Waiting in the desert out of reach, 2010

He tries to imagine what it would be like to be the man.

The room in which the man sits is bare and rectangular, a prison, he imagines, or some kind of police interview room. The man is seated in a simple metal chair. He is waiting. He thinks of the dread of anticipated interrogation, competing with nostalgia for lost days of suffering lingering in a romantic mind.

These things matter little to him.

He shrinks from the thought of suffering at all, whilst silently punishing his own sheepishness. As he looks at the photograph of the man he thinks about the parts of his own body that he’s not able to see without the help of a mirror: his own eyes – except for the eyelashes and the inside of the lids when he closes them; most of his own face – he can see his nose and lips, but they’re too close to ever be in focus; the top and back of his head; parts of his back and buttocks; his anus.

The image of the man is pinned to the wall opposite him. Or rather the image is printed onto a sheet of paper that’s pinned to the wall opposite him. The image is smaller than the paper itself, which forms a white background around it. It’s the only object in the room apart from himself and the hard metal chair he’s sitting in. The chair is uncomfortable and every time he shifts the position of his feet he can hear the sound of fine grit rubbing between his shoes and the floor. This is the only sound he can hear.

He’s glad that he’s not the man in the photograph.

He tries to imagine what it would be like to be the photograph of the man instead. Or he could forget the image altogether and just concentrate on what it would be like to be the paper itself. Instead he focuses on the boundary of the printed image, where the picture of the man in the room meets the emptiness of the background. To be this boundary, now that would be something wouldn’t it?

To stand for the separation between those bits of paper that have ink on them and those that do not.

As this thing, he is whatever exists where the individual fragments of surface stop looking like the image and start looking like the background. He’s the point where his brain says, “stop reading man, prison, room, chair, and start reading background”. This thing is something that he’s thinking. So in order to become it instead of himself, he would still need his brain as it exists now; some part of him still has to be there to think about the boundary of the image for it, or him, to exist at all. To be this new thing he’s had to leave himself behind. He doesn’t have a thickness.

He starts to think about the way in which the rectangular boundary of the photograph, as he models it in his mind, would echo the shape of the man’s prison. In fact, with a change of scale and orientation he could easily stand in for a plan view of the room. He shifts through ninety degrees until he finds himself parallel to the floor.

Hanging weightless above the floor, he holds all of these thoughts in his head: himself sitting in a room thinking about an image; the body of himself becoming something that exists because he perceives it; a thing that he perceives to be the boundary of a printed image of a man in a room and also the plan view of that same room.

In his imagination this room is a prison in the desert.

In the desert outside the prison is a body. The body is in the sun. Frothy. He studies the dead man. He has fallen on his front so his shattered face is half buried in the sand. He stoops low to peer at the remains of the man’s face. His one exposed eye is still open and the dead glue of the eyeball slumps from behind the lids hovering just above the sand. A little lower and its still slightly sticky surface would come close enough to just touch the grains of sand, close enough to suck a few of them into its tension. But from that low vantage point he can still see the desert around about himself. Even with the blackened jelly of his ruined eyeball.

He stares at his eyeball. He thinks about the unseen microbes that are sure to be swarming on its surface. Eking out a living from the meager nourishment offered by its vast rubbery landscape. Some of them are probably barely larger than the molecules of protein that they live amongst. He looks again at the desert. No, he thinks looking back to the dead man, a dead eye cannot see.

He shrinks cringing from his flimsy ideas. A synthetic, watery kind of pleasure expands within his flesh as hormones gently swell in response to thoughts of terrible paradox. He thinks about all the things that he’s unable to control and feels his stomach contract with exhilaration. He feels no need for the sun’s warmth. Motionless, he submits to the detached euphoria that begins to creep within his veins. His consciousness itself seems to have a texture, a colour, a form all of its own.

His body should have been the one thing he could trust. But none of its atoms remain in the same place for long. Without turning his head, he glances back to the muddy surface of the dead man’s eye with its swarming microbes. He wonders how he’d cope in their special kind of extrajudicial universe.

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