It’s so nice
to wake up in the morning
and not have to tell somebody
you love them
when you don’t love them
— 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