Next Stop

I think I’ve run out of words to say what I really mean; or else, I am no longer the writer that writes to mean what he wants to say.

I watch the flickering bar traverse with hesitant speed the width of white space, leaving black marks in its wake, segmented or circumscribed by intermittent chasmic distance. My fingers type – they speak; we call those, words. Each little carriage is fettered to its preceding and succeeding car, and the entire vehicle we say, is a sentence. The engine groans and sputters, and throws its pioneering weight forward into the dark, like a throbbing, desiring body. It is fed fuel – it insists, and plies the length of those rust-enrusted rails. Chug, chug – metonyms for movement. The train, it moves because it has to; no, because it wants to. But it is condemned to run these weatherworn tracks, to get somewhere. Where? Wherever these rails take us, I suppose. The captain is asleep at the controls; his breathing is light, and regular. He twitches, he is smiling – is he dreaming? Well, does it matter? Next stop: next stop.

But the passengers, they always want to get somewhere some where, for who takes the train if only to commute from point A to point B? Husbands all suited up for work, mothers taking their kids to school, and the listless maid dragging her empty burden of a trolley to the market; they all intend to go some where, and they get there eventually. But there is no one on this train. No one ever embarks anymore. If anyone does, it’s usually the destitute and desperate homeless who make nowhere their destination, who get on and never leave. They die there, and the captain (when ever he is awake) binds their hands and feet and tosses them overboard, into a black stagnant stream from across a bridge, or along the natural gutters – tall grass and wild shrubbery that line the tracks. No, you don’t want them crawling around and begging even when they’re dead.

The captain falls willingly into slumber, to the sway and metronomic clocking of wheels against the iron tracks, because he knows that the course is determined – there is only one way, and that is forward, and forward along these familiar rails. What place does intentionality have on this journey? That is why he sleeps, because sleep is the theatre of possibility, of a world without tracks, or else of trackless trains. In this somnolent drama, he leaps off the verge of a carriage with doors flung ajar, and tumbles onto the grassy meadows of the countryside. There he lies, catching his breath, and taking in the immensity of his self-directedness. He goes anywhere but forward; no, he does – he goes forward in different directions. He darts from side to side, stopping when he wishes, hastening when he wants. Now he’s sprinting to catch the sunset and its fading last light, now he’s chasing the shadow of the night that flees in the face of dawn. After awhile, he grows tired, and slumps against a great rain-tree in the middle of a nowhere that is a some where, and falls awake to the droning of the eternal engine, and the sobering beep of buttons and rickety levers that demand attention.

I have watched the flickering bar traverse again and again the width of this white space, leaving black marks in its wake that try to mean what I say, but fail. The bar continues to flicker. Now there is speech and nothing, now there is only speech. With utmost vehemence, I make the bar stay – I signify it. | On this side, at the moment of fixation – of fixing the bar – there was at first empty space and a silence. I tried enunciating this silence – describing it, and to make myself conscious of it – but it immediately ceased to be silence. The bar, once made material and inscribed as ‘|’, loses its symbolic function – it becomes just another metonym, just another mark. It no longer delineates signifier from signified; it is no longer the resistance to signification. It has itself become signifier. It is the corpse of the metaphysical bar that perdures – still flashing, ahead. And so silence is deferred, again, and again. There is something in this raw, primordial silence lying just beyond the bar that wishes to speak; but this train, this language, this imperious prismatic vehicle refracts, distorts, and maims the voice, so that it always only says, but does not speak. When we try to articulate the silence, it is not silence that speaks, but the words that stand for silence. Try as we may, we only re-present silence; we can never present it. But there is so much this silence wishes to communicate – a fecund infinitude before us, unreachable.

So this elusive bar continues to flicker with condescending, nonchalant regularity – on my screen, at the verge of abyssal silence, and to taunt, knowing that it is transcendental – it stands outside speech and silence; it is the system. I know that you wouldn’t, and you can’t – but I dare you anyway. I dare you to vault over this archaic, discarnate barricade – the monolithic wall of our symbolic Father, taking with you none of His words for companions, into the primordial unspeakable.

I dare you to cross the bar. |

Autumn’s End

3:07; when it was time to stop writing, I stopped, but only clicked my pen shut.

The initial feeling was like someone had pulled the plug on something; something stopped working, and with its termination ensued a wave of emptiness that purged the air of meaning. There was a new lucidity – a kind of clarity of vision – if only because meaning had departed, and in its place precipitated a non-meaning that was transparent, raw, and honest enough to let in the searing rays of light that illuminated the space as it was, or had been – empty.

With (intellectual) desire now divorced from its object, it is now at liberty to roam and seek out new uncharted spaces, and new dark places – to explore with its shaded light, just below the radar, fueled by the very thrill of getting caught. But as we all know by now, desire is always two, three, four steps – a lifetime – ahead of us, of consciousness, of conscientiousness. The recognition of its trajectory is always belated, and we might, and will, always find ourselves tracing only its aftermath – the phenomenal blinking of a star that has long imploded, expired; or the flittering stardust in the waste of a passing comet. Right now as we speak, desire has turned its gaze somewhere, ahead of us, in front of us, unnoticed. Desire chases after, and we chase after it, or at least those of who are concerned with what or who we are; after all, what we are now was once what we were becoming, and how else do we become if not through the force of desire, of want. We want, imperceptibly – this want inaugurates the becoming. And so desire is a becoming, and in time long before our knowing, a being. So can we say, that to be is to desire? To chase after desire is to therefore embark on a quest to unveil, unearth, unforget (perhaps?) who we are. It follows that to elucidate desire – to identify and fix it epistemically – is therefore to know the Self. But, no – we are always too late, belated. The that we now know intimately is merely a shade of a desire that is now somewhere else, somewhere far ahead of us. Today’s Self is yesterday’s desire.

Do you see? – to desire is in fact, always to have been, and we are the aftermath of desire. In this sense, we will never be able to know who the I at this very instant t, is. What we do know however, is that we are becoming at some metaphysical, projected level, because desire is mobilized, is moving somewhere. All we have access to, here and now, is the belated light of that star; a belated Self.

***

Good God, now that I’m out of that trance, let me just say that it was an unintentional digression altogether; I’d actually promised myself not to spend the first evening of my newfound freedom scribing at intolerable lengths, and I’m glad I stopped myself just in time. In fact, I’m going to make a conscientious effort to reprise the familiar routine of blogging at regular intervals (now that I’m supposedly free-er), rather than bludgeon the conceptual reader with a wall of text every one and a half weeks or so.

Anyway, this semester hasn’t been a good one at all, on a hindsight fresh from experience. I won’t go into details, but it involves a lot of self-sabotaging, especially regarding module selection and timetabling, coupled with an untimely bout of academic exhaustion, and obsessive procrastination due to overwhelming expectations (that’s a mouthful). EN4223 (Topics in the 19th Century) and PH2222 (Greek Philosophy) together gave me a really hard time. This is the only semester so far that I’ve had so much backlogging, that not even the reading week could redeem me. In any case, I managed to ease (finally) into the groove of EN4223 in the last few weeks of the semester, but PH2222 remained an inscrutable enigma right up till the very end. Sometimes I honestly think I lack that critical edge for Philosophy (mostly powers of reasoning), and that it is only my idealism and a wish to live the Renaissance paradigm that has kept me going. Well, no room for self-doubt now – we have only two modules of Philosophy left to read. I’m not going to embark on my usual humanist stock-taking for the semester; I suppose I just wish to forget, though not without knowing what I did right and wrong – but those have already been made conscious, so I do not wish to belabour (for my own sake) those personal lessons.

Special Term begins in exactly a week’s time, so allow me – and I address the I – these seven interstitial days of abject rest and recreation before once again the monolithic discourse – that sometimes insufferable deluge of time and social necessity – picks me up on the fringes of its foamy limbs, and bears me away.

***

The radiance of the star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star’s impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

— Elizabeth Jennings, ‘Delay’

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)

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?