“There is still time for this not to happen.”
So says the cold and beautiful Eliane to her toyboy beau, in Indochine, at the start of their doomed romance. This is the very stuff, the lifeblood of doomed romances. That feeling overrides time, or vice versa; that if left unspoken, this line will undo or reduce to subplot what is so palpably strong between the characters. The film itself is a relic of cinematic egocentrism: the solo of an individual romance, played out against the overture of the collapse of French rule in China. Context as a prop, summoned at will to accentuate emotional experience.
Everything as a prop.
It would be theoretically safe to propose the future as a doomed romance, fed on the breast milk of wilting empires. Fair enough, we screwed ourselves over. But what about the future’s right to a future?
“So anyway I rolled over and traced my finger along his snail trail, which was, like, chronological time.”
“Oh yeah, and what did it lead to?”
“Well he had this really fucking cute belly button, you know, like an anchor.”
When people speak of ‘cutting the cord’, I think of old-fashioned telephones, and how the feel of friendship was the rubbery curlicue twining round my fingers and toes while I talked into the mouthpiece, slippery and moist from my breath. Friendship was this whole bodily experience of being tethered to the phone by the stairs, getting a numb arse from the carpet; enraptured by the voice on the other end, similarly rooted. A cute couple of rhizomes.
I remember calling J when I got back from the dark country I’d been frozen in for four months, and all I could think of was food, for lack of it. I lay on the fusty carpet in my mum’s bedroom and could not tear my eyes from the nacre-grey grains of it.
“The carpet is made of buckwheat,” I tried for conversation, “honestly, just like buckwheat.”
The phone was an unfamiliar clammy shape in my hand. It slid onto the wholegrain floor and I stared down at it, the line unbroken by its fall.
Tumblr is the last citadel for those unstuck from time, hiding in aesthetic regiments of then or there to transcend the dread of now. Too late or too early, we either live in gestation, hibernating until the present is the right present, or, if too late, as pulsating, clotted ghosts of old movies.
To live in the present, your human filters need to be on at an all time high. That is, to have as little self-awareness as possible. Don’t stop to think, elsewise you’ll start questioning the threads that make up everything, that pierce through you, pulling you into line.
There’s a language about to die somewhere in South America – or maybe already has – because the last two surviving speakers are men upholding a transgenerational grudge about a girl.
To love is to time travel. Tell that to anyone that does sex for work (but don’t we all?). Time travel is swiping past a girl on Tinder because she has the same almond eyes as your ex. Time travel is giving head to hide the fact you are crying. Why are you crying? Because of the last time you gave head—because this time you don’t really want to—because next time you hope you will. In which tense are you giving head, if it is emotional labour to assure future love, even if this has failed in the past? It is something, to pass time in the phallic shape of hope.
“Also, how is it that textiles can still be patronised as a ‘decorative art’ after the discovery of string theory?”
“I don’t know but if we ever start a knitting group let’s call it that.”
This summer, I spent hours in a hot office transcribing interviews with old backbenchers, while news items were shaken out, dressed and dispatched around me. The words of one in particular stayed with me: on being subject to constant pain from a medical condition for over 30 years he said, “the trick is displacement”.
This displacement is the trick to any human feat: love or time or pain.
The tyranny of the present is that its ‘truth’ is somehow more valid than past ‘truths’. If you are ‘right’ now, you are righter than those before you. We isolate moments in time, as well as ourselves from each other, through the Apartheid of technical language. We call this sickness progress.
In methodology or discourse, the twentieth century was like this great mechanical body with science for sterilised guts: physicists and chemists were the devils on one shoulder and biologists the angelic other. Humanities were accessories that changed with fashion. The demons gave us Hiroshima and the angels promised a cure for cancer. But now we’re living more in fear of the population bomb than the atomic. It’s the bittersweet of medicine we’re wary of. “Please hold the line: if you hear one beep you have gonorrhea.” “The doctor has no available appointments but is contactable by Skype, providing your discomfort can be rendered via pixels.”
Was everything ever simple or is that what we’re meant to be groping towards? No work is neutral. Everything is loaded. We are so fragile in our wanting to belong; I can’t separate professionalism from it.
“So if philosophy is a boy’s game how come they all write as if asexual?”
Philosophy was the politeness of the philosopher pretending he didn’t have a prick, but ramming it down our throats all the same.
It is also a question of behaviour. I heard a quote a few months ago that I have scrawled in the front of my journal: “You have a duty to be more ethical than the world you were born into”. After years of reading, I’m finding it’s the mid-teen mantras that are most worth clinging to: jumbled demi-truths about not accepting the status quo. Because the future still has a right to a future, sweet-smelling despite its dreadlocked and unshowered appearance.
A woman tells Eliane “You don’t know how to behave, you treat people like trees.” I am deeply hurt, on behalf of Eliane. Words like “know” and “behave” masquerade as fixed meanings, rooting me in a mire of pseudo-moral guilt. But, again, we are graced by the dove of context: Eliane, in fact, runs a rubber tree plantation, and so cares more for trees than the average human being. The accusatory woman later leaves her young family in France to become a bitter and lonely cabaret dancer in Saigon. The absolutes unmask. Behaviour is pretence, and if you are too old-fashioned or sincere for the performance, tailor your behaviour to fit the shape of a(n) (ANTI-PHALLIC) future you dare to want.
Daisy Lafarge (b.1992) lives in Edinburgh, where she is an undergraduate despite being told she already has a PHD in the ‘concept of absence’. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Quietus, New Statesman and Tender.