It was in Manila only a few days after the city had been hit by the worst typhoon in a millennium, and crawling with government and all manner of sex slave smugglers, that, to avoid attention, I’d taken a jeepney to my hotel from the airport. I was pleasantly surprised that they still existed, since the last time I’d made use of them was three decades earlier. Then again, I wasn’t surprised at all. Few cultures are more innovative than that of the Filipinos. They’ve understood jeeps intimately since the colonizing devastations of the great wars of the mid-twentieth century! Three decades ago, they seemed threatened by the then new, literally feather-light autonomics made of grapheme and powered by the second generation of Gogoue semi-conductors. But, masters of obsolescence, they’d learned to hack them too, overriding their self-drive algorithms to make them inconspicuously remote controlled. “Resistance will always be forced to retreat in order to avoid detection,” I remembered Lon Yaul having written. So when the signal appeared on my retina, I didn’t hesitate to get into the overcrowded hovercraft blaring what I could only imagine was music.
I was there to preside over what would turn out to be the most important memory auction in history. Memory sales is a bad business. But it was our profit. That is to say, our info-blood; without it, we’d have to go ‘state-side,” that is, we’d have to become licensed to trade our pirated wares. Some of us of course resisted that evil fate. But many of us were sold into it young, memory-guild brats, we couldn’t do otherwise. We’d sniff them out as easily as other brain stem clairvoyants. We couldn’t avoid the sniff, were transparent in the regime, and so of course evolved ways to protect ourselves from them. We evolved ways to hide memories from the wholesale and retail stem exchanges. We began to populate an off-market zone. We couldn’t continue to resist in that for long of course, as the sniff-marketeers always in the end caught wind and put us out of biz.
I have collected memories for a long time, and not just any memories. Some memphages are indiscriminant and collect anything, though most specialize in memories of war, sex and murder, or locations of lost or forgotten drugs or money, because though their value is less than other memory-forms, they are so plentiful and demand remains so high they are always guaranteed a decent, steady income. Sometimes I find this appalling, at others I can manage a modicum of compassion given the depth of banality that is the only state on offer these days. Sometimes, when there is not much to see, and the rain pours down suddenly from what was cloudless sky, and I’m forced to take refuge under the narrow arbor, I remember. Instantly I recall that bad instinct, the bad instinct of memory. Fragility awakens then with its remorseless recipe. But that is only a list without order. I scan it to see how I might escape. Is it alphabetical? A for anxiety, B for because, C for causality? NO, D doesn’t necessarily lead to despair. E, at that moment, I imagined must be ephemeral! D was E!. So I had some F. F glowed like a nuclear blast! An unimaginable future. But, G, it was good. I might give word to H on its D-bed. I imagined how ‘it’ shriveled in its bedclothes, tubes corrugating everywhere. “I” imagined that. J ran off to the semblance of some horizon. K became groundless. And so on…
One might think that continuous rain falls by natural forces. But that would be a mistake. Thoughts like that are thoughtless habits, anachronisms of a past long ago superceded. It’s remarkable to me that so many still don’t know that the Artificial is hegemonic today. Nature is an intermittent and mostly insignificant sideshow, a circus of hoaxes and deformities displayed for the voyeuristic titillations of the naïve and the obsessive.
So I reflected as I hovered above the former river that could equally have been the Thames, the Mississippi, the Amazon, the East River, or the Yangtze. It flowed, as its volume was minutely increased as the rain fell, toward its oceanic purpose. Long ago it had been ascertained that an increase in river volume, flooding, was a sign of nature’s demise, and the rise of the Artificial. From my altitude, those effects were apparent. Hedgerows, tropical jungle, deltas, poppy fields, urban streets, were all eroded from the overflows. They were discernibly more blue-gray from ice cap and glacier melt. I thought of the earlier decades, or was it centuries, when I had climbed glaciers in New Zealand, Canada, and Ecuador, and then realized their forms were those of instantly frozen rapids, similar to those I had once canoed in the wildernesses of the North. Even then, the glacial rivers had seemed more a flow of liquid metal than water.
I asked myself: what was it that was natural so long ago? But I didn’t have time to pursue that stray question since the jeepney pilot suddenly bellowed “Incoming!” while simultaneously banking the craft into a sharp descending spiral that threw me violently against the seat back. Somewhere above us something exploded with such force the impact wave that struck us nearly knocked us from the sky. But when I recovered enough to look out the window I saw that we were horizontal again and flying at extraordinary speed only a few meters above Manila Bay. And soon thereafter we landed on the roof of what I would soon learn was a safe house hidden among rambling markets and ghettos of this sweat-drenchingly humid and chaotic city for which I’d always had great fondness. Inexplicably, given my near death, I found my mouth watering at the thought of balut, boiled, fertilized duck egg sold everywhere by street vendors pushing carts loaded with them in silvery metalic tanks. As a defense, I suppose, against the realization that I’d have to leave this teaming zone of indigent freedom, where I had once been begged to accept the gift of a newborn baby, for the arid one of Makati, I went out to find balut.
when i returned, under the safe conditions of the neighborhood where the inhabitants matter nothing to those in power with weapons, i decided to read a bit of my favorite philosopher, lon yaul. so i turned at random to a page in my well worn copy of his central work:
it’s true that pol pot massacred over 2 million of his own nation’s peoples based on his reading of hegel, whom he studied philosophy in paris. he’d taken the german philosophers’ account of the master-slave dialectic, and the causes of historical change, literally, as the basis for long term social change, and simply implemented it. pot’s strategy was, in philosophical ‘fact’, entirely rational – all pot had to do was overturn the master-slave historical origins by overturning the origins of that power schism. to him, it was a simple, pragmatic process: destroy the conditions that created social hierarchy by returning them to a state of nature from which they would then emerge anew, shorn of the master-slave dialectic endemic in history itself. unlike hegel, pot had read darwin during his student years in paris, when darwin has been coopted by capitalist economists would go on to found the school eventually to be called in chicago, neoliberalism, guided by the ideologically driven mathematics of friedmann and his lover, ann rand. according to this analysis, pot’s genocide was based on western philosophy and economic planning.
as a cambodian myself, one of the few ‘survivors’ of pot’s hegelianism, it is my responsibility to attempt to apprehend pot’s ultra-radical experiment, and it’s western inspiration, from the bunker in which i’m hidden.