what I say. That chapter, ridden with doubts about the authenticity of my writing persona, was never granted closure, and has since festered and transited into intense self-scrutiny about the person that I’ve become, and my (perhaps unconscious) motivations for writing the way I do. And so this entry (likely a really, really long one) is given to trying my very best to wade past the self-imposed entanglements and encumbrances of the Past, and to write, not to eclipse, but to reveal.

In my eight years of blogging, it seems that I have never once spoken, or written frankly about what love means to me. It has always been about what it was, in the Aftermath. This elusive term—Aftermath; like a hieroglyph replicated infinitely, defiantly, obsessively, it has been interspersed prominently amongst the ruins of my prose to the point of exhaustion, where it has finally lost its initial signification. Such a convenient, clinical word denoting the wake of a colossal disaster—an unspeakable past taxonomically condensed into a linguistic shell; and we call that, signifier. We find ourselves repeating it, or referring to it, like a tombstone to mark our grief, and we become so mournfully enamoured with the sculpted marble, that we forget what it is that we grieve for, or why we have visited this resting place of the sacred dead. The tomb(stone) has become an empty signifier; and no, it is not resurrection that has mobilized the dead, but reanimation—forcing the lifeless body to lumber, amble, and stumble again and again, out of the mossy grave and into the Present, so that even just for a moment, Memory takes on a living hue and drifts among the living. All the paroxysmal delusions and almost uncontainable vengeance of the first impact has been spent, and all that remains is a haunting spectre—a memory of a Memory that simply refuses to die, but insists on existing because it does not wish to be forgotten. That is its vengeance, which somehow I have taken as my own, unwittingly — a kind of double of desire, a desire reaching for the object but looking away. A desire that perhaps, hates because it couldn’t love.

But no, I shan’t now venture into theory like I’ve always done—like I’ve always done just so I don’t have to deal with the deluge of wretched feelings that rush in from the not too distant portal of the Past. Well, and I have done that pretty neatly, don’t you think? There are many posts in the archives since 2009 that have essentially broached this nexus of pathos, but never could breach it; periphrasis—they were always in another language. After those months of abject aloneness, I never again wished to penetrate, alone and without Reason, the unbearable depths of that lost time. I always felt safer, and more sane, more rational using a theoretical model to explain my experience, or my loss. Intellectualization has become my forte, if you’ve been around here long enough to notice. Looking back on the initial posts of 2004, when I was bright-eyed student in my final year of secondary school, my sheer naivety (I wouldn’t even call it idealism) and childish unpretentiousness almost makes me tear up because I am reminded of how much of myself I have inevitably lost. It is not a question of authenticity, but of determinism. That we must change or respond to emerging circumstance is a matter of necessity. Can we stand before the rush of an oncoming tidal wave with an adamant hand, commanding the element to halt while hoping to remain unmoved? We cannot. Even the most defiant brand of idealism is broken under the pressures of circumstance. In the end,  the spirit of idealism resides not in its impenetrability, but in how it always returns, reconstructed from the shattered debris of its former frame—always ready to take yet another beating.

Look at how far we’ve come—from annoyingly sensitive to rational, calculated, and ordered. Then look at how far we’ve gone—from unabashedly honest to avoidant, restrained, and outwardly dispassionate. Wasn’t this your vision of the ideal Ego? The composed, logical, refined Victorian gentleman who not only has a firm reign over his emotions, but has compartmentalised them, shackled them, and flung them into the filthy labyrinths of underground London. And indeed, your expanding knowledge of theories and sciences has made this endeavour a very easy one — they have been effectual jailors to those anarchic convicts and felons we call feelings. Psychoanalysis in particular, and philosophy. Ah yes, philosophy. Why’d you think I bothered with it even as my grades were floundering? For these past three years, the tempered steel of Reason’s gauntlet has stayed the nerves of this trembling hand. I no longer appear to be the dude whom people think is easily ruffled just because he is slightly more emotionally reflective and less reactive.

I am rational and analytical.

No, I am not. I can fool anyone, but my sleights of hand can never elude the watchful ‘I’. In the months of the Aftermath three years ago, I began hating the word feeling and emotion; I realised how feeling that much sorrow and longing greatly enervated me and my force of will. I’d always been someone with a full and stable mastery over my emotional states, and I took pride in it. Not mastery in the sense of control and restraint, but mastery in understanding and empathizing over a range of feelings. I was always ready to tide any emotional straits with friends or juniors who needed the extra help or companionship. All that emotional confidence dissipated in the Aftermath—the wake of loss, and I was left feeling like my entire world(view) had been irrevocably destabilized. It was like losing a part of the Ego, yourself; and the death of that part which had been the momentary keystone of the Self, damns the psyche into a state of deplorable fragmentation. Suddenly one is no longer the master of his own passions. Never wanting to look that debilitating loss in the face again, I resolved to turn feverishly to Reason, like how a kid, newly bitten by a rabid hound, flees into the protecting, warding arms of his father. Since then I began developing an aversion for overt displays of pathos, but only because I hated that same propensity in myself (remember projection as a psychological defense?). I never wished to be reminded of that abject darkness which had been at once solace and trauma. So even in my writing, I consciously substituted the word emotion for pathos. For the most part, bar the rare paroxysmal rantings too intense to be contained (but soon after removed), my prose has since been shaded with an objective, dispassionate hue. When discussing how I feel, I’ve taken care to construct the Ego as the proxy object and to speak through it; the account of the experience is once, twice, thrice removed. Coupled and shaded with the heavy pall of psychoanalysis or metaphysics or structuralism, something as sublime as love, desire, or limerence experienced in the first-person becomes merely a monument to those theoretical paradigms. The force of subjective experience is lost, and all that remains is science/silence.

I have always contemplated what love means to me, but in the far-flung past (before the Aftermath) it was always only as a hermetic ideal—so viscerally remote, but not alien. I knew what it was; I could reconstruct it in intricate, vivid detail from the chapters of books I’d read, from melodramatic cinematics, from the tearful accounts of friends who had loved and lost, to the point where I could in fact dispense reasonable consolation and advice to someone steeped in their own sorrowful aftermath. But on retrospect, the Love that I knew then was a concept animated by the engines of the intellect; it was merely a patchwork aggregate of discrete experiences siphoned from various sources and assembled into a kind of sympathetic machinery. Make no mistake though, I may be socially awkward at times, but I have never been an emotionally mis-attuned individual for whom Love is debarred as a cogent personal experience; I couldn’t access it only because I hadn’t experienced it, and the most reliable alternative would have been to fall back on a cerebral construction — an image — of the experience. I knew, and from that knowledge I induced the emotion, but I had not yet felt what it was like to apprehend desire that precipitates spontaneously, ex nihilo.

Right up till and including junior college, I was for the most part aromantic. As deeply engaged as I had been in all things sentimental and poignant, and even after years of pretty intense self-reflection, my emotional desire was very much directionless, if not fixated on other transcendental ideals concerned mostly with self-actualization. Or else there was some kind of obstruction to desire, and deep in the epicentre of my own existence, I did not allow myself to love, but it was not because I was afraid; for how can we fear something we have never had the privilege to experience, and thus no reason to cast off as emotionally abject? In any case, I was never amorously involved back then, but I did remember the romantic tragedy A Walk to Remember, which I played truant to watch in secondary two (damnable sin, I know haha), and how it had left an indelible impression—albeit once removed—of what it must feel like to love someone so much.

If it is anything that utterly undermines my outward performance as a rational thinker, it is my (I think) rather counter-institutional view regarding what love consists in (which explains why Romeo and Juliet remains my favourite Shakespearean play). A lot of people seem to subscribe to the high morality that to love someone is to be committed to each other, till death do us part. That is not love—that is duty. To stay even when one has ceased to love—that is duty. Very often we forget that the premise of love is desire, the inexplicable longing after one specific individual out of the seven billion other human beings that roam this lonely planet. Without desire, love is simply duty. The spirit of romance lies not in standing by each other through the apocalypse (we all have our own), but in wanting to do so, just because. Give me a reason for being attracted to someone : Personality? Great smile? Coy bashfulness? Genuine shyness? Dependability? Drop-dead gorgeous physique? Then ask, if those reasons are not at bottom, arbitrary. Yes I am attracted to trait X or Y—but I find myself unable to explicitly declare why. What makes me feel this way? Perhaps at the psychoanalytic/psychodynamic or biological stratum there indeed exists some good reason, but at least at the phenomenological stratum (which is all we are conscious of), it remains a kind of arcane mystery to the senses, hence the age-old preoccupation with romantic desire in literature (and human experience).

Even if we grant a legitimate cause for desiring someone or some attribute of his/hers, there remains the question of what desire is. I can say that I feel attracted to someone who is rationally inclined, or extraverted, maybe because I enjoy the company of a good conversationalist. Or to observe this desire at a more fundamental, visual (but not less perfunctory) level, I can say I feel attracted to someone because of that person’s eyes—resolute in their gaze but worldweary all at once—and I can even attribute it to the personal fact that I’m in search of some kind of communion with an-other. But I ultimately cannot explain that feeling—I can only give reasons for causation. Or perhaps I can: it feels like you want the person so much, suddenly; or (insert slew of saccharine metaphors). Yet it forever falls short of denoting what the attraction is, which is what it feels like. In the domain of romantic experience, existence is an intimate phenomenology.

I think I did love, just once, not too long ago. Remember how they always say if you want something, you don’t sit here and wait for it—you be proactive, go out there, fight, wrestle, and make it yours. For every tangible achievement in my life thus far—those that I’ve been proud of winning, I have done so under the war cry of an undying, existential resolve. But the Aftermath has made me realise that there is also a silent, cautionary whisper from nearby, even as we prepare to wear the armour of Petrarchan knights who fought and died for Love. In all the fervent clamour for the prize, no, the honour and fulfilled ideal of reaching for what we believe in, we fail to catch wind of that caveat, which perhaps only an experienced and battle-worn gladiator may hear and understand: sometimes love just isn’t enough. Sometimes circumstance sunders what would have been an idyllic romance. By circumstance, I mean both predisposition and status quo at a particular point in time. Sometimes the stars and planets fail to align at that pivotal moment, or sometimes a rogue comet arrives at an untimely hour, and in its colossal impact, changes irrevocably the course of a heavenly body. Or sometimes unbeknownst to us, that beam of starlight for which our eyes hold nightly vigil, is in fact the belated shadow of a star that has run out of starfire.

It has been three years—but no, I’m not going to go on about what has changed and what still lingers like an undispellable mist; all this the interested reader can find and peruse in posts aptly tagged #Aftermath (although I don’t see why anyone would, they’re almost insufferable, as much as they afford a glimpse into my state of mind as the years wore on). The psychic drama goes way back though, to posts I haven’t had the time or patience to tag/classify.

Time heals, they say, but Time is a poor mendicant. Awhile ago, I remember (rather melodramatically) proposing the idea of comparing emotional wounds that may never heal to glowing runes that wax in intensity every time Memory stokes those dying cinders. But now I’ve realised that even if Time does not entirely seal the chasm of loss, it at least gradually fills the void with newly wrought experiences that justify the existence of that empty space. A good event Y happened after and as a result of X, a sad event. How could Y have come to pass without X as a causal premise?  Thinking like that has made me realise how much of a determinist I’ve become, or how much we defer to determinism in struggling to explain the significance of many less-than-desirable experiences we’ve had, just so we may construct that fictional exit, and walk out feeling like we’ve finally had the closure that was never available to us before.

Well, this rambling has gone on long enough, and I really should end this unusually frank entry here. I’m already beginning to experience symptoms of writer’s fatigue after hours of reflection, retrospection, and writing spread over two days, and so probably will be taking a bit of a break by reposting personally noteworthy stuff from Tumblr. To be honest, at this point I have half the mind to simply leave this in the Drafts folder, and to abandon any thought of taking it to its upshot; and it’s only because I find it all so hyperromantic (in the literary sense) and indulgent. But I’ve realised that I truly need to cut myself some slack, and for a moment just say as much as I feel. I daresay I have so much more to write, so much more to say—and I always will. Sometimes I wonder if my superfluous writing may be attributed to a personal conviction that it is impossible for someone else to ever access the same depth and kind of phenomena—every individual experiences the world and the Self in a profoundly idiosyncratic way. So I write, that I may remember my own phenomenology, because really, Memory is all we have. And if you think about it, every phenomena dies to Memory as soon as it is born. Everything right up till this moment is encased in Memory’s amber—we are the aggregate of everything past. Our ever advancing Present is established on the ever receding Past.

안녕 (annyeong) is an informal greeting in Korean that means hello; it can also be made to mean goodbye, the direct semantic opposite. In a very fundamental way, it makes perfect sense, since nothing really quite lasts forever, no? Meetings and partings are really just two sides of the same coin. People are fortuitously born, people will inevitably die. When the genesis is invoked, in time we must be prepared to face the terminus.

I can’t promise I won’t ever think or write about the Aftermath after this, which is pretty absurd considering just how much I’ve written solely on the subject. But all this writing, once cathartic, has become for me a Sisyphean chore; and I think the time has come for me to let go, not of the memory, but of the pathos—the impetus to write and remember. You, my nameless acquaintance, will always have a permanent place somewhere—if not in this metaphor we call heart, then at least in this function we call memory. Yet it is such an ineluctable tragedy—and only we know why—for us both to have been made to remember everything for all the wrong reasons.

They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Four and Twenty

Let’s be honest, this isn’t going to work – this one-post-per-week regime that has emerged as an instinctive knee-jerk response to the sheer absence of any impetus on my part to write. It’s not that I no longer enjoy writing; I just don’t see the point in writing (here, anymore). This is no longer the authentic act of what Heidegger terms poesis – of the Self – of unconcealing the eidetic core of the I, and bringing it to the fore into the unravelling ellipse of epiphanic light where shadows disperse on all sides to reveal the I as it is. Of course, it is unwieldy and unnecessarily naive to expect that words can in anyway operate as the touchstone of the soul (whatever it consists in). As I’ve probably iterated a gazillion times (to the point of nausea) in the preceding entries, the world – our experience, ourselves – we are forever refracted by language; and it doesn’t end there. This conclusion is an auxiliary that only paves the way for a much stronger claim. (And as usual, at this juncture I proceed on an annoying tangent that is completely not the point of this post, but which I have to take to its upshot because I’ve already begun. Ignore the following paragraph if exasperated).

If as Hume suggested, we cannot be certain of the existence of an external cosmos, then all experience is empirical, and all knowledge derived empirically. Our epistemological grasp of the world is a whirl of sense data, albeit differentiated – but by what framework or template? How can we tell the red apple sense datum from the wooden table sense datum? Intuitively and ineluctably, our taxonomic navigation of the world is made possible by nothing other than language. So we have data on two very different but compounding metaphysical strata. In the primary, we have raw, visceral sense impressions – the softness of fur, the redness of an apple, the coarseness of wood. This constitutes fundamental apprehension (of objects in the world, although by using the term ‘objects’ I have already presupposed some degree of linguistic taxonomy or naming); until our entrance into language, these perceptions remain an undifferentiated chaos. In the second, we have the nomenclature – the linguistic ascriptions – of these perceptual phenomena; we call that soft silky stuff ‘fur’, that edible red fruit ‘apple’, and the material rough to the touch, ‘wood’. This involves a voluntary judgment that, as we have discovered, is collectively determined by the society in which the language in question is operant. Needless to say, it is language as a system of differences that accords our experience – our perceptions – meaning, without which one wouldn’t be able to distinguish a cat from a dog, or (to use a more fitting example), where the sea ends and the sky begins. As such, if we are only granted access to the ‘world’ through sense perceptions, and can in turn only differentiate (and hence render useful) these impressions by linguistically organizing them, then it necessarily follows that our world in its entirely is an immense textual space. Heck, we may go as far to say that we are language.

This is the more forceful claim that replaces the earlier one – that language refracts. If phenomenology is all that we’re assured of, then language does not refract any extant world or ontology. There is no world to refract. This world is language, a fiction – a text, and this is the Truth.

After that insufferable digression, I (finally) return to the crux of this entry – my writing has ceased to be poesis. I am not writing myself anymore. I am not writing to clarify – I am writing to obscure. The above wall of nigh incomprehensible jargon and the series of entries leading right up to this one are explicit (implicit?) testaments. I have been indulging in intellectualization to shade, to dissemble something – sentiments. Pathetic sentiments that struggle always to reach out towards the surface – to break the boundary between liquid silence and sonorous air, but fail again and again because the repeating waves smother them; or else there is a perpetual tempest thrashing and flailing above that drowns (out) these voices.

I turn 24 in less than thirty minutes, and I can’t help but wonder where the I is, under all this. Behold, here is another post fed full with immaterial theories and conjectures that flourish on a different plane, away from the immediate, away from what I am feeling right now – away from the things that matter to me now. Do you really believe all this time, while going on about psychoanalytic desire, language, and phenomenology, that I’ve actually only been thinking about them? Why yes I have – but I have been feeling and thinking about something else too, something so much more relevant and pressing to myself than these metaphysical castles that I’ve built out of the time meant for more genuine reflection. It’s the dreamwork all over again – displacement; the transvaluation of mental elements – the inversion of the hierarchy of importance, such that what really matters is relegated to the surrounding mist, the thin, vapid atmosphere – the stage, while some utterly dreary, pedantic trapping is correspondingly monumentalized and even fetishized – as the spectacle. But no, no place for theorizing right now – I want to stop.

***

saudade, n.
sauˈdadə
The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. It is the mysterious melancholy which sighs at the back of every joy. (OED)

Saudade was once described as ‘the love that remains’ after someone is gone. It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.

This emotional state appears to be a symptom of losing someone to some kind of uncertainty or non-closure. It’s like someone tells you he’s going out to get some groceries, but he never returns; and so you wait by that open door everyday, with an intermixed sentiment of hopeful vigilance and dire resignation. And somehow this intolerable complex of emotions can never, ever be resolved because the time and place for resolution has come and passed away. But still, there is a sliver of possibility – it’s just that the contrary, impossibility, is so overwhelming that this possibility is seized and sublimated into a kind of fantasy or fixation. Sometimes it’s so difficult to tell whether there truly is still a chance of return, of reprisal; or if we merely miss something so much to the point of constructing an enduring imaginary ideal in its absence. Thus we phase in and out of self-conjured fictions and brutal reality, like the ghosts of shipwrecked mariners who have missed Charon’s vessel, wishing always to go home, but all the while knowing that the only home now is anywhere but home.

Somehow I think, this is going to last for always.

Icarus

Whiskey. I need a drink, badly.

What does it mean to know? To know is always to know something; to know something is to know something that before we hadn’t known. To say we know X is to effectively concede that we hadn’t known X before – a second ago, a month ago, a lifetime ago, but now we do. But now we do. It is therefore reasonable to infer that we have gained something in the knowing; and no, by gain I do not mean the humanist acquisition of some life-lesson, or moral credit that brings us a step closer to self-actualization. None of that fluff, none of that preachy optimism. By gain, I mean, and only mean, an epistemic increase – quantifiable, accountable; an empirical, or should I say, phenomenological increase, in the mind, of ideas and sensations. When we know Y, we may therefore say, brutally, that we now know Z + Y, where Z is the pre-existing quantity of knowledge prior to the increase. No, no saccharine sweet life take-aways or teachable moments – nothing.

But who can vouch that he has known, and only known? Who can say that knowledge when acquired, is simply that solid rock hurled, as it were, into the watery abyss of consciousness, to sink, to let loose some orders of concentric ripples, to totalize rock and water, and to say that now there is rock in addition to water; a transient disturbance, an increase in volume, a reassertion of smothering quietude. We cannot. I cannot. Every instance of knowing is in the inviting, viscous, potent globule of liquid ink that one lets fall into a receptacle of innocuously clear water; we think that our psyche consumes – we always speak of the consumption of texts. But no, it is knowledge that consumes – infects. Watch, how that chromatic splotch of pigment – the contagion of thoughts – descends from the airy heights, reflecting from its glassy curvature, the light of its sheer fullness and potential – to infect, to breed, to alter, to devour. And down it falls, and in that moment of collision, of surface and surface, there is an intolerable resistance, as when one’s vehement foot is slammed on a child’s balloon – and does not miss – and in that moment of meeting within the moment of impact, there rises the raw, excruciating anticipation of dissolution – of consummation, of unity and destruction. Then the surface

breaks. It is then that we begin to know. Our consciousness is breached, and in floods the flows of capital knowledge – molecular critters – home in on the unstained and unadulterated – the primitive body, unmarked, or marked primitively. From our safe place outside the dramatic glass, we – who are we? – see the downward creeping distributaries of contagion, deeper and deeper creep. Staining, irrevocably. Forever henceforth the water is hued with an alien glow – the nocent mark of experience. That is, to know.

And I have just now known. Or else I stumbled, and knew. I know realise that I shouldn’t have, but I did anyway – search. I started in small brushes, like an archeologist at work in the desert heat, revealing a digit here, and a rib there embedded in the archaic sand. Then I grew ravenous – I wanted to know, and know everything. Tossing from my hand the instruments of that delicate profession – of rational inquiry, I launched, or leapt, whichever, and with the claws of my bare hands ravaged the unrevealing soil, like a dog hungry not for the spoil, but for where it buried it. Now ashen skull revealed, now a rusty joint unearthed.

“But why must I speak now and later feel that I have not spoken”, I mused, as crystal nodes of frustrated sweat rolled intermittently down the sides of my face, the stubbled sideburns, down the glistening jawline, gathering at the chin, and then falling in drops profuse. With wandering glance I surveyed the skeletal frame that now began to materialize, though still enframed – entrenched – in that musty soil. “Why all this speaking around? Why can’t I articulate, enunciate, vocalize? Desire – what I speak is not mine”. My fingers traced out the ancient vertebrae. “I always say what I mean, in a way that does not mean what I say”, muttering as I dislodged a mound of packed earth from the gaping mouth of the skull – teeth still intact, some twenty odd, the last muted orifice. Within that weathered maw there came a flood of blackness, and swirling sand-dust in its wake. I rubbed my eyes – dry from the vapid air. I now began to tear from the stray grains displaced by the restive flailing of an oncoming gale. Squinting, I gazed on that mouth(piece), that probably in its last moments of crying, of gasping, had wished to speak. At this point, Reason checked the Romantic, yet reason itself turned to romance; for I thought idly, “if we live in preordained finitude, then must not our breath be finite too? And we trade breath for words – so this man, his lips parted, could not speak because he could not breathe. He hadn’t breath enough – he hadn’t life enough. Don’t we all? So our words, like our breath, like our lives, are finite. When will you speak to mean what you say, before your words run out?”

Before this romantic argument had reached its upshot, a desert storm began to stir, kicking up, all around me lashes of arid sand; I crawled, veiling my eyes with my coarse hands, against the flagellating winds, and snatched at the nearby roll of tarpaulin. Unspooling the weighted canvas, I proceeded, half-gingerly, half-somberly, to shelter the exhumed grave of bones that lay in sleep exposed, but no less in sleep.

As I reached to shroud his head, I saw that the poor man’s gaping mouth had once again filled up with sand.

***

Whiskey. I need a drink, now. Yes, I imagine – let me imagine, now, preferably with someone who wishes to drink to drown – no, not sorrows, not griefs, but confusion; to drown confusion. To sit with me as the ambient music plays, under the stars extinguished by these passing clouds – it’s been raining these days, hasn’t it? In between our exchanges, the rush of cool warm alcohol down our parched throats and brains, there is silence; a comfortable one, like you once said you liked it. It is our punctuation, this silence, which gives our speech – sober or slurred – coherence; the difference between speech and speech – silence. That. Demarcates. Every. Word. It is absence that presents. We raise our half-done glasses midway, laughing at how we’ve started so ardently, that we have forgotten to toast. A toast is in order, a toast to something. This one, I say, is to our confusion, that for a moment we shared; or else for the one that from that moment till now I’ve inherited; haha! – do you hear how I hardly make sense? I look at the swirling elixir in my glass, and I think I see the fumes. So, I say, let’s talk about life, philosophy – no – psychoanalysis! And we talk; that’s how it should (have) be(en). You know nuts about the unconscious, but want to, in a playful sort of way; in a playful sort of way that belies an alluring, inquisitive mind; in a playful sort of way that knows it’s important to me. And I tell you; you smile that grin of yours, but I know you’re listening. The sky is dark – what need have we of light? All it ever does is destroy the dreams we’ve had sleeping. You call for another glass, and I say, yeah – get me another too; I’m hardly done. You ask me, why I’ve been gone for so long – but I say, it’s not me, it’s you; and we laugh uproariously at ensuing mentions of relative motion and displacement. Comfortable silence – we fall into its arms, weary of laughter (though still smiling). Silence begins to speak (parenthetically). You gaze out into the streets, at the street lights, (from behind this dewy glass); I follow that gaze. What are you thinking of, right now, staring at those neon lights, or those couples strolling by? (I’m not quite sure, you say – perhaps of tomorrow?) I rub my eyes; (those lights are getting brighter, aren’t they?) I know you heard me, because you stifle a chuckle. Heh, you say, we shouldn’t go too fast (, drinking). I laugh – inwardly, and then laugh. (Yes, we went too fast; but it doesn’t matter now, does it?) It matters, you say, now (and you laugh) because if you get wasted no one’s gonna carry you home. Nah, I have pretty good self-control, you watch. You laugh that playful, cynical laugh of yours. Heh, I say – what a sceptic. You reply, that’s what they all say, isn’t it? (- and you knew that, didn’t you? When it comes down to the moment, there’s no such thing as control, because the moment has to pass; you made a false promise). There is an uneasy silence, as I raise my glass to my lips – I sense something approaching, something sobering. Looking back, it was a departure as much as it had been an arrival, or a dawning. Epiphanies come, and always take us to another place, another consciousness.

“It’s getting darker, no?”, I enquired. You gazed a little at me, but blankly.

“I mean, it’s getting darker – later”. I pointed to my watch, but I ended up pointing to my wrist. You nodded weakly to show you understood, but I knew you’d been made to understand something else, and I understood it too. I took a long sip, then replaced my glass on the coaster; my hands were cold.

“I guess it’s time to go then(?)”. Was that an interrogative or a declarative? I wasn’t sure, but I knew it mattered whether it was one or the other. I took the cue anyway – I made it an imperative.

So we left our empty glasses there – mine was empty, yours hardly. I had many, many things to say, that were in that glass – mine.

But the sand of the Hourglass, in its tragic necessary descent, has since filled those empty spaces. I wish I could empty that glass again, but who makes drink out of sand, if only the poor man who wanted to speak, but ran out of breath?

So I said, I know now. I searched compulsively – in a moment of sheer desire and indulgence – against the best of Reason and sensibility; and what have I unearthed but the very face of dead possibility. No, not impossibility – it wasn’t always this; it was always an enduring possibility, the potential for a kind of return, no matter how remote the chances were, I’ll admit. That, that was what fettered me to this death drive, this repetition, this compulsion – to emphasize again and again, to enact, to react to, to reenact the horror; no, not horror – the grief? No – the unspeakability. But now that the stimulus has faded in the wake of knowing, desire – whatever it is – has arrived at a terminus. I try to imagine, like I’ve always done, but this time there is an obstruction, a denial. There is a brute facticity that forestalls fantasy, or possibility. The door that I’d left open and locked – so that it wouldn’t shut – has now bashed itself closed; and the lock, being maimed, no key can ever open. This knowledge, it seems, like a spot of ink in clear water, has changed everything.

“On th’ other side Adam, soon as he heard
The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed,
Astonied stood and blank while horror chill
Ran through his veins and all his joints relaxed.
From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve
Down dropped and all the faded roses shed.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost (IX.888-93)

The Rupture

“What if it’s lost behind, words we could never find?”
— Chris Daughtry, ‘What About Now’

That which escapes the constructs of language—the inexpressible—is the Real. The Real is a state of full presence and completeness that has been irrevocably lost to us via our entrance into the Symbolic. It is the unbridled expression of every desire and wish, utterly independent of any anthropological framework; it is lawless, raw, feral, fearless; it is the pre-Man, pre-atomic, pre-universal. The imperious Symbolic—the name of our Father, the Father with his measuring rule and Pygmalionean hands; with his Hammer and mold; with his absolute Word, his decree—He has wrought order to our Chaos, and pronounced it creation. And so our engagement with the world—the earth in its undifferentiated chaos, its primordiality—is therefore forever mediated by the taxonomical, nomenological, prescriptive ordering of language; as is our desire.

However, ever so often there is this eruption, a resurgence of this unspeakable Real—the linguistically incomprehensible primordial—that vaults, projects, forces itself out of the unconscious into plain sight, a hideous monstrosity, that faceless face. A hitherto unspeakable longing, a lost familiarity. But, but I cannot express it in words; we could not. Where was our signifier? Where was our signified? We turned, at every dark and (b)lighted corner to grab, claw, snatch at words and the alphabet, to arrange them in slated permutations, arrangements and rearrangements; but they did not speak the language we spoke—did we ever speak language? Did we ever speak? Suddenly none of it, of us, made sense; suddenly, we realised we were mute, all along. But we talked, didn’t we? In nighttimes of pseudo-eternal quiescence, together and alone on sandy stretches along the oceanic starlit sky, before a sunset that we knew meant nothing because there would be tens of thousands more before the End. No, perhaps we didn’t. We didn’t, I’m sure, because it was not language.

Like a confounded mass of Everything and Nothing—of fear, vengeance, love, loathing, memory, sorrow, exultation, a thousand eternities in a single point—it did not belong to the set of words we knew and had to know, the consensus of the superego, the Word of our Father, our World as we knew it, in which we were birthed and raised. And that which escapes the ordering of language is at bottom, traumatic. We didn’t want that; and we enunciated our existential apprehension, in their our language, and left, just as the markings that millennia ago in stone embossed, portended; the progenitors of silence.

So we left it—ours, y(ours), mine—there, in the light—

Other, object, abject.

Dying Light


As 2011—yet another year of our finite years—quenches and crumples into a withering heap, the world once again awaits the igniting stroke of 31st midnight that will set the corpse alight in a brilliant expiration of floral fire. All the festive lights—the unnatural illumination, the chain of dead signifiers of a spectral light—they gleam and glitter in defiance of a great, dead sun that sets in the universal horizon; its metaphysical light pales and wanes, like the seeping afterglow of a midnight rendezvous. Warm sheets having been warmed in a ravenous, passionate tussle, now enshroud the bodies sitting athwart the other, cold with an inalienable solitude.

The sun sets on my faith—I have felt its dying light caress the back of my hand on solitary nights, a touch of hopeless resignation. The majestic Sunday rituals that used to enthrall me with their effusive overtures have been stripped of their mysticism, and the hollow words that remain strain to seize their divine relevance in a world of mutable signs. But the stones of Stonehenge are just what they are—stones.

Three years is a rather short time for an almighty faith to whittle into an ember that struggles not against an eclipsing darkness, but the blinding halo of Reason’s light—a hard, unforgiving cleansing fire that sears bare all that cannot withstand the scrutiny of its molten flare. So you sacrosanct little tealight—once a mighty blast of righteous fire—stay awhile and linger, before you fade into the backdrop paraphernalia of some cheap gothic romance; and the mists of your mystery become what makes a myth.

The end days are always unusually cold, although the only snow that falls here, falls inside, into a vacuum that once was this stellar transcendental signified. Now all that remains is a voracious maelstrom into which all grief, joy, fear, and vengeance must necessarily converge; all disappointment returns to the disappointment of that absence, all expectation vainly rests on the reassertion of that irrevocable presence. But it’s been three years since I watched the star that once nestled in this resting place, die and die at the turn of the new year. In defiance of its passing, I have substituted centre for centre, shadow for twilight for light; and lo! there is light—the undying perpetuation of this spectral gleam we call Memory. Some beacons ought to have been razed and consumed by their own fires, but there is some sick pleasure in making monuments of the monumental dead.

Yet now even the last light of this candlelight vigil forsakes the dying glow of Memory’s pyre-wood. Like the mourning band that has witnessed their dearly departed die a thousand deaths on the same burning deathpile, I have grown sick of this melancholia. It has become theatre and ritual. I have not decided to cease fanning the ghostly flame—I have allowed it to die; but now I must watch the dead fire die a slow death from afar. It is a kind of dementia to let the film-reel of Memory unravel, to be exposed to the squinting gaze of the twilight sun. At this point, we stop grieving for the lost object, and begin grieving for the dying Memory that is the lost object incarnate. This means letting go of the emotional imprints of the original event which have made us sustain its Memory for such a long time. Once we forget what it was like to have experienced something, there is very little (reason) for us to hold on to. Everything then reifies into a sort of construction or scaffold or corpse stripped bare—a facticity that is in virtue of having been: an event. The Past is because it has been.

But we are also understandably reluctant to forget, because once the feeling that binds us to the lost object is itself lost, the fuel that reanimates the cadaverous engines of Memory is finally spent; it cannot be recovered. We lose the source that powers our only liaison to the lost object – the impulse which propagates a phantom that refuses to acknowledge the death of its original. Events can be re-imagined and pieced together using intuition, but an experience of pathos is a unique matchfire that upon its self-consumption, is extinguished forever, and with it the last light of our mourning vigil. We can ignite a thousand matches or acres of forests with the paroxysmal fury of tragedies, but we can never make that tiny heap of ash burn again. The entire mourning contingent then falls to a pitiful shamble; and we grasp, scrape, claw and weep at the aftermath, mourning the loss of our reason to mourn and remember.

Reason and Memory, these twin fatal fires—the righteous luminaries that shine darkly, brighter than that righteous Light. What they together embody is a rage against a Higher Power that has been, in my guilt and shame at this heresy, wrenched from its trajectory and deflected into this vengeful soul. Soul? Ha! Again with your petty gothic romance? All this waxing metaphysical, this lofty verse-in-prose, this overly indulgent prolixity; nauseating, fulsome, unworthy. I scorn at my own pathetic fallacies, committed again and again in an untiring, neurotic algorithm. But how else should we vent the bygone passions that still linger and hunger to be reenacted, reproduced – rebirthed, yet which deny their own honest venting by eluding the concrete engines of an honest prose?

The last light of the year dies in the framed canvas of my window, and the twilight breeze lifts gently its curtain flanks in farewell.

Death Wish

These idle days have seen me pay clandestine visits to the shadowed, nameless graves shrouded in the forbidding thick of Memory’s mists. It is so easy to absolve myself by claiming that the unhallowed homage is involuntary and directed by some unsavoury unconscious force (an assumption I think is in some sense justified); but I am reluctantly conscious of the fact that my volition has in no way been compromised, and that I have been a willful accomplice to these exhumations.

I haul forgotten tomes from their hiding places in shelves forsaken, pry open their musty leather maws in rabid compulsion to repeat the reading that I had so long ago sworn to abjure, alas to no avail. In my secret ivory tower, I nightly fling open book after festering book in search of some divine revelation – some new hieroglyph not yet deciphered. But there are no new signs; these symbols remain as they have always been, embossed in pages perused a thousand times. What new insight am I hoping to unearth? What undead epiphany do I wish to induce in this lifeless pursuit?

The more I read of the Past, the more this once steadfast limerence slides into vicious bouts of unspoken vengeance. I almost hate, you. Do I? I have never hated anyone before, but I feel this seething rage throb in the mechanical firing of a million neurons. What is more alien and familiar to Love than Vengeance? The very engines that once powered a profound, forbidden desire now churn to vent the noxious paroxysms of an indignant loathing. How may I reverse the algorithm? A part of me cannot bear to lose the last vestiges of desire – the other is hell-bent on damning it to inferno. I’ve always been one inextricably attuned to his own pathos, but now I find myself asking:

What am I feeling?

Elegy to a Star

Ever so often, a thought or a fragment of the Past intrudes into the space of consciousness—my dashboard, my desk, the manifold of present thoughts; there is a jarring, a darting, a forced attention on that fatal flotsam drifting in this maelstrom of qualia. Its incompleteness, its imperfection compels me to survey yet more closely, and recklessly, its splinters and frays—nodes from which parts have since been lapped up by the ravenous waves. The phenomenal eye traces the outlines of its trace, its disappearance—the invisible metaphysical, the Past. Then from the visceral, immediate, lurid pastels of my phenomenal world, mind—this glimmering star—passes from eye to I, and crosses from Present to Past, via this vehicle called Memory—this wretched thing. Across those irreversible galaxies and irrevocable deaths, it sears clear and clean into the fabric of that oblivion, which as soon repairs its void with more void.

And somehow, even with the expiring novae of stars long dead and rapturous, heaving in throes—with all their cosmic light and conflagration—I still see us there, among those spectral shadows that we see when we incline our head heavenward, to the faceless Vesper, to see her ascendent mantle and her celestial adornments—a pauperess masquerading with her make-believe trinkets. All our meetings, and partings, the intense, unspoken, unfelt, undone sentiments, like a puff of stellar residue—they linger still in this airless space, to catch the photons of the mind, this lost star.

My metaphysical mind—it is there, retrojected, introjected, into the phantasms of spatio-temporal distortions that subsist in some uncharted depth of this shell (we think) we know intimately as Soul. But I’ve seen—there is nothing inside, but the holograms that the star of the mind has reflected from its sojourn in far off places on the wings of Memory. There a burst of vermilion, and here a shade of ruby—there is chromium somewhere, and a flash of lavender. Then sometimes out of sheer wistfulness intermixed with an impotent nostalgia, egged on by the wrath of a thousand undead stars, I reach out, only to find you gone like the impossible eternity in a zero.

And as this fulsome, nauseating lyric arrives at its dead end, the star returns from that new gaping abyssal chasm that is now one, now none. Why have you returned with Memory? Why did you not just toss it into that black empyrean ocean, drive this ambitious Icarus head first into the deep and drown him twice, thrice, and return triumphant across some self-conjured Bifrost that your prismatic gleam would have easily laid out for you? No reply, from a star like just any other in the infinite universe— your morse code I do not comprehend, your waxing and waning are erratic, and to my sight you are a physically impossible point whose light dissembles in its brilliance your emptiness—your nothingness.

Backspace. Backspace. I censor, and when I censor, it is time to cease the speech. When I censor I erase the void, and jam the black maw with yet more black. When I censor, there is an unspoken un-telling of a story that screams out to be told. But don’t you understand, I am telling the story as it is untold, and these words that appear in a forward train in search of a period, are the creation of an effacement – every signifier could have been something else; something more; something other; nothing else; nothing more; nothing other. And so as I speak, I destroy, I shut out possibilities, I close the Future, I repeat the Past. So can’t you see now?

I am singing the song of a dead star.