< Soundtrack: Little Teeth - Heavy Evidence >
When I got back to the states from this last trip, I accidentally ended up deleting all of my photos from the trip after a brief scare that someone had cloned my phone. There's a couple left, taken by others or sent in text messages and retrieved from the great and unknowable cloud.
There's none of the library vending machine in the city center of Wuchang, framing my traveling companion's shock of bleached hair with the spines of novels tinted by blue glass. Chinese ideographic script does much better at lossless textual data compression than any alphabet, it seems the length of books in Chinese can be much shorter and uniform, leading to those without major graphical element to be stored in a regularized array much as snacks might be elsewhere. There's others that I'd write here, but there's a curious privacy to what I'm holding in my mind that I can't put anywhere else. Sound and vision. Smell. Touch. Uncanny conceptual feelings.
It's not as though I was taking all of these shots to prove anything. I keep thinking about the way that I saw tourists at the Bayon and Ta Prohm in Ankor, taking selfies with the strangler-figs and great stone faces of devaraja. We'd decided to explore the temples in largely chronological order, beginning with the outer rim of Roulous and the northern outpost of Banteay Srei, then worked our way inwards towards the capital, watching the arrival of Mahayana and Thereveda and the possibility of relief drown out the chaotic representationalism of heathenry.
It was good out in rose-tint Banteay Srei, though the off duty cops following us around certainly made me uneasy. It was built by Yajnavaraha and Vishnukumara, viziers of Rajendravarman II, far off Northeast from the main drag of the capital's urban core. The Gopura contained smaller models of themselves. It felt as though you could reconstruct the whole system from a single stone. It was not in conflict with itself, for the totality of things could not be in conflict with the totality of things. The Tao is the Tao, nothing more or less. It seemed to contain a system of the world in miniature, an autopoesis where the trimurti might let the world play out as justice would see fit, time and time again. There was no teleology except perhaps cycle itself. Though the architecture was eroded by brutal entropy, such concepts did not figure into the vocabulary expressed in the carvings, though perhaps this might just be my lack of understanding of the nature of the worship of Shiva.
We were less enchanted and enchanting as we got closer to the core of Ankor Thom and Ankor Wat—the temple that became a city. Upon arriving at Ankor Wat, we entered from the east, walking from our motorcycles across the moats and beginning the slow-perusal of the reliefs, pausing on demon-king Ravana, on the Asura and Deva churning the ocean of milk, on Agni atop a rhinoceros, of trampled captives and many heavens and hells. It was odd, the story was there, but the magic was gone, and I felt I might as well just pick some good translations of the epics and take them in leisurely beneath a tree and explore text on my own terms, rather than looking at the integration of these stories in visual form by a state both foreign and disengaged. It was apparent that the imperial carvers were attempting to meet all the criteria, rather than live through the narratives as they etched them. The art was precise, but exhausted. Then the tour busses came into view, dropping their complements of hungry vacationers. The main action of tourism appeared an attempt to prove that you'd been there, rather than the exploration of the system. It was looking for authentication, for validation, rather than exploration. Go climb the central tower, with steps high for someone of my height, which must have been nigh-insurmountable for a 12th century Khmer, and prove you climbed it with a GPOY. The place felt not as though it was made with exploration in mind, rather a set of finite rituals one must participate in to obtain eternal reward. With modern media, this has become oddly easier to authenticate. Back in the day, you could just say you'd visited Goethe and harassed him about Werther even though his career wasn't over. Now you'd take a selfie with the man and no words need be exchanged as your followers would assume your conversation was privileged information, unfit for broadcast.
The term for the temple reconstruction strategy used in the Ankor Archaeological Park is Anastylosis, where each of the obtained elements of a given structure are located, arrayed, numbered, and then a reconstruction is attempted with as little additional material as possible. Its like a lego set with no instructions, possibly mixed with other lego sets. I keep feeling like this is the thing that's been encouraged by the world, this sense that the whole point of the matter is the autopsy of your works, the retrospective of an artist, the legacy of a politician, or closer possibly in the FOMO generated by your posts. One documents to prove, not to know. The mentality of the mass of humanity that visits these temples does not seem to be a loving curiosity for what these bones might have been like when they were alive, with bodies of wood and cloth and humanity around them, rather a sense of keeping score, Fairer than Grecia's, Roma's temples...
The best traveller I know, one Benjamin Joeng who I crossed my first border beside, never takes photos on his journeys. He just tells stories about them, with the variance of voice instead of text. There's plenty of places I've now been that were first only principalities of rumor from his and others' conversation that I've now visited. A year ago I'd only left the Bay Area a handful of times. Now I've been to eight countries not my own, ten if you count the regionalisms of these United States. There was information in those zones that could not be compressed, for how can one ensure a lack of loss without making the zone anew, through the same circumstances of production?
The only way to learn any of it is to be a pilgrim, and even then that learning was simply the shaping of the self to conform and adapt to these foreign environments. Memories of the roads approaching, then the witnessing of the zone—stinking of 囍 smokes, sweat, and gasoline. Stared at the decapitated bodies of dead-and-remembered gods and eroded Naga balustrades while in heatstroke. Tried to let the eleven year old post-card vendor down easy. A scribble on my map. Something worth remembering, maybe just apophenia of baroque decoration, reconstructing the reconstruction in my mind. It's hard to know. The key, though, it seems that in the navigation of the world, one must simply live and learn by reading the signs and facing the future as though it is yours to face, not embracing the hubris of assumed predestination as though all of this was a test for a leering authority who will judge you from a far off vantage. Perhaps this is the process by which your heart may stay light enough to avoid the teeth of Ammit. At least, I think it might be how one obtains the mead of poetry. I look forward to finding out.