#3: The Text

Thursday / 18 July 2013 / 9.30 pm / VCS Library, School of Visual Arts, NY

Upon re-reading a certain text, one with which she had defined herself by giving it that damning title of ‘one of her favourite books,’ she felt strangely disconnected. ‘One of her favourite books…’ That had infused a certain weighty permanence into it, and now this commitment was waning. She wasn’t sure why this was happening – she had deep, deep, deep feelings for these words, or at least she remembered having deep, deep, deep feelings. She had always felt that the words had shaped her in some way, or revealed her, or paralleled her. They were the words that she had meant to write, she once thought. Someone else got there first; when she had that realisation, all those years ago, did she feel relief, or disappointment?

The text was on love. It had been so long – far too long? – since she had been in love, or out of it. Since she had an existence predicated on a ‘loved being,’ as the text discussed. Time – her time, her life – was no longer defined as ‘pre-him,’ ‘him,’ and ‘post-him.’ She was years beyond ‘post-him’ by now, or perhaps it was just the precursor to the next one, which seemed to be taking his own sweet time to make his grand entrance. In any case, it was difficult to feel anything now.

She couldn’t name it. She now referred to it as ‘the text,’ the way that she had stopped referring to the ‘loved being’ as ‘you,’ and started referring to it as ‘him.’ A distance was being established, or rather, recognised – she had stopped herself from writing as if she had been addressing the ‘loved being,’ and now she couldn’t call the text by name. She was slightly alarmed by this development; for years, she had held the text dear! It had replaced the loved being, and now, what was there to replace the text?

Wait – wait – some of the words stirred something in her. This excited her; maybe she just needed a few nudges. Yet, back when she had first read it, the stirrings were much stronger; a shared sentiment, a sudden recollection, then, a brief moment of paralysis. She could still remember which memories she had associated with which sentences, but what she felt now was only a shadow of what she felt then. Perhaps the stirrings became much duller because they were twice removed – the present stirrings recalled the past stirrings, not the feelings that were connected with the memories that were connected with the words. She had packed away those feelings tightly, she had punished herself for indulging in them, and now they struggled to surface, to connect with the memories that were connected with the words.

She made sure to blame herself for some kind of failing rather than blame those words to which she had once felt connected. It must be her fault for no longer being able to feel what those words sought to convey. This said nothing about the inherent value of the text, she convinced herself. A self-taught emotionlessness – the cultivated habit of relentless repelling and repressing – had become too good a defence mechanism. It was her fault, so she would do what she could to make it right. If she couldn’t hold onto the text, if she could no longer be moved by it, then the very least she could do was maintain a rational belief in its personal importance. It had mattered, once, and that had to be enough.

Berny Tan