Last night I dreamt a succession of father figures died before their time

Here they are again, the old wounds. I turned twenty four this morning, and somewhere along those hours of that turning I awoke from sleep and found myself crying. My eyes were wounded half-shut from the way tears blind in sleep. I dreamt my father had died suddenly, and that another father of a friend also had died, and we were both confused and mourning and adrift at our respective losses.

There is a rising motion and a falling motion to the Earth turning.

I went to bed with a wound. I went to bed with a wound in my chest and in my mind and in my body.

I went to bed clutching some egg.

What is another word for wound? Nothing quite stands in as an adequate proxy. Wound — its round sound, ovoid as a world. Nothing quite as still or waiting or open.

And writing is my only anchor again, the only pin to my spinning, wheeling existence — where I cut out my shadow and look at it in the light, where I inhabit myself while being beside myself,  an entomologist pinning myself to a board, next to my other selves frighted mid-flight.

I want to wheel but I must remember even as I correct myself I am wheeling in shadow.

I am writing this here I like to publish wounds. Seep of liquor puris, and dead leukocytes. Stench of openness. 

I have fought with the delightful frisson that comes from naked and exposed. But maybe this isn’t nakedness, this is nudity —  maybe a little, maybe a little like a drawing circle. The frisson here in correcting a pose. Electric transference from a series of looks.

Nakedness in nudity and nudity in nakedness.

When I am stronger I will return to the dream with the internal laser beam of an analysand. For now this is the message: my fathers die and then I am born. I struggle against this melancholic logic, it is too clean and too surgical and too aligned to a narrative so well worn it is threadbare with holes. And wounds fester, so don’t tell me this is the knife that did it.

What is beyond it other than a desire for freedom and the same tired dream proxies and the same shadow cuts in the same body?

For now I only attempt to tread water.

Listen to Kate Bush. Read my thoughts away.

Cut my own shadows out into other figures. Cut my way out into…I don’t know what even.

And here I am writing about cutting again here I am going back months. I’m thinking of something older I wrote, about haikus and cuts and it involved the translation of a passage from Dante.

And here I am again because the world is ovoid and the word is ovoid and so are wounds.


Literary Familiars

One day three years ago in the Fall of 2012, during my class on Poetry and Translation at Yale, my professor looked up from my essay and asked me, “Have you read The Hour of the Star?” We had been presenting our responses around the theme of pseudotranslation, and I had written that week about the use of pseudotranslation as a mask, and the importance of a mask to me as a young writer struggling with my politics of identity as well as my desire to be elusive, un-pinnable, mutable. That week I bought five books of Clarice’s from the monster of the book industry, Amazon. Despite our apparent kinship I have never finished Lispector’s texts, but now I endeavour more than ever to do so, if only to claim, retroactively, some kind of belated imprint from Clarice, to learn her craft, to find her somehow, to lay faulty claim to her.

I suspect I never finished Lispector because there was something breathlessly familiar in her words, and whenever I was sunk in too deep I was sure her words were mine. And there is something comforting about it, like a spectral visitation from beyond. It’s a promise, sometimes a deluded one, you think. So many writers will often find these moments of uncanny kinship, two minds stretching out across time and beyond death and touching. When I read her and her words got into me I felt like I was truly and deeply mad and without regret about that madness. When you enter Clarice’s world you dissolve like an arc of water in a desert, or a stream poured onto a knife edge. You really shatter. Your own language breaks down. And then after that your skin.

(To be continued)

Out of Character

March 29 2009

I wish I didn’t have to leave letters around, little bits of notepaper, scribbled with song lyrics and fragmented bits of poetry, just to tell you how I feel. I’m tired of it. I wish for honesty. No more masks or silly games.

Yesterday walking home I suddenly realized how unbelieveably light it felt to be alone. I felt clean and free, and whole. There was no need to constantly charm someone—no need to watch, always, radar out and detecting. I owned myself again.

I wasn’t giving myself away, holding a part of me open and raw, a red invite —Come in, come in. Yes, I make myself vulnerable just to tempt you, to tease you. What lures more than red insides, the insiduous venal blood-red workings?

There are times when I do not understand it. But I cannot make myself un-feel it, so steeped am I in it. So far have I slayed and splayed myself open. Wound me, wound me; even if you will not—even if that was never your intention. I am holding myself open for a doctor to come and stitch me shut; really all I want is for you to want me.
It’s so silly, so selfish, but it is what it is.

I hate the feeling that nothing between us is ever genuine, just curdled with blood and drama. We watch for rain to fall, just so we can dance in it, although not for the moment of exhuberence and abandon but because we know it will be a moment immortalised. And all we are really are two bored children wanting to feel what art is supposed to make you feel. But how long have we been anaestheticized?

—The Hidden Hole, Dora Pan

Diary Entry 57

Maybe when I see you again, I will understand. How is it that when distance comes, all there is is echoing numbness? White corridoors?

I’m not lying when I say that there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing else. There is but a void between us, if a void counts as anything—what a contradiction. But I suppose it’s fitting in that way, that everything has contorted into a conundrum.

We are a mix-up of things, you and I. And sometimes the chaos makes sense, but not tonight.

Chapter 7, The Hidden Hole

I wrote this when I was 17, under the veil of fiction, thinking I was in love, and I will never again write as I wrote back then. That might have been the only time in my life I really believed in words. Partly it was because I had no grand illusions about them, where they would go (only to the heart of the one who toyed with mine) and partly because those words were driven by another kind of illusion, the fantasy of the wound, the great big tragic love story, the emptied out self. I didn’t care if I looked like a fool, because it felt that way. But now I am four years older and I have been schooled in things. But love and desire is another territory altogether, isn’t it, lit with different sorts of mines. There is no mark at any point on the field that says where your land stops and the enemy’s begins. We do wrongs, and wrongs are done onto us.

To clarify, I don’t miss hankering after someone like that. I definitely do not miss the diminished sense of self, the single-minded preoccupation with the other. What I do miss is the intensity, the emotional charge I was able to channel from somewhere deep within. Most things I now write are deeply impersonal, with a cool, intellectual distance – self-critical, self-aware, starched little things.

I am using this place, this space between worlds, to explore my voice again. I especially what to purge some academese from my writing, in as much as I am informed by what I have learnt. I foresee a lot of retro-postings, peeling from the past as I work my way forward.

Negative Space

I’m in a tizzy, trying to pull together things for a submission. The thing it’s made me realize is that I’ve not really been working on my art. My art’s kind of been relegated to the back of the bookshelf, mouldering away (it’s pretty much got a fungi colony now, metaphorically speaking)

My current artistic pre-occupation is the politics of the image – how images circulate and so on. But while I’ve hammered out observations and theories in my mind, I haven’t actually been working with images. (That’s the problem with me – I tend to live in a universe of theoretical possibility). When I do work with them I feel as though it’s not enough – someone, somewhere has certainly done something like that before. Then there’s the anxiety of other things, like trying to balance a contemporary aesthetic without looking like utter bullshit, and the more uncontrollable one – worrying if the message carries. The late conceptual photographer Sarah Charlesworth conveys the basic idea incisively in her essay A Declaration of Dependence’, stating, ‘the value and function of our work may be defined by the social and economic context in which we operate’. What if one has misread the signs? What if no-one else sees the signs I am seeing?

If anything I realize I can be rather conservative, prizing aesthetic over content, something harmonious over something a little bit out there. (I don’t know when or how I got this way – it’s disturbing). It’s the risky, that sends an immediate signal that THINGS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM and SOMETHING HAS BEEN STIRRED and therefore requires a new way of looking. That’s how one creates an individual viewpoint versus simply replaying the signs. But sometimes I think, maybe the work – in its conservative form – could be saying more than I realize. That train of thought however strikes me as kind of sloppy; it depends on others to do the heavy lifting, when it is my job as artist to corral the signs for them, meet them that bit halfway.

Instant gratification occurs in playing the game, giving what is in demand within the current state of play; it’s often the work of those who don’t play by the rules who end up with a more enduring impact, despite having an initially harsh or skeptical initial reception.

In a bid to do THAT, I’m trying to re-work some old photographs into a form that carries my desired message. It’s hard, when thinking conceptually, not to get mentally carried away. By that I mean I come up with some high concept explanation which ends up limiting the work, somehow. God, sometimes I wish I could just turn off my brain. Does any of this happen to you, hypothetical-creative-person-reader? Leave a word or something so I don’t feel so alone in the world (pathetic!).

Beginnings, etc.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I started this blog because I want to let loose some ideas I’ve been having for awhile, ideas about art and culture and the other things that sit in between or relate to both somehow. It’s a personal space, a space i can call my own for reflection on these things.

I’m really nervous about this. I have a tendency to over-analyze and feel the need to qualify everything I say. Please bear with the verbose tangents and places where my writing gets unfortunately academic.

The impetus for this blog came when a friend, freshly back from art school in London, began making comparisons between  London and Singapore. We were sitting around a table in Maxwell food market, the air thick with oil and heat, a young man with an injured leg hopping on his crutches up and down the length of the hawker centre, dragging behind him an amplifier on a trolley cart, singing popular Hokkien songs for a buck or two.

My friend began talking about things she loved about London and the arts scene; there, because the arts is in the lifeblood of the city, she felt like her work mattered. In London, there was a much wider and freer sense of what art was, what it could do, and why it mattered. She talked about how it felt like the reverse here. The more she spoke, the more fatalistic she got.

Another friend, who did a stint at MICA in Baltimore understood what the first friend meant. The second friend described her experience in the states as very enabling creatively. On the other hand, when she’s home, she finds herself making cliched work, work that depends on an appealing but tired aesthetic.

I found myself agreeing with that statement; I did a year-long exchange programme at Yale, and there I observed something similar within myself. I’d run into major creative blocks before leaving for the states – I barely drew, feeling my vocabulary exhausted, and my stories were hackneyed scenes of local life, nothing I was truly passionate about, but which I nonetheless felt compelled to comment upon, if only for the possibility of creating a relatable piece of insight. When I was at Yale, I found myself inspired to create again.

So why this blockage at home? I’ve put mine down to several hang-ups. When I’m overseas, I’m too new to know the rules, I just do. Here, I’m much more connected to the flow of things – I know the state of play – the work being done, the management policies, the way art is written about and circulated – and that knowledge of particular limits becomes, well, limiting. But there’s something else too – when I’m at home I feel as though I have to write from the place that I live in.

It’s a funny notion, writing from a place, as if it’s a fixed coordinate. As if there is a criteria, a checklist to what it means to be, hmmm, a young adult of Chinese ethnicity living in Singapore. Sure, there are commonly shared experiences, but beyond that the shapes are less distinct, none of which fall into particular moulds.

While I’d intellectually understood the fact that identity is never solid or stagnant, I’ve clung to a solid sense of self for the longest time, defining it in particular ways. I spent Winterbreak vacationing in Mexico with friends for about three weeks. For those three weeks being away from the familiar confines of my dorm, the usual streets I walked to class, the neo-gothic buildings, I felt my self stripped to the stuff in my suitcase and my passport. My personal culture was slowly changing, the little habits I had, the way I dressed, the way I spoke to people, and I felt so estranged from the self I was for months during the school term. And then I realized the exact same thing had happened when I first arrived in New Haven – bereft of familiar confines, the usual routines, I felt un-myself . I went about for the first two weeks of school feeling a little like a ghost.

I was being unmade, and re-made. I’m not sure when I realized the potentiality of this situation, or why it took me so long to do so. When I am in a foreign place, it’s a marked opening of my personal world – my personal system – to a much wider system (or systems). It took me a stint overseas, becoming truly unmoored from my usual circuits, to witness in a dramatic way the fact of my amorphousness, my changeability, and to become comfortable with it. It’s this amorphousness that gives a sense of greater potentiality, a move away from an old system.

And so, with this very basic fact that identities are fluid and changing all the time, not solid coordinates but a series of ripples, changing with every movement, there just isn’t a place we create from. We create from multiple places that are coalescing and becoming and dying all the time, even at home where the roads are well-trod.

So why have I begun to write? I guess I want to look at what it means to create from the individual places we come from, while rooted in this physical space (coordinates 1.3667° N, 103.7500° E). There’s been a shift lately in realm of the arts and culture in Singapore, a very tangible one, and there needs to be people talking about what’s going on, tracking it’s movements, clarifying its patterns, breaking it down play by play, to write commentaries and histories that disagree with each other, to make the field as heterogenous as possible.