Writing this has taken so long.
I’m not sure if the words will hold.
They disintegrate into dust here.
Language is magic – it can help you find things, and also lose them again.Laurie Anderson, The Rocks (i)
A colleague recently invited us to contribute a non-English language song towards an audio compilation to be assembled under the theme of “Spring”. K-pop BTS’ “Spring Day” came to mind. (ii)
This somewhat surprising music video (I was not a K-pop fan before that) combines lush arrangement and harmonised vocals with cinematic storytelling that references the 2013 sci-fi film, Snowpiercer (directed by Bong Joon-Ho) (iii) and Ursula Le Guin’s speculative fictional short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” (iv) Bong’s film is set in a post-apocalyptic world after the global warming cataclysm, while Le Guin’s story imagines a town whose utopian existence is made possible only by projecting all its misery on a child imprisoned in a subterranean room. This MV adaptation is rumoured to pay tribute to the Sewol Ferry Disaster where negligence resulted in the deaths of over 300 students in South Korea’s 2014 national tragedy.
Its starting shots capture the shock of grief. Emerging on a snow-covered platform, sounds are muffled and the silence folds like the heaviest blankets. The chill is bracing, but its starkness also brings clarity. In this stillness, you could sleep forever.
Then being whisked away on a train, not knowing where you’re heading, the world falls further and further away as you wonder where you’d arrive.
Other times I picture it differently. In the midst of mundane everyday life, perhaps while doing grocery shopping trying to decide between two types of cheese, four steel walls suddenly fold up around you, and the elevator lurches down a shaft deep into the earth and does not seem like it will ever stop. The drop is so long, time stalls. But already, everything has begun to change.
Nothing quite prepares you for grief. In a moment, everything has changed.
A home. The scene of a death. Belongings. Rubbish to be discarded. A daughter. Next of kin.
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (v)
I’ve taken to staying up later and later, which takes me through Sarah Kane’s 4.48 witching hour (vi), and awake at 5am for when Laurie Andersen’s Norton series of lectures for the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard. In the first episode, The River, she speaks about how when something bad happens and you don’t immediately scream, you store it away somewhere and you have to find it later. It becomes encoded in body’s archive of pain.
The train tracks pull away behind as she plays the violin.
In “The Forest”, she declares herself lost. Perhaps swallowed by the Little Prince’s boa constrictor (vi)? Then she hides amongst the trees. To lose oneself in the comforting quiet of snowfall.
In the the most episode, “The Rocks,” we learn that to “hide” comes from the Old English hȳd (of Germanic origin), meaning the skin of an animal. That explains how we are easily disguised in plain sight.
I, too was stolen away by a beast one day, and it took me far far away. Either it metabolised me, or I absorbed it. We became one. There are moments where we struggle, and it hurts to compel it into silence and subdue it. I don’t arrange to go out or meet anyone, if not necessary. I am not confident as yet, I can tame this beast.
I’m still trying to find my way back, but for now, words fail me, so I borrow other people’s.
But out here, I can howl and howl at the moon.
(I) Third episode from Laurie Anderson, Spending the War Without You: Virtual Backgrounds, 2021, as a series of six Norton Lectures, for the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard.
(II) BTS, single, “Spring Day,” You Never Walk Alone and Face Yourself, Big Hit and Universal (2017)
(III) Snowpiercer (2013), directed by Bong Joon-Ho, produced by Jeong Tae-sung, Steven Nam, Park Chan-wook and Lee Tae-hun.
(IV) Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas,” The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, Small Beer Press 2012
(V) Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, Alfred A. Knopf 2005
(VI) Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis, first staged at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London, 23 June 2000.
(VII) Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince, Gallimard, April 1943