Reflective Journal

I

“Nothing in the Universe has a name.”

There is a howl outside. It hides in the many folds of the eternal wind and it tells the story of all that has come before. Nameless, speechless, it beseeches our ears for attention with lipless prayers. Like a solemn monarch, we nod in thoughtful agreement and quickly turn away. Ahead, the empty clouds rain upon us in ceaseless discharge. Fascinated by our own ignorance, we embrace the seasons and mistake them for progress.

We are memories in the making. Stories to be told and read and written. When the sun is down and the day is over, nothing but a few lines of dialogue remain, deceptive artifacts of personality stored in faulty recorders we like to call memory. For what are we if not what others make of us? What are others to us if not what we see of them? The pitch of their voices, the hue of irises, the scent of intentions and twisted meanings.

Within every man and woman lies infinity.

Some days ago, I took the train home from work. It was already dark, and from the comfort of my seat I could see the configurations of rushing lights that made up the outside.

-The burden of no culture. (white, male, European, heterosexual)

– “I have studied you.” The Bengali man in the train. What right do I have to write about anything or anyone? About things I haven’t seen or known? What right do I have to define you?

– The asphalt darker where the wheels don’t tread. Opening paths. A sliver of usefulness in what we do. Ideas breed ideas.

We taught ourselves secrets of our own making.

What you see above was written when things still made a modicum of sense. Word tells me this document was created the 13th of February, on a Thursday to be more precise. At first it was meant to have some sort of narrative coherence with carefully crafted metaphors and powerful images in what I know now was an attempt to avoid facing the complex relationship I keep with my own subjectivity.

Never mind that. We are here now.

I must admit I expected more of the course. Or perhaps myself. This doesn’t mean that I find the classes boring or the novels lacking or the poems superfluous. Nothing further from the truth. I believe, however, that there is a depth to them that our conversations in class do not even scratch the surface off. Sometimes I have the feeling that we are simply talking about books without really going anywhere.

Can this have something to do with the perpetual epistemological crisis I seem to live in? Most certainly. I’ve always had a hard time expressing an opinion without backing it with facts or at least arguments (I struggle as I write this).

Then there is the problem of representation, of course. The way we construct others. Because in the end that’s what we do, whether it is those who love us or a string of words printed on paper. We build them from the scratches of our own perception, and reduce them to tiny little boxes we call words and like to believe everything stacks so neatly. And then we say: “hey, that’s you!”

But how can we? How can I? As the only individual in the class to fulfill these three criteria at the same time (male, heterosexual, European) I am very much aware of the baggage my opinions, even the informed ones, may carry. Due to pre-arranged circumstances I didn’t have anything to do with, I enjoy certain privileges that will invariably inform my thoughts, actions and opinions. There are certain things I can only apprehend factually, as I will never face or feel the fears and prejudices other people do. Which is not to say that I can’t face other obstacles, obviously. Patriarchy and expectations are there for everyone to suffer.

How, then, can my opinions matter?

Now, don’t mistake this for self-pity. If anything, it is a chance for self-examination. A window of opportunity to find reasons for it to matter. For the things we say about the books and fictions to matter. To make them matter. While I’m very aware that the power of representation is a very dangerous tool, it is also a powerful one. And that is, perhaps, the redeeming quality of literature and all we do. It is through poems like Migritude that one can glimpse or even feel the rage and frustration of the migrants whose lives are weighed against a piece of paper. Through novels like Love Marriage or The Lowland  that one can glimpse the vast gulfs of perception that separate the different ways of existing in this world.

To remain silent is to be complacent. To let things be as they are.

And that’s not at all what I want. Because in the end, that’s why we do things. To dissect the vessels of meaning we call words and definitions and build new, more plural paths for everyone to tread. Or not. The choice is what matters. It always is. Perhaps that’s it, isn’t it? We do what we do so that choices can become real.

Architects of meaning.

(tear the words down)

The above is an exercise I wrote earlier this year as part of a postcolonial literature course for an MA in English Literature. As the tittle suggests, the exercise was presented to us as an opportunity to approach the course and its contents in a subjective way. The struggles presented in the journal accompany me to this day (and will continue to do so for as long as I breathe).

Nowhere In Sight

It started as a rogue heartbeat, a misaligned piece of machinery slightly out of joint, promptly ignored by those around it or probably mistaken for something else entirely. As the sound finally stopped, the face became fixed in an ambiguous grimace, a moment of doubt or perhaps joy that soon became the subject of many scholarly debates and refined shows.

(Although this is universally acknowledged as the time of its death, the moment of the demise came much later.)

The philosophical implications of its passing were soon forgotten, relegated to a dusty corner of an increasingly self-absorbed academia, and that ambivalent grin became another hollow icon to be worn on shirts and write songs about. Little by little, any remainder of coherent meaning or transcendent truth was carefully carved out of that final moment. Technocrats and spinners of truths unraveled every pore of that countenance with calculated business acumen in an attempt to extend its productivity way beyond its expiration date. Politicians kept parroting half-baked metaphors about it, never fully understanding what they were doing and never intending to. National holidays were announced, masks were crafted, posters were painted, until that multifarious visage covered almost the entire country, plastered to every window and wall. It wasn’t long until TV shows were produced and swift nutrient franchises (by that time the word “fast” had also outlived its usefulness) acknowledged its selling potential and started to name and shape their products after it.

(Some optimists point at this event as the time of demise. The truth is another matter completely.)

Meanwhile, the hands that had once known the texture of its skin are long buried, lost beneath the unmarked grave of collective history, together with the memories that had given it life and all the contexts that had seen it rise to its almost deific status.

As per the face itself, it remains attached to the body it once belonged to, buried also beneath heaps of trash and neat bundles of inconsequential prayers. The once awe-inspiring contours, now little more than a bleached portrait of mortal frailty, keep breaking down into its irreductible components – time, dust, and          – no longer bearing any resemblance to the effigies carved in its image and likeness.

(As of today, the time of demise remains nowhere in sight.)

Reflection I

Becoming suddenly aware of the futility behind every human effort can have curious if somewhat contradictory effects on the mind of a person and, by extension, on the way a life is lived. I often find myself thinking about the relative worth of my actions and my words, especially when it comes to writing. The notion of “worth”, as everything and anything else for which a human language has a word or symbol, is generated by the connections that give it birth. Although there might be some consensus about what something be, meaning, and therefore our perceived reality (the human one), is found at the crossroads of language and intent. A stone is a stone, hunger is hunger, and the wind is, well, the wind, but any action or interaction, any response or reaction prompted by these words, these meanings, are set in motion by the human intent. Throwing a stone at someone to hurt them is no different than trying to make that same stone, or any other stone, bounce along the uninterrupted surface of a lake. The cause and the result might look different, and they will definitely feel so to the ones having their skulls cracked by the impact, but even though these actions may seem totally unrelated to, say, a mother protecting her child from her own father or a kid begging for food, a single, undeniable and irreducible fact remains: all of them suffer from the human intent.

            All of our meanings are inner meanings. So is worth. So am I. So is everything else. Why, then, do I keep weighing my actions against themselves? Why, then, do I allow my words to be shaped by imagined inner meanings the nature of which will always remain out of reach?

            As of late, I have begun to comprehend one thing. It is not the relative worth that ladens my actions. It is not the fear that my intent may be judged undeserving of attention or praise or any other manufactured human meaning. It is certainty that has pinned me down. It is clear, unadultered understanding that blurs my vision and shackles my thoughts. Distilled knowledge, paradoxically free of purpose and intention.

                                                            There is nothing outside.

                                                            There is nothing inside.

                                                            Only in between can we find meaning

                                                            And there is nothing in between.