A Second Shadow

‘Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak
Whispers the o’erfraught heart, and bids it break.’
Shakespeare, Macbeth (IV.III.209-10)

When he finally knew — when it was finally enunciated, explicitly — the Past fell on his face in liquid shadows that only he could see; like a curtain call after a tragic play, the curtains descended, crushing beneath its velvet weight the courtiers, the jesters, the masquerade. A dark silence passed from stage to audience — the only audience: he, who had stayed when he was supposed to leave, and watched as Romeo imbibed his vital poison — again, and again.

It has been said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. But it didn’t make sense; it shouldn’t have happened again, because he remembered, all the time — in the theatre of his mind, where all the dead do is die and the living mourn, because it is their dramaturgic destiny. He staged the tragedy with different actors, in different spaces, and at different times, but all permutations spoke the same tragic narrative. At first it was remembrance, then it regressed into compulsion, and it was only after the compulsion turned to habit, and habit to ritual, that he understood the meaninglessness of the repetition — the repeated staging. The signifier, once so inextricably intertwined and enmeshed with its traumatic signified, was finally cleaved asunder from its transcendence, which had, in fact, long vanished behind the devouring mists of a Past that was always rushing forward to meet the Present; the (first) meaning died with its genesis — the rest was the work of a Memory that refused to abandon the dead, but instead held nightly vigil beside those empty graves. Resurrection? No, they have returned to dust and only dust, or else they have always been — dust. Those gaping subterranean spaces are the resting place of convenient projections, ghosts — (im)materializations of the unattainable — of those we wanted to love but never could reach.

This is grief, you say? No, it is merely an emotional inconvenience, and its destabilizing force but a faint echo of a tragic Past. There is here no ruined castle, nor burning pyre, nor flame-seared banner, nor placid death. There is here only the silence of knowing.

When he finally knew, the Past returned to him like his own face in the mirror, in the dark. There was a blinding horror, and because he was blind he could not run away. There were invisible hands — clamps, cold and calculatedly placed — which held the gaze and forced it on the glassy abyss, in which he saw a forsaken cadaver, the body of abject pathos — his own — emerge from its watery blackness.

He looked, and he by looking knew. But even as the hopelessness fell in silver-black drapes around him — even as he could not turn away — he did not shut his eyes. He stared at the face of horror, itself horrified; he blinked, and he blinked. And for the first time he felt, if not a material oneness, then at least a specular communion with he who peered from beyond the glacial surface. That is me, said he — and suddenly, there was no mirror.

That is me, said I. Yes, I have once again felt the full force of tragic inevitability that one feels when confronted with loss, but by feeling the fatalism in its visceral completeness — by owning it, I expended — I consumed — the feeling, and by many orders dampened it. No doubt there still lingers the familiar existential weight that one grapples with in the aftermath of loss, yet this time the only object of mourning is the absent one, and not the one that could have been.

This time, I think I will not put out the sun by shutting my eyes against its blazing light. We have done that in the Past; we, wanting in our naivety to preserve and contain the Fall in its full presence, monumentalized the loss by willfully catastrophizing it — by suddenly abandoning the world (the person) that had abandoned us. The self-shattering trauma rounded off that narrative perfectly, and petrified it in bloody amber — a tragedy in three acts, the last being the most momentous. But what followed was an indefinite, damning eclipse that left us crawling and clawing, on all fours, in the shadow of a colossal loss that no amount of light could dispel.

But neither am I going to gaze myself blind, trying to take in at once the total philosophical intensity of this/that recent loss — to attempt in vain to come to terms with the fact that the sun I see is no longer there and shining.

I think, I shall simply sit on some forgotten rock by the coast, and watch the light of that phantasmal sun die — from glorious high noon, to funereal twilight.

Self and Shadow

‘But cloud instead and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, for the book of knowledge fair,
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature’s works to me expunged and razed
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.’
John Milton, Paradise Lost (III.45-50)

And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out. This is the wisdom I wish I possessed, but which has been innately, irrevocably removed from my epistemic grasp. It is unlearnable, unfathomable — beyond even the most complex of intuitions. I have tried reconstructing the knowledge from sense impressions — from analogous experience — but all that my vain efforts have yielded is a scarecrow that wards off who else but myself. The more I enforce upon the psyche this patchwork knowledge, the more I withdraw and reel, part in uncanny unfamiliarity, part in broken resignation. The absence of this wisdom, a gaping void — the something that is supposed to be there, but is not — forces me to be acutely aware of a necessary darkness, my own. Therefore in negotiating presence (Self) and present absence (Shadow), I have unknowingly established for myself a catastrophic internal dialectic of opposing forces that refuses to be reconciled in synthesis or resolved in deleterious victory; and this psychic tug-of-war is such a tremendous burden to bear. Like two gladiators in ferocious combat, they slice at the air with their swords and break their shields against the heavy bludgeoning of maces, and all around them many aftermaths unfold. Sometimes the blade scars an innocent bystander here, or blinds a passerby there. Sometimes the hammer crushes a shrub, or shatters the bark of an unwitting tree.

The Aftermath did not emerge in the wake of that colossal upheaval three years ago — it has always been unfurling in chaotic fractals, spiraling and branching like infesting brambles and briars that creep into the cavity of every available space. But these strangulating tendrils — they flourish and fester the most in shaded nooks, twisting themselves into burgeoning monstrosities that remain eclipsed. Tell me, how do you illuminate the entire soul or psyche (whichever you prefer)? You cannot. At any one moment, our consciousness is akin to a sweeping radius of light. I cannot be conscious of everything at once. So as far out as we manage to throw the rays of our pathfinder’s lantern, there will always remain obliques of darkness that creep at every angle of receding light. But take heart — as much ours as this light is, these shadows too, they belong to us.

And who likes walking in their own darkness? By darkness I certainly do not mean the phenomenal absence of light, nor do I mean the generic typification of evil. I refer squarely and only to everything you are ashamed of — everything you absolutely fear, everything you absolutely hate. So visceral, so immediate. The blackness swimming in your blood – we just don’t see it, and we ought not to. Or perhaps we do, in the indigo of those fleshy veins, carrying lifeblood starved of oxygen, rife with absence, choked with shadow. We carry absence in our blood, in ourselves. We are our own shadow.

This is not a cynic’s reflection — I never meant for this to be a piece of dark expository. Like the imaginary Other, the Shadow is a construct that is as much a premise as it is an outgrowth of the Self. To take a psychoanalytic detour, Self and Other are inseparable; by ‘other’ I don’t mean an-other body. I mean the self-contained Other within the Self. Look into the mirror, who do you see? Your Self? Wait, then who is the one doing the seeing? The Other?

So, it is easy to experience our innate fragmentation/delusion of Selfhood, even after the Lacanian drama of the mirror stage (when the ‘I’ is formed). Even at the level of perception, there will always be a disjunction between the visual image of the Self and the raw experience of Self-hood — the physiological operations, the aggregation of which we also call ‘I’. This is the Self-Image relation, which is essentially a psychoanalytic model mapping the visceral Self onto the spectral Other (image). Similarly in analytical psychology, the Self and the Shadow operate with the same deconstructionist dynamics — though distinct, one is contained within the other.

However, the (Jungian) Shadow in question, and hence the psychic Self-Shadow dialectic, is neither visual nor bodily. It is epistemological and psychological. The Shadow I speak of here is not imaginary alterity — the visual image of the Self (i.e. the Other). It is the psychological reflection of the Self, the hidden knowledge that remains in the unconscious, and thus away from the gaze of conscious experience and knowing — one polarity of an entirely disparate metaphysical dualism. The Shadow is entrenched within the psyche of the Self — it is the Self — but often unknown; or if unintentionally uncovered, then it is hastily replaced, with ten times the earthen cover heaped upon its burial ground. The Shadow is everything we are not, and the prospect of it being an integral part of our self-construction is simply unthinkable; we reject the notion immediately, even though in some dark recess between the spaces of consciousness and the unconscious, we may recognize it as a representation of our own flaws.

But Jung mentions that a balanced psyche is one that is constantly made aware of the Shadow, even though mastery over that shaded beast is weak and underdeveloped. One should never neglect to sustain psychic contact between the conscious Self and the inverse Shadow; after all, it has always been said that knowledge of the enemy is essential in battle, even if the enemy is yourself. Absolute polarity between Self and Shadow is a perilous state of affairs, because at any moment, the Shadow may emerge, perhaps in others, and so remote and abject is the Shadow, that the recognition of it as inextricably part of the Self may culminate in profound trauma. The Self, being utterly disarmed and deprived of any knowledge of the Shadow, may turn and flee in total terror; or if he is bound in shackles and made to face his sheer alterity, he may well abandon himself to his own inverse, and the Self may be lost forever.

I have always been struggling to commune with whatever constitutes my Shadow, but it hasn’t been easy, nor have I expected it to be. But there remains the Shadow of alterity — my inherent otherness. And so much of myself resides in that polarized, darkened space, that I might spend my entire life trying to let my desperate light reach those lightless corners.

‘Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.’
Carl G. Jung, Psychology and Religion (1938)

The Mourning After

“The object has not perhaps actually died, but has been lost as an object of love. In yet other cases one feels justified in maintaining the belief that a loss of this kind has occurred, but one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost, and it is all the more reasonable to suppose that the patient cannot consciously perceive what he has lost either. This, indeed, might be so even if the patient is aware of the loss which has given rise to his melancholia, but only in the sense that he knows whom he has lost but not what he has lost in him.”
Sigmund Freud, Mourning and Melancholia (1917)

What have I lost, that in its losing I have also lost the best days of my life to this pathology of indefinite mourning? Wait, no – it’s melancholia, says Freud; exactly what it is. In every waking moment of my life since the great Aftermath, there has been this lingering spiritual presence of mourning – an ashen pall that inflects my phenomenology with a hue of irrational sorrow. Occasionally I forget, and momentarily I am free – the colours return, and there is a bloom, a letting go, and a freedom. But soon after, the oppression returns, redoubling in vehemence – an insistence on remembering, on prolonging, on recreation, on reanimation; and every present and future event becomes an iteration – no – reiteration of the Past, a repetition of grief in each atom that bears the faintest resemblance to the unspoken and the unspeakable. Of course, after three years, I know better than to allow Memory and pathos to conspire against the best of my Reason and wreak unholy havoc on my emotional constitution. But as master of my Self, I am as much fettered to the Other in my guardianship, as he is to me in his compelled subjugation. Ever so often, in my wrestle with a restless and resurgent Memory, I suddenly lose all awareness of my bearing, my coordinates, and the slave who to me is inextricably bound seems – in all his ferocity and adamancy – so much like my master. Or so much like myself. In that moment of recognition, I reel in horror, but my retreat heralds his advance, and so

This is the chase;
I am gone forever.
— Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale (3.3.56-57)

I make no exit, pursued by no bear, but enter again and again into repeating frames of memory – my own mise en abyme; encompassed all round by the vacuum that opens and reopens the door to the Past, one after another, unendingly and untiringly. The sorrow is always the same – like the sonorous, nasal reverberations of stiff steel beams in the afterthoughts of passing aircrafts.

Yes, it always feels as though I’ve been mourning for one who has died, if feel is how I should be accessing this done-to-death grief. Is this a pathological case of over-romanticization, which if left unchecked boils over my phenomenology like a dreadful contagion, infecting one cell of experience after another, and precipitating a fulsome, overwrought, self-indulgent prose such as this? I always do this, this hyper-consciousness of consciousness, this meta-analysis of thought and emotional processes. Am I feeling right? Am I thinking right? Is my sorrow justified? Rationally? Logically? Conventionally? When finally the cacophony of over-excited neurons drown themselves out in their own firing, the noise becomes silence, and I am left bereft; of what, I never know.

I know and do not know what I have lost. It may have been a person; it may have been a memory; it may have been an ideal. I know I have lost something, and I’ve been spending the past few years repairing the void of its loss, swerving between joyous epiphanies and disempowered hopelessness. I am afraid that what was once a phenomenological gap – the departed experience of love – has now reified into a permanent and positive ontology. No, don’t mistake me; by that I don’t mean a real absence – I mean a real presence, of an absence; a cavalcade of endless substitutions of phantasmal presence that always refers to its absence.

I know whom I have lost, but not what I have lost in me. It is no longer – and it hasn’t been, for a long time now – about the particular instance of that loss, the relinquishing of a sensory possession, the experience of a person. It is now about a lost philosophy, a lost ideation. Is that what I have lost in myself? What does Freud mean? I know: what part of myself have I lost? Yes, that is what I have lost – the access to a Platonic form; it is not something extraneous – it is intrinsically a part of my psychology, and I have lost it. I have lost someone and Someone.

At this point, I laugh at myself, half-amused, half-unamused. It’s been such a long time. But it’s a rupture, such as this one, that dredges up the entire rotting corpus of Memory, together with its accompaniment of emotional codes. Like one in a darkened room who is suddenly met with his face in the mirror, I recoil in horror at what I find. And even after I regain my composure, and peer at the echo of my own body in the glass, I can’t help thinking – that isn’t me. Or why then should I be disturbed and unsettled by my own image? Popular discourse on the uncanny is irrelevant. This is not psychoanalysis; this is simple phenomenology. I just want to know why I seem to forget which side of the mirror I’m on. The more I scrutinize the planar spectre, the more disembodied I feel. Am I looking at myself, or is my Self looking at me? I gaze and gaze;

Until there is nothing but an image left.

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.