READING WEEK: a personal essay (2016)

Towards the end of my final year at the University of Warwick's Warwick Writing Programme, I was tasked to write a personal essay about "themes in contemporary fiction". In my essay I intersperse photographs with thoughts on Patti Smith's M Train, Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, Ragnar Kjartansson's The Visitors, and other musings on my aspirations as a writer. All this is framed within the reading week I had in my second semester, during which I had the fortune of holidaying in Switzerland and the Czech Republic. That essay is reproduced here in full.

Fig. 0 A street in Kampa, Prague

Fig. 0 A street in Kampa, Prague

 

I

I went to two separate places, during the reading week of my final year at university. The first was to Switzerland, to the Flimserstein Mountains southeast of Zurich, where my friend Sophia had the keys to a family-owned chalet. The plan was to fly to Zurich on Thursday evening and spend the night at her place, before taking the train to Flims the following morning. We’d then remain in the mountains over the Valentine’s Day weekend, enjoying the warmth of our friendship against the high-altitude cold, until it was time to leave on Monday afternoon. The “we” I’m referring to here included Patricia, Micca, Imene, Kreena and Marietta. The best of gals, assembled over years of various ties and mutual connections. Our group chat on Facebook was titled “SWITZERLAND”, framed by a snowflake emoji on either side. The holiday was the only thing we could talk about for weeks.

Sophia had specific instructions on what to bring that weekend. We were to bring a water-resistant coat; warm clothes and accessories; boots or good walking shoes; a swimsuit, for the spa we were visiting; and a pair of sunglasses, against the glare of sunlight, reflected on the mountain snow. Suffice to say I was rather obliging with the list: I had the coat and the clothes and the accessories, and I had a pair of leather shoes that went on every holiday with me. I even bought a pair of Speedos online, for I was excited about the spa. I packed other things as well, such as my laptop and my notebooks, but I completely forgot about my sunglasses. I also neglected to bring my reading week assignments, which included a couple of articles, as well as a selection of poems by Ashbery and Schuyler. Instead I chose to pack a single book. It had a brown hardcover, with silver letters along the spine. It said M Train—Patti Smith.

The timing had been perfect. Days before reading week began, my personal tutor had recommended it to me, after reading the first chapters of my second novel. “Your style,” he’d said, “is not dissimilar to hers.” Little did he know that I’d earlier chanced upon a post on Tumblr, in which a blogger had pulled together a list of quotes from the book. I found them all beautiful, in the way one finds barren trees and creepers on brick walls beautiful. But this—the first on the list—immediately struck me as my favourite:

I believe in movement. I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world. I believe in midnight and the hour of noon. But what else do I believe in? Sometimes everything. Sometimes nothing. It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond.

– Smith, 249

I went to Amazon, bought myself a copy, and packed it in my suitcase to Switzerland the moment it arrived. I remember being struck by the image on the cover: Smith in a café, seated with her camera and a cup of coffee. She has her elbow on the table, and her jaw propped on her hand. But what is she looking at? I ask myself. To what does she direct her gaze? I desperately wanted to know. And I wanted Patti with me on that journey to the mountains, amidst all that snow. 

*

On the eleventh of February I hoisted my suitcase onto a train, and took it straight to Birmingham International, where I had planned to meet my friend Patricia. The coincidence that I had one Patricia by my side and another in my bag that evening only struck me much later, but in that particular moment we were both too eager and distracted by our mutual excitement. As we sat on the plane, ready for take off, Patricia turned to me and said, “How is this the first time we’d ever boarded a flight together?” I looked at her, struck by the length of our friendship, and told her I didn’t know. I met her the same way I met Sophia and Micca, at our induction meeting to the Writing Programme one afternoon, and the rest is history.

Loss is a key theme, whenever I think about these girls. I remember Micca telling me in first year about the passing away of her uncle, and how, over the course of second year, Patricia remained anguished over the breakdown of her first relationship. I recall the darkness of sorrow in Micca’s poetry, and the emptiness and failure that permeates the characters in Patricia’s fiction. And there is that one memory of Sophia, in third year, when I was an exchange student at the University of Tokyo, and Sophia had come to visit during her reading week. It was her first morning in Japan, and she had gone out of my room to Skype with her boyfriend. She then came back in, sat on my bed, and began to sob over the certainty she had lost her ability to write. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” she’d said to me. “Who am I?”

The question inevitably pops up, whenever I go on a date with a man; it’s the kind of question that goes unasked, but is embedded in all the other questions he throws my way. What do you write, exactly? Fiction and poetry, I answer. Why did you choose Warwick? Because I wanted a degree in Creative Writing. Why England? Because I needed to get away from Singapore. All of these questions and answers might come across as disparate, but all of them stem from the fact that I am both a writer and a reader. This is who I am, and how I’ve put myself together. And I realise that in order to absorb the books I want to absorb, and produce the books I want to produce, a lot of internal space needs to be freed up in order to let them be and float around. I realise that being both a writer and a reader necessitates a state of loss—a sort of managed emptiness—and I’ve been living this way for so long I don’t know who I am without it, or what else I’ve risked or sacrificed in order to make room for this emptiness. For who are you, and what are you left with, when you take away all the books? What is this life, made out of other lives, other people? Who are you without it all?

I am but a shelf. 

*

I managed to read a few chapters, while I was in the mountains. Sophia’s chalet is at the very top of Flims, and you can occasionally hear people sledding or skiing beside our rooms. Because I snore I decided to spare Patricia the cruelty of sharing a room with me, and set up camp in the living room, where I have a view of the surrounding range and rooftops.

Patti’s been through quite a bit, so far. She’s taken us to Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, to collect stones for Jean Genet; to Reykjavík and Berlin, as a member of the Continental Drift Club; to Café ‘Ino, and Caffè Dante, where she thinks and ponders, and whiles her time away. And then I chanced upon a chapter, titled “A Clock With No Hands”, and I am amazed, once more, at serendipity. A year ago, whilst I was in Japan, I was working on my first novel, Kappa Quartet, and in it one character says to another: “Death is a clock with no hands, Mr. Sugimura. You would do well to remember it.” For me the exchange represents one essential thing: that life is governed by time, and death is governed by memory. In memory, time exists, but in a way that doesn’t bend to the inevitability of forward movement. It bends to nothing, and therefore everything. For Patti, the clock with no hands doesn’t stand for death, nor does it stand for life. It stands for love, or rather, the love that she had shared with Fred Sonic Smith. Life and death, love and loss, the way time marches and then dances—does it go without saying that everything I have read and seen has been touched and framed by these five elements?

I kept on reading. The following chapter, “The Well”, takes place on a snowy St. Patrick’s Day in New York. The weather makes her nostalgic for the comfort of books, and it takes her to the M section in St. Mark’s Bookshop, where instead of finding Henning Mankell, she chances upon Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase. “In the weeks to come I would sit at my corner table reading nothing but Murakami,” Patti writes. “Dance Dance Dance and Kafka on the Shore swiftly followed Sheep Chase. And then, fatally, I began The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (Smith 94). After realising the Chronicle’s status as a masterpiece, a figure in her dream prompts her to make a list of the best books she has ever read.

Much has been said about Murakami, and for many aspiring Asian writers such as myself, Murakami is the one model for success everybody aspires to. He is our Alice Munro, our J.K. Rowling, our Salman Rushdie—he is the guy that epitomises artistic productivity and commercial success, in an Asian writer of Asian literary fiction. There’s no other example like him. And I chanced upon him the way Patti did: in a bookstore, looking for somebody else, someone altogether different. Margaret Atwood was the first writer whose work I’d ever read; I began with Cat’s Eye, at the A section of Kinokuniya, after which I devoured every other book they had by her, delighted to make the jump from the world of Harry Potter. After Atwood I started on Michael Cunningham, and after Cunningham I approached Alan Hollinghurst, followed by David Mitchell; my approach remained alphabetical, and my targets were living authors. And then Murakami wandered into my life, sparked by a mere glimpse from a separate shelf, titled “Asian Literature”. Unlike the shelves that stocked fiction, which ran around the store for a good fifty metres or so, the “Asian Literature” section was nothing but a mere column. For Patti, the title that intrigued her the most was A Wild Sheep Chase, but mine was Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World. And while one might say Atwood taught me the world of literature, and that the men that followed—Cunningham, Hollinghurst, Mitchell—taught me how to write, it was Murakami who handed to me the stories I wanted to tell.

Many people—Patti included—talk about how nothing compares to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. To her, the world Murakami created within Tokyo captured her imagination, as well as mine. I too was drawn by the “maze of narrow streets and drainage canals” (Smith 93). And the plot itself proves just as dense and complicated, combining socio-political themes with the haze of middle-class ennui, as well as elements of jazz, psychosexual drama, and the fantastical. But I also know people who prefer Murakami’s shorter novels, such as the realism and heartbreak of Norwegian Wood, or the more mind-bending Hardboiled Wonderland; I personally prefer his short story collections, which forces his imagination to be contained within single, double espresso shots. I reckon that many readers love Murakami the same way film lovers adore Wong Kar Wai: there’s something delicious and indulgent about lazy, unemployed Asians finding pathos in modern life. For us Asians, work is often strenuous and demanding, and we expect convenience and gratification from society in return. This results in a complex that views society as both a pleasure ground and a prison, and the thing Murakami’s fiction offers us is not an escape route, but a sweet intersection of the two worlds where life is as lovely as it is cruel. The thrill is akin to finding something at the bottom of a seemingly bottomless well; we are reminded of our limits, and yet we are still comforted. It goes without saying that, due to Murakami’s influence, speculative fiction in Singaporean writing is in vogue now, and opaque is the new black. It’s cool to be inscrutable. But there are few who can pull it off while remaining anchored to basic, emotional logic.

The image of the well dominates The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The narrator steps into it and sits in its darkness, detaching himself from reality while paradoxically putting himself even deeper into the earth. It is a tremendous moment in the novel, but the real power of its symbolism lies in how we too are dragged into the well, by subsuming it within our consciousness; we carry within us a replica of its darkness, and bring it wherever we go. We keep it inside the space where we keep our souls, bound to hold onto it forever. 

*

Sunday was Valentine’s Day, and while the rest of the girls have chosen to go skiing, Micca and I remained in the chalet, waiting to Skype with the men we are fond of. Mine’s back in Singapore, while Micca’s is in Seoul, South Korea. Micca went first: she left me alone in the living room before coming back to see me, her eyes on the verge of tears. “He was such a dick,” she said. I asked her why. She said he’s been dating other women in Korea. She said it sucks, even though they’d agreed that they wouldn’t remain exclusive while they were apart like this. I told her I understand. I told her it’s the same with my guy, and that I remain very, very fond of him. I told her I wouldn’t know what I’d do if I found out he was seeing other men as well, while I remain committed to the image of him waiting for me to return to Singapore. Micca and I hugged it out and left to buy baguettes, for the fondue we were about to have for dinner.

It’s moments like these when I stand corrected. I realise I prefer Patti’s version of the clock with no hands: I’m stuck in the present, but I have no footing on the past, and especially not on the future. I thought about dinner. I thought about my own impending Skype session with my man. I thought about how happy Micca had looked, when she left the living room to attend to her call. I looked at the mountains I could see, the tops of which have formed a ring around the horizon. I thought back to the night before, and how Sophia had handed us a torch each to carry, to light our way across the snow and through the forest, down the mountain from the lovely restaurant where we’d spent our night. The torches were made out of honeycomb, and only Sophia knew the way back home. 

 

Fig. 1 The living room, Flims

 

Fig. 2 Micca, Flimserstein


II

On Monday afternoon I left for Prague, alone. The fifteenth of February, which was when my reading week had officially begun. I had a room at the Hotel Kings Court for four days and four nights, after which I would board a plane back to the U.K., and await the second half of term.

I was halfway through M Train, that Monday afternoon—right at the moment where Patti goes to a bathroom at an airport, and loses her copy of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I remember walking out of customs at Václav Havel, thankful that all my belongings have chosen to remain with me. Increasingly I began to realise that loss has a peculiar function in M Train: it starts from the big one, the loss of Fred, which she never makes explicit in the book. But like a sucking void or an open sink, the loss takes from her a handful of other things, smaller things along with it.

I boarded a bus that would take me to Náměstí Republiky, to the heart of the old district, and as I stood in the aisle with my suitcase between my legs, I thought about the works of fiction that have stayed with me, and shaped the way I write. Mentally I began to make a list of sorts. For Patti her list of masterworks includes The Prince and the Pauper, Little Women and Through the Looking-Glass; probably the most contemporaneous of her choices are Bolaño’s 2666, followed by Lolita (Smith 98). These are the books on my list: 

  1. Atwood, Margaret—The Blind Assassin (2000)

  2. Carver, Raymond—Cathedral (1983)

  3. Cather, Willa—Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)

  4. Cunningham, Michael—Flesh and Blood (1995)

  5. Egan, Jennifer—A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)

  6. Mitchell, David—Cloud Atlas (2012)

  7. Murakami Haruki—after the quake (Japan, 2000, U.S.A., 2002)

  8. Murakami, Haruki—Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2006)

  9. Ogawa, Yoko—Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Japan, 1998, U.S.A., 2013)

  10. Tao, Lin—Bed (2007) 

It is telling how, out of the ten, seven had been published in my lifetime (#1, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10); five are novels (#1, #3, #4, #5, #6), one of which is a novel-in-stories (#5), while the other four feature a particularly fragmented structure, seeking to interlink disparate elements (#1, #3, #4, #6). Three had been translated from the Japanese (#7, #8, #9), out of which two I bring with me wherever I go (#7, #8), and the two items that haven’t fallen into the previous categories (#2, #10) are short story collections, of which there are five in total.

I believe it is important to talk about form and structure in a list like this, because it reflects an overarching and important concern in a lot of the contemporary fiction I find most interesting today. Cather’s Archbishop, in particular, might seem like an outlier; she was required reading for a module on pre-20th century American literature, the last book on a long and tiring list, and I was surprised by how delightful I found it. Presented as a novel, Archbishop resembles more like a collection of tales about the New Mexico territory than a straightforward narrative, and its eponymous archbishop is the mere witness to each one, the common denominator that links them all. As a writer I found this formal choice very freeing, and as a reader I had the incredible opportunity of crossing vast distances and meeting new peoples while remaining rooted, somehow, to the pen and will of Willa Cather. I don’t know how useful it would be to include this, but I remember chancing upon a quote of hers, in which she expounds upon the key motivation behind her style and structure:

I had all my life wanted to do something in the style of legend, which is absolutely the reverse of dramatic treatment. [...] In the Golden Legend the martyrdoms of the saints are no more dwelt on than are the trivial incidents of their lives; it is as though all human experiences, measured against one supreme spiritual experience, were of about the same importance. The essence of such writing is not to hold the note—not use an incident for all there is in it—but to touch and pass on. I felt that such writing would be a kind of discipline in these days when the “situation” is made to count so much in writing, when the general tendency is to force things up. 

– Cather, as quoted by A.S. Byatt in The Guardian

Reading this quote reminds me of a particular moment in Mamoru Hosoda’s The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: Jun, its main character, comes across a blackboard in the science lab, on which somebody had written in chalk, Time waits for no one. And it’s true. The only reason why Patti thinks of the clock with no hands is precisely because that transcendent moment is so easily stolen away: the hands might not be there, but the numbers on its face nevertheless stand as reminders, as focal points across which our attention fractures and disintegrates. Living in timelessness is as peaceful as it is chaotic. Cather’s approach resists resistance: her version of timelessness embraces time completely. She understands that, in the long light of history, everything is marked by transience. Everything comes to pass, and will move on beyond us. 

Cather’s Archbishop thus sets a precedence of sorts, and feels ahead of its time. For the one thing that links the ten books on my list is their unique treatment of temporality. The beauty of the short story is its ability to capture a single moment, and the form alone demands a state of transience, of a passing event that one is invited to dwell in before ending just as quickly, which is a fact Murakami, Ogawa and Tao are deeply aware of. And across the other four novels, Cunningham’s Flesh and Blood most closely follows Cather’s approach, skipping years at a time to relentlessly show the development and dissolution of an ill-fated family—to prove to us that ultimately, the past will make way for the future. Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad on the other hand scrambles any sort of linearity, to great and satisfying effect. Atwood constantly juxtaposes past and present in her work, and The Blind Assassin is the most ambitious and creative of her historical novels, in which its protagonist struggles to let go of her trauma. And in Cloud Atlas, Mitchell adopts a pyramidal structure, utilising the thrill of ascent and the anticipation of descent, powering across centuries before sliding back down.

For me, one question remains: what, then, is the thing that links time across its disparate selves? What is the thread that connects these jumps across time, these multiple temporalities? Or rather, more simply: who—or what—is our Archbishop? 

*

For two days I allowed myself the opportunity to be lost. I had a map of Prague in my coat pocket, and I’m pretty good at reading it, but my chief motivation in the old and new quarters is to simply allow myself to wander. I have had many fantasies about Prague’s alleyways, and it doesn't take long to realise that the Dream is very much Real: my feet hurt from the cobbled roads, and there’s only so much my iPhone can do to capture the evening lamplight. There are many cars on the roads as well, parked at the curb, and I only wish them gone. And generally I found myself guided along by instinct, by pure desire, or by the sound of a passing tram: I make a turn here because I want to, and I make another turn there because the threshold promises the secret of an inner courtyard, or the path towards some better fantasy. I only want my time here to be beautiful.

After dinner on my second day I headed back to my hotel room, on the seventh floor of the hotel. I had a particularly long and tiring day: I walked myself to the other side of the Vltava and went up to Prague Castle, where I was informed that the Trade Fair Palace, quite far away, contained more of the modern and contemporary collections of the National Gallery. It was four in the afternoon when I had arrived at the Palace, and I was under the impression that I could somehow cover the entirety of the building before it closed at six. I did, but that entailed a lot of brisk-walking; basically I hadn’t anticipated how big the Palace was, with six sprawling floors crammed with more than 2,300 exhibits. By the time it closed I left, dizzy and a little disoriented. Instead of walking I got on the tram back to the city, with M Train in my bag. I took it out, hoping I could get through a couple of pages, but I quickly put it back. I watched the Vltava go by and all the lights, the pretty lights, flare like bokeh.

On the third day it snowed. I woke up, still in a trance; I parted the curtains to my windows and watched as the snow fell heavier by the minute. There is a window opposite mine that I particularly adore, with white double doors and soft beige curtains, framed by the tiles of a slanting rooftop. Attached to the window is a black grille balcony, large enough to house two potted fern trees, and there were times when I’d see one fern toppled against the other, possibly due to the wind. The case was no exception that morning.

When I left the weather was blustery, and the snow persisted. After visiting the Museum Kampa, I spent an hour in a café, sipping on hot chocolate as I re-opened M Train. Patti’s in Japan now, where it is snowing as well: on one of the pages there is a photograph she took of Kita-Kamakura Station, covered in sleet. In Japan she busies herself by visiting the graves of Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, and by the end of the chapter, wonders what she’d do if she were to encounter Murakami by chance in Tokyo. “But in truth I didn’t feel Murakami at all in Tokyo,” she writes. “He is most likely somewhere else, sealed in a space capsule in the centre of a field of lavender, labouring over words.” (Smith 192) What an image, I think to myself: the very picture of stress amidst all that soothing harmony.

Who do I expect to meet, here in Prague? Who do I expect to see, walking across the snow? Kafka’s face is on all of the city merchandise, but I have been unable to feel his presence. I remember walking into the Kafka Bookstore on the Town Square and feeling—feeling nothing at all. Kafka’s just like the rest of them, isn’t he? Like Dazai, and Akutagawa? All of them are dead. All of them now belong to a different realm, flung out of space and time.

I closed the book. I paid for my hot chocolate, and left. One thing I’ve realised about myself is how much I’ve learnt, from loss and its lessons. These days I feel like a thief. 

*

Another thing I’ve realised is how often I go searching for art. Nowadays I visit galleries more often than I visit bookstores, and I guess it’s because I’ve found that the thrills remain unique and aplenty in the world of art. We’re not done with that postmodernist urge to play and question the form and structure of things, but I believe we’ve thankfully managed to lose some of that rage, and that need to intimidate and bewilder. Art is making better and clearer sense, is what I’m trying to say.

From February to May, the Trade Fair Palace arm of the National Gallery is showcasing the fourth iteration of its Moving Image Department series of art films, subtitled “4th Chapter: The Rhetoric of Time, Revisited”. The copy to the exhibition says that cinema’s task involved not just the presentation of an image, but of an entire world, and that the works featured this time round operate in “double motion: they embrace the visitor with their temporal unfolding and magic while emanating the world they are surrounded by.” (Národní Galerie v Praze) Its centrepiece is Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors. It is an hour-long film, of which I’d only caught the last fifteen minutes the day before, due to my pressure to move on with the rest of the Palace before closing time. Little wonder that it’s the main reason why I’m back, and I think of why. I’ve concluded that, apart from art, another thing I’ve been chasing so far is this feeling of the sublime.

I remember coming across the Edmund Burke definition of the word in second year, when I was doing research for an essay, and since then it’d clicked for me. Everything just made sense. All my life I’d been chasing after this feeling of life—this affirmation of life—that had always first provoked a sense of death, of dying within me. I can’t quite explain it. As a Singaporean, I’d always known that life was bigger than even the sum of us, and that we as a nation was horribly small and vulnerable to outside forces. And as an effeminate gay boy growing up, I’d always been made to feel that I was less of a man. Over time that sense of smallness manifested in a need to seek for something more, something larger than anybody could ever possibly comprehend. It explains why my imagination is so fertile, and why my appetite for literature was so voracious it moved into other areas—into music, into drama, and now, into art. I found my calling as a writer precisely because nothing has ever given me that largeness of feeling the same way literature has, and I will always be aspiring towards creating that feeling for others. I want to make you feel so much, to throw so much life at you; I want to create within you a sense of death and of dying, as one is caught in the dense web of life, and it screams: WE ARE ALL CONNECTED TO ONE ANOTHER.

The Visitors catches you off guard. You walk into a space, and there are nine large screens, showing you nine separate rooms. They are empty. A camera operator moves from one room to the next, making sure things are working. You realise these rooms belong in the same house, although each space is distinct from the next in look and feel: a study, two sides of a large parlour, a porch; a bathroom, three bedrooms, the kitchen. A musician walks into each room, each one inhabiting and throwing unique colour to his or her chosen space: the accordion player in her pink lace dress, beside a balcony; the naked guitarist waist deep in his bath; the bass player on a bed beside his nude female companion. A choir gathers at the porch. And then a miraculous thing happens: all of them sing and play together, improvising an hour-long symphony. The musicians all have headphones on, so that they can listen to one another in these different parts of the house, in unison while separated. And then they start rounding each other up, leaving their rooms and entering others, before convening at the one screen that’s focussed on the porch. But they are still singing—they are still playing—and the camera follows the musicians as they leave the porch and walk across a grassy meadow, leaving the house and its now-empty rooms behind.

Eventually the camera operator reappears, and switches off the camera in each room. One by one, eight screens go black, but the gang is still singing in the ninth, until finally that screen goes black as well. But their music hasn’t ended for me. In my mind they will always be playing. 

 

Fig. 3 An alley, Prague

Fig. 4 Two potted ferns, Prague

Fig. 5 A canal in Kampa, Prague

 

Fig. 6 Kjartansson's The Visitors, Fair Trade Palace


III

Friday evening. I am back in the U.K. I have thirty or so pages left to the end of M Train. By then she’s lost so many things: Polaroids, a black coat, Café ‘Ino, her newly bought house on a beach. Even her strange Continental Drift Club gets disbanded. One might say Patti’s used to it, the experience of losing.

Reading week ends, and so does my ride on the M Train. It’s in the last chapter where I finally, surprisingly, come across that beloved quote I had first seen on Tumblr, and I was pleased to discover it is much longer than the excerpt had suggested. In full, Patti writes: 

I believe in movement. I believe in that lighthearted balloon, the world. I believe in midnight and the hour of noon. But what else do I believe in? Sometimes everything. Sometimes nothing. It fluctuates like light flitting over a pond. I believe in life, which one day each of us shall lose. When we are young we think we won’t, that we are different. As a child I thought I would never grow up, that I could will it so. And then I realised, quite recently, that I had crossed some line, unconsciously cloaked in the truth of my chronology. How did we get so damn old? I say to my joints, my iron- coloured hair. Now I am older than my love, my departed friends. Perhaps I will live so long that the New York Public Library will be obliged to hand over the walking stick of Virginia Woolf. I would cherish it for her, and the stones in her pocket. But I would also keep on living, refusing to surrender my pen.

– Smith, 250-251

Like I said before: another person’s loss makes thieves out of all of us. I hadn’t read what I was supposed to, over the course of my reading week; still I feel I have lost nothing, and yet regained—everything. 

 

Daryl Qilin Yam
4 May 2016

REFERENCES

  1. Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. London: Virago, 2000. Print.

  2. Byatt, AS. "American Pastroal." The Guardian. 9 December 2006: n. pag. Web. Accessed: 28 April 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/dec/09/fiction.asbyatt>

  3. Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop. 1927. London: Virago, 1981. Print.

  4. Cunningham, Michael. Flesh and Blood. United States of America: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995. Print.

  5. Egan, Jennifer. A Visit from the Goon Squad. United States of America: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.

  6. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Dir. Mamoru Hosoda. Perf. Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Sachie Hara. Kadokawa Herald Pictures, 2006. DVD.

  7. Kjartansson, Ragnar. The Visitors. 2012. Video. Narodni Galerie v Praze, Prague.

  8. Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. London: Sceptre, 2004. Print.

  9. Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. 1994. Trans. Jay Rubin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Print.

  10. Narodni Galerie v Praze. “Moving Image Department—4th Chapter: The Rhetoric of Time, Revisited.” 2016. Web. Accessed: 28 April 2016. <http://ngprague.cz/en/exposition-detail/moving-image-department-4th- chapter-the-rhetoric-of-time-revisited/>

  11. Smith, Patti. M Train. Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2015. Print.