I want to describe a person, a person who sees, every day, in front of the mirror, half of his face on fire. He holds out a trembling hand, as if to grasp a railing suspended in midair, like the railing that served first as an obstacle, then as an aid, to his father’s leap into the abyss – perhaps one’s method of preserving one’s last shred of dignity. Aimed at the moment before one person becomes another person, my description is always too late, always insufficient to save another person’s life, and everyone who once possessed a body with blood racing through it.
But I still want to describe a person, a person’s existence in human form, a form compressed and distorted by the pounding of tsunamis, the pressing of transactions, until it wafts away in a fine dust. He always places his hopes on someone else, even though this seems like an increasingly impossible idea, unless the mythic ‘glory of humanity’ shines down on every place on the planet. But in fact, that ounce of courage that compels us to draw free breath is today reserved only for destruction, or if not destruction, then cosmetic surgery that changes one’s face.
Nonetheless, I still want to describe a person, since I believe that describing a person is the best method of protecting fragility. And fragility, like the joy (absolute joy!) built of secret contracts between lovers, is almost equal to freedom. Only then will people be able to transcend the oppressive horizon and experience a new geology formed by the unknown straightening-out of the folds of the body.
His animal qualities make a counterattack in his later years (memory loss, like tidal waters, inundates the formerly distinct lines of his body). Amid the sounds of the reversing biological clock, mice and humans peacefully coexist, and venomous snakes coil gently around people’s waists, and in the inverted reflection of the high-speed rail line in the pond where the fisherman casts his bait, a train passes into the remote sky like lightning. In a past life, these sloughs were bustling construction sites, a promise to the future of humanity. But now, everything has come to a halt, and wherever they are deep enough, the sloughs become swimming pools for young workers. Cows slowly turn in circles beside the rusting generator, casting their pity-filled gaze upon the distant places that men once scanned from afar.
These ruins become so clear and alive only in the rays of twilight, when memories inundated by tidal waters float to the surface, making bubbles. Those vital particulars engender sympathy for life, but also help us move towards a new cycle: we are already so familiar with the manufacturing industry that our belief in human potential is lacking, and so is our belief in twilight, in our intimate relationship with other species. But when twilight approaches, everything will return to its position, and the limpid greyscale will produce an authoritative dusk, the reversal of the food chain and the sense of direction of particle motion. In faraway places where machines have stopped, the earth will open again and endow to life a kind of distant dream, a remote, alien land; the idle person waiting here for the moonrise – that is the person I want to describe.
His death is a preview of my destiny, his life interwoven with my own. Of the two of us, neither is more deserving of fate’s pity.
That is the person I want to describe, a person in the midst of dying who nonetheless calmly accepts the facts of this globe. His death is a preview of my destiny, his life interwoven with my own. Of the two of us, neither is more deserving of fate’s pity. In the dregs of the belly of history, the distorted human form will evolve into an inhuman form. It will stand up quietly and migrate without scruples to the fringes of the swamp, to the distant, deep-sunk city.
I arrived early in the morning. It was the beginning of spring, and the frigid northern wind remained in the sky, covering the city in a layer of chilly greyness. It seems that I violated our agreement in coming here; for yes, I had promised her that I would stop investigating her history.
Like all the cities that promise us the ‘Better Tomorrow’, there was nothing special that caught my eye. It was not until I was pacing around the plaza in front of city hall that I began to feel that something was odd. I didn’t detect it right away, but during the process of my perambulations, I became increasingly aware of the source of this sensation: there was no monument, in the ordinary sense, in the plaza. And as I thought about it, I realised that there were no monuments of any kind at all, anywhere in the city.
This was the place where she grew up: a city with no monuments, no weight of memory, a place that might engender her lithe way of walking down the street. Could this lightness explain how she had enchanted me?
Later, in a museum, I found the only monuments in the city. They were carved of stone or cast in bronze in the tall and upright postures to which we are accustomed. Their eyes, bright and piercing, gazed forward into the distance. What was the future back then is the time we now inhabit. “These heroes gave their lives to defend our city and its peace,” said the female docent in impassioned tones. She made me willing to believe that the city’s memory could, through some method, have been stored in some secret place. It had not disappeared; it had just been stockpiled somewhere we did not know about.
Fortunately I found more than sculptures from the past in that museum. I also found the reason the other sculptures had disappeared. Not long ago, enough rare earth metals to supply the world’s electronics manufacturing industry had been discovered in the area around the city. The discovery had changed the way in which its collective memories were stored. History was now stored in the city’s memory stick, the capacity of which was expanding without limit.
Naturally, you will sigh with admiration at the fateful transformation of this city. Today, the memories of the entire world rely on the memory sticks made out of rare earth metals that are mined there. But as I saw it, the truly valuable discovery was her sweet voice. Transmitted by optical fibres, it mesmerised me with a heroic temperament that I had never previously experienced. It had intensely shaped our relationship, making me feel that I needed it. My mind needed it, my body needed it.
As I continued to walk around this drab city, which no longer possessed a heroic narrative or any further plot elements, the memories in my mind became more vivid than they had ever been before. I began to understand why I was reminded of optical fibres the first time I saw her pale blue veins through her almost transparent skin; why she would always turn her elegant face slightly to one side every time I couldn’t resist asking questions; why I felt something akin to an electrical shock when she said: “If you grew up in that city, you were taught from a young age how to disperse.” In a certain sense, we are all media with extremely low data-transmission rates. We seek to preserve flash memories, but as the speeds accelerate we grow ever more distant from our counterparts. We can never reach them, just as the storage space of this planet silently swells and splinters into the sky and forms uncountable new galaxies, uncountable new counterparts. But the odd thing is, I began blindly to believe that we would never truly lose our counterparts, precisely because we could never reach them.
This article first appeared in ArtReview Asia Volume 4 Issue 1